Everything You Need To Know About the New Nusra Front

The Nusra Front announced its split from al-Qaeda on July 28, with the group renaming itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. The move is being seen as a shrewd attempt to hide their militant ideology and protect themselves from a growing international campaign against militant fighters in Syria.

Appearing in a video on Thursday, the Nusra Front#8217s leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani revealed his face for the first time, saying that the rebrand was ldquoto remove the excuse used by the international communitymdashspearheaded by America and Russiamdashto bombard and displace Muslims in the Levant: that they are targeting al-Nusra Front, which is associated with al-Qaeda.rdquo

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Their break comes with an official blessing from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri. According to Reuters, the leader told the Nusra Front in an audio message that organizational ties could be broken with the global terror group in order to help it continue its battle for Syria. Here#8217s what you need to know:

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The origin

The group#8217s Syrian commander, Julani, is believed to have joined al-Qaeda and fought in the Iraqi insurgency against U.S.-led forces in early 2000. In 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the current leader of ISIS who then led al-Qaeda#8217s branch in Iraq) wanted to take advantage of the power vacuum caused by the Syrian civil war, sending seven top lieutenants, including Abu Mohammad al-Julani, to lay the groundwork for a Syrian expansion.

Gaining strength in Syria

The group#8217s existence was formally announced with a video posted online on Jan. 24, 2012. In it Julani declared war on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and called for Sharia law as the governing system in Syria. According to Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, the Nusra Front was initially unpopular with the Syrians due to the bloody nature of its attacks, including urban suicide bombings, that went against the initial spirit of the country#8217s popular uprising.

The group has since won support, though. In April 2013, Baghdadi declared that the Nusra Front had joined forces with his group to become the group known as ISIS. The Nusra Front denied such a merger, and distanced themselves from ISIS#8217s attempt at gaining a foothold in Syria by re-affirming their allegiance to al-Qaedamdashwho less than a year later in 2014, disowned ISIS for being too brutal. The Nusra Front then focused on becoming a local insurgency group by winning military victories against the Syrian government, such as pushing out Assad#8217s forces from the northwest Idlib province in 2015 and helping moderate rebel groups in battle.

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