The Nusra Front, a Syrian jihadist group, has branched off from al-Qaeda. In a recorded message, Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, announced Thursday that the group was renaming itself "Jabhat Fateh al-Sham" or "Front for the Conquest of Syria." An al-Qaeda spokesperson said the group approved of the Nusra Front's split from theirs. The U.S. Department of State says the jihadist group's move might be little more than a name change.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper expressed skepticism about Al Nusra's claimed separation from Al Qaeda. "I think this is more of a PR [public relations] move, and whether they're actually splitting from Al Qaeda remains to be seen," Clapper said during an interview with CNN's Jim Sciutto.
Clapper said that Al Nusra might have announced the separation in order to avoid being attacked becuase of its association with Al Qaeda. "I think they are concerned about being singled out, particularly by Russia."
Two U.S. officials who spoke to The Daily Beast earlier this week dismissed any possible disassociation of al Qaeda by Nusra. For them, the decision is a short-term strategy, not a split in still shared goals of Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda. Because of that, the announcement will not change U.S. military plans to strike the group, the officials said.
It was not until the prospect of the U.S. and Russia working together to target al Nusra that the group made the decision to officially split. The opposition is struggling to survive in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city; an onslaught of strikes could lead to its demise in Syria.