Jabhat al-Nusra, the most prominent radical jihadi force in Syria other than ISIS, announced that it is breaking away from al-Qaeda and changing titles. Founded in 2012, the group was formerly al-Qaeda’s strong arm in the region.
Its new name is “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,” which translates to “Front for the Conquest of Syria.”
Severing ties from its parent network and rebranding itself will give the militant group more autonomy to pursue its agenda of establishing an Islamic state–not to be confused with ISIS.
Al-Sham’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, made the declaration in a video released last week. Among several aspirations, al-Jolani said their goal is to oust Bashar al-Assad from power and unify Syria’s fragmented fighter groups.
Regardless of what they choose to call themselves, the militant organization should receive just as much of the coalition’s focus as ISIS according to the Institute for the Study of War.
“US strategy must operate against both ISIS and [al-Sham] simultaneously. Focusing on an ‘ISIS first’ strategy will result in [al-Sham] continuing to grow stronger,” an ISW report says.
The rise of al-Sham as a major player has been credited to the coalition’s attention being primarily on ISIS, allowing others to slip between the cracks. Ironically, ISIS and al-Sham — who are at war with each other over control of the region — are now both breakaways from al-Qaeda.
The name change came a week after Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and Russia are teaming up to tackle al-Qaeda in Syria together.