Mohammed al Golani, the leader of the Nusra Front, now called Jabhat Fath al Sham.
Al Qaeda's powerful Syrian branch, the Nusra Front, announced on Thursday it was
ending its relationship with the global jihadist network founded by
Osama bin Laden, to remove a pretext used by world powers to attack
came as Russia and President Bashar al-Assad's government declared a
"humanitarian operation" in the besieged rebel-held sector of Aleppo,
opening "safe corridors" so people can flee Syria's most important
said that appeared to be an attempt to depopulate the city and make
fighters surrender. The opposition called it a euphemism for forced
In the first known
video statement ever to show his face, the leader of the Nusra Front,
Mohamad al-Golani, announced that the group would re-form under a new
name, with "no ties with any foreign party".
move was being made "to remove the excuse used by the international
community -- spearheaded by America and Russia -- to bombard and
displace Muslims in the Levant: that they are targeting the Nusra Front
which is associated with al Qaeda," he said. The group would now be
called Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Front for the Liberation of al Sham/Syria).
appeared in the video flanked by two other Nusra Front figures, in
front of a new white flag for the group. Nusra Front's old flag was
black, the color used by ultra-hardline jihadist groups such as al Qaeda
and Islamic State.
Thursday, bin Laden's successor as Al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri,
gave the Nusra Front his blessing to break away. In his message, Golani
thanked Zawahri for putting the interests of Syrians ahead of
appeared to be an attempt to appeal to Syrians who have long had deep
misgivings about Nusra's links with al Qaeda and the presence of foreign
jihadists in its ranks. It could alter the strategic alignment on the
ground if the renamed Nusra gains acceptance among other rebel groups.
Assad and his Russian allies are unlikely to accept the rebranding as a
reason to halt military operations that have put the Syrian leader in
the strongest position on the battlefield for years.
Nusra Front, one of the most powerful rebel forces in Syria's
five-year, multi-sided civil war, was excluded along with Islamic State
from a U.S.- and Russian-backed ceasefire this year.
is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the
United Nations. Assad's other opponents have long said its presence gave
the government and its Russian allies a pretext to abandon the truce
and launch advances under the cover of anti-terrorist operations
permitted under the ceasefire.
The U.S. State Department said Nusra Front fighters remained a legitimate target for U.S. warplanes for now.