The Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced that it has split from al-Qaeda. The al-Nusra warlord, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, said in his first recorded message that they would change their name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of Syria).
Jabhat al-Nusra hopes to overthrow the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad and enforce Sharia law in the country. The group attracts the second-highest amount of foreign fighters to the country, ranking only behind the Islamic State (Isis).
In 2013, IS (Daesh) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced al-Nusra were part of his "network", only for al-Julani to say the next day that the group's allegiances were to al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Study of War and American Enterprise Institute said in January that al-Nusra poses one of the most significant long-term threats to global security.
On 28 July, al-Julani said his new group "will have no links whatsoever with foreign parties" and he wanted to remove the pretext used by foreign powers to bomb Syrians, according to the BBC. Washington said after the announcement that the move was merely a rebranding exercise.
Al-Qaeda appeared to approve of the move. Leader Ayman al-Zawahri said: "The brotherhood of Islam is stronger than any organisational links that change and go away."
Al-Julani thanked the "commanders of al-Qaeda for having understood the need to break ties"and added that they wanted to "expose the deception of the international community, namely the US and Russia, in their relentless bombardment and displacement of the Muslim masses of Syria under the pretext of bombing al-Nusra Front".
Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Support Front for the People of Al-Sham, was considered al-Qaeda's franchise in Syria, after declaring its existence in 2012. The group once controled much of Idlib province in the north of the country, having seized it from Syrian government forces in October 2015.
Jeff Weyers, a researcher with the Tactical Decision Making Research Group at the University of Liverpool, said that Belgians are among the largest contingent of foreigners fighting for al-Nusra. Some estimates put the number of Belgians fighting in Syria as high as 300. An estimated 50 British jihadists have fought for al-Nusra in Syria.
One of them, who fights under the jihadist moniker Abu Basir al Britani, was recently exposed as former Home Counties Catholic schoolboy Lucas Kinney, the son of a Hollywood movie director.