Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive video of the former leader of al-Nusra Front confirming the Syria-based group’s split from al-Qaeda.
Abu Mohammed al-Jolani appeared in camera for the first time to announce his group’s name has also changed to Jabhat Fath al Sham, or The Front for liberation of al Sham.
“We declare the complete cancellation of all operations under the name of Jabhat al-Nusra, and the formation of a new group operating under the name ‘Jabhat Fath al-Sham’ noting that this new organisation has no affiliation to any external entity,” Jolani said.
The release of the video on Thursday followed earlier reports that the leader of al-Qaeda had approved the split, so the Nusra forces could concentrate on their fight against the Syrian government and other rebel groups.
Al-Nusra first surfaced on the internet in early 2012 to claim responsibility for suicide bombings in Aleppo and Damascus.
The well-armed group, with highly trained fighters, has since staged numerous attacks on security forces – as well as on other armed groups in the country.
It is sanctioned by the UN Security Council and listed as a “terrorist” group by the US.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, DC, said Thursday’s announcement was not expected to change the way the US viewed the armed group.
“When the US made the decision to declare Nusra a terrorist organisation [in 2014], there was a lot of criticism, notably coming from members of the Syrian opposition who said Nusra had the best trained, most effective fighters in their efforts to topple the government of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.
“But the US government was not moved, saying that they considered its [Nusra’s] de-facto ties to al-Qaeda to be a very serious problem … and they considered Nusra a security threat to the US and its interests.”