Earlier today, the leader of the Jabhat al-Nusra front, Abu Mohamed al-Golani confirmed that his group has formally split from al-Qaeda and has renamed itself Jabhat Fath al-Sham or the Levantine Conquest Front. "The creation of this new front aims to close the gap between the jihadi factions in the Levant," Golani said in his first televised appearance. "By breaking our link, we aim to protect the Syrian revolution. We thank the leaders of al-Qaeda for understanding the need to break links."
According to the official narrative behind the "amicable split", the Nusra front is engaging in this unprecedented "reverse merger" in hopes to form closer alliances with other Islamist groups fighting in Syria.
Golani's comments come several hours after al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri made a surprising YouTube appearance in which he appeared to give his "blessing" to the anticipated split with its Syrian affiliate. Speculation had been growing in the past week that Nusra Front leaders had decided to cut their formal links with al-Qaeda.
In a clip within the six-and-a-half-minute audio message attributed to Zawahiri, he said that Nusra should split from al-Qaeda if the decision improved the unity of groups fighting a common enemy in Syria, namely Syrian president Assad and his regime.
As MEE reminds us, the Nusra Front has long been among the myriad of rebel groups battling both pro-government forces since the beginning of the country's civil war in 2011, often working closely and fighting alongside other groups. Too closely in fact, as on many embarrassing occasions weapons made in the US were found in possession of the al-Qaeda linked group, forcing the US State Department to have to distance itself from allegations it was directly arming al Qaeda in order to topple the Assad regime just to facilitate the Sauri and Qatar regional power grab.
"The brotherhood of Islam that bonds us is stronger than any obsolete links between organisations," Zawahiri is heard to say. "These organisational links must be sacrificed without hesitation if they threaten your unity."
Also speaking, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, a deputy to Zawahiri, said al-Qaeda approved "any possible action" that would improve the unity among the rebel factions fighting in Syria and form a "new generation" of fighters.
"After studying the situation in Syria... we approve any possible action that will preserve jihad in the Levant," Masri said. “We say now to the leaders of the Nusra Front: do what preserves the unity of Islam and Muslims, and jihad in the Levant.
“We urge you to take the necessary steps in this direction. This is also a call to all the other jihadi factions in the Levant… You must form one rank to protect our people and our land.”
Ironically, Masri is said to have been was present at an April meeting in Idlib city between Nusra members and Taha Rifai, a leading Egyptian Islamist who was trying to convince the group to set aside its global ambitions and focus on supporting the US interest in Syria, namely fighting the Assad government. We say ironically, because soon after the meeting, Rifai was killed by a US drone strike.
For those who are new to the Syrian conflict, a reminder that Nusra has been one of the more effective anti-government factions in Syria’s civil war, particularly in the country’s north.
However, both the US and Russia had designated the group as a terrorist organisation because of its affiliation to al-Qaeda, allowing the countries to bomb Nusra fighters on the ground. As such, continued supplies of weapons and ammunition by the US of al Nusra and other extreme rebel operations had been "problematic."
The split appears to be motivated by an attempt from Nusra to attract other opposition groups to unify with it just as the US and Russia have reportedly agreed to target Nusra and the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
To be sure, there had to be sufficient spin to suggest that the "reverse merger" between al Qaeda and Nusra was solely to perpetuate the Muslim conflict against the US, and one which does not in any way implicate the US as an arms supplier to a known terrorist organization. To facilitate that, earlier this week, a writer purporting to be a Dutch associate of Nusra called Al-Maqalaat said that the timing of the decision was "no coincidence".
"The overall message of the break with al-Qaeda will be that the US is not enemies with al-Qaeda or any other so-called terrorist organisation, but their animosity is against the Muslim Ummah as a whole, especially the Muslims who are seeking to establish the rule of Islam," Al-Maqalaat wrote.
"If the other parties agree to any of these preconditions, then this would be the best deal in the history of Islam, or rather mankind. If the other parties agree to these preconditions, then the breaking of ties between Jabhat Nusra and Al-Qaeda will form a major backlash for the West."
This provided sufficient grounds for "experts" to double down, and as MEE adds, analysts said the official split has the "potential to drastically alter the dynamics among Syrian rebels depending on which and whether other groups decide to join the new Nusra."
"My interpretation is that Nusra was not doing it to avoid being bombed, because it will be bombed either way," said Thomas Pierret, a lecturer in contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh.
Instead, the group is "playing chess" with other rebel groups, like Ahrar al-Sham, who have long demanded that Nusra break its allegiance to al-Qaeda in order for the groups to unify. When joint Russian-US operations start, Pierret said, Nusra will be able to say it has fulfilled its end of the bargain.
But the question now is whether other rebel groups will join with a newly recast Nusra in practice.
Actually that's not the question.
The real question, now that Nusra is no longer "part" of al-Qaeda, if only for popular consumption by gullible western media, is how long until the a C-130 cargo plane paradrops several planeloads of lethal supplies to Nusra, pardon, the Levantine Conquest Front with the blessing of the US government. We are confident we will have the answer within a few weeks.