From Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham

From Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham : Nusra breaks its ties with Qaidat al-Jihad

Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda in the Levant) is no longer a branch of Qaidat al-Jihad (AQ), led by Ayman al-Zawahiri and his two deputies. The disengagement is official now, waiting for the public announcement. Nusra envoys were sent to various branches and to the Qaidat al-Jihad leadership to inform these about the decision: not to consult or to seek advice, because the decision had been taken.

The Shura Council had been meeting along with dozens of leaders of Nusra first and second level of command, and deliberating on the matter of breaking ties with AQ for some time now with scholars, before they reached a consensus. It was agreed “in the interests of the Islamic nation and Sham, the disengagement was approved to eliminate all excuses and pretexts from the infidels (the United States and Russia), to prevent the destruction of the Syrian opposition forces, and to avoid weakening Muslims. The ideology and doctrine remain untouchable even if the organizational belonging to AQ has ended. The AQ old guards were consulted and the official pronouncement will be delivered in due course once all administrative procedures have ended”.

Is breaking allegiance with AQ considered a betrayal?

Nusra sources consider that the allegiance of Nusra Emir Abu Mohammed Joulani to his Qaidat al-Jihad Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri is “pledge of war and struggle in the cause of God” (bay’at Kital fi sabil Allah). It may certainly be revoked when important barriers are present, preventing its continuity, and to dismiss a greater danger for the Islamic nation (Ummah), prevailing on the interests of the individual and the organization. This is an extraordinary pledge of allegiance, not a general pledge of allegiance. Therefore, it is not considered wrong-doing or betrayal. Nusra group is different from Qaidat al-Jihad. AQ has no army, nor the responsibility to rule and administrate a population, offer services, handling infighting among other groups, having to co-exist with secular groups and those from all walks of life and beliefs: it doesn’t have a front line facing an enemy and is not exposed to daily temptation as is the case of Jabhat al-Nusra. These are the daily challenges Nusra has had to confront daily in Syria. Nusra can be patient until Islam dominates, after repelling the greater danger, which is represented by the Syrian regime.

A new name circulates among Nusra fighters, Jabhat Fath al-Sham (JFS). Obviously, the leadership has instructed Nusra mujahedeen to be active on social media and prepare the ground so the big announcement (of breaking the ties with AQ) won’t come as a surprise, nor appear a wrong move. The choice of name is also thoughtful, indicating that the objective is still the “liberation of Syria”. After all, all foreign fighters came for that purpose, even if they came also to establish an Islamic Emirate. That last particular point has not been raised or tackled and it would be very difficult for the new “JFS” to hold its promises in this respect.

However, Nusra says the new name was chosen because it is believed the US and the UN will not include the new organization on the list of terrorism, and therefore won’t target it. Nusra is convinced “Russia and the US will be confused about the next move and will hold their guns back. This will give Nusra and the other rebels an opportunity to unite, avoiding being weakened by air strikes and consolidating the internal front. The danger of the “crusaders” (US) is greater than the one of khawarij (ISIS). Therefore it was essential to break the ties and change the name”.

AQ lost one of its most important bases in the Middle East when, several months ago, Zawahiri asked all Mujahideen to migrate to the Levant and that became their new Kibla (Muslim direction of prayer), unless it is the same Zawaheri who approved the step, following intensive consultation between Sham and Khorasan. If Nusra believes that its new change won’t dilute its members with other groups or seduce many away from it in time of peace (the long cease-fire) it is certainly mistaken. An internal dispute among various different groups is a well-known behavior when no battles are uniting men. The groups do indeed have sponsors, who have different agendas and plans for Syria.

Nusra has responded to the call of the countries of the region who were influenced by the US request. This means the US is enjoying its greatest victory over AQ (without firing a single bullet) by triggering a break of Nusra ties with its Emir in Khorasan. Nusra will certainly not return to AQ in a yo-yo movement, now that it is declared a Syrian group with around 2000 foreign fighters (ff), still, among its ranks. Will these remain and accept the new clothes Nusra is wearing? Are the Muhajereen (ff) going to leave Syria, split or join ISIS? Are the various opposition groups going to unite? Are the US and Russia going to accept this new theatre where a name change does not dictate a change of creed, doctrine and objectives?

These are questions no one can answer today, waiting for the new Leader (no longer Emir perhaps) of JFS Abu Mohammed Joulani, to officially declare the disengagement with AQ, soon. He has already sent his electronic social media army ahead to prepare the ground and leak information: Nusra are the most disciplined and controlled fighters, especially on social media, not leaking unwittingly any information unless instructed to do so.

There is no doubt that the coming days will be exciting and interesting in the Levant.

This article was originally published by Al-Raï on July 26, 2016 (Elijah J. Magnier, Al Rai Chief International war Correspondent) and is reprinted here with permission.

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