Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of Al-Qaeda, has decided to go independent, the Arabi21 website reported, citing several sources.
The report said that during a recent meeting of the organization’s Shura council, the decision was made to cut ties to the umbrella organization and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and change their name.
The new name will be announced in a televised statement by Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad Julani, who will reveal his face on camera for the first time.
“The organization has completed all the necessary preparations for the announcement,” the report said.
A Nusra Front source told Arabi21 that the organization’s leadership recently lobbied the rank and file ahead of the sweeping changes. In his announcement, Julani will say that the organization has no ties to any player outside Syria, the source added.
The decision is a result of intense efforts on behalf of Saudi and American intelligence to turn Nusra Front into a legitimate player in the Syrian opposition, according to an Arab intelligence official speaking to Breitbart Jerusalem.
The source added that Nusra Front will make a sizable contribution to the Saudi- and Western-backed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In the past, US-trained opposition fighters have defected and joined Nusra Front immediately upon the end of their training.
For the Syrian regime, there is no difference between American-trained rebels fighting for Nusra Front and other groups.
The intelligence source said that once Nusra Front completes its makeover, it will make a formal bid to join peace talks in Geneva and start coordinating its activity with other rebel groups. This will be considered a major achievement for Saudi intelligence.
Despite their affiliation with al-Qaeda, Nusra Front fighters have been far less ruthless than, for example, the Islamic State. Another distinction is that, unlike IS, most Nusra Front fighters are native Syrians.