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U.S., Russian Agreement Pushes Nusra to Accelerate Separation from Qaeda | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages, which they said they have seized control of from Syrian rebel factions, in the southern countryside of Idlib, December 2, 2014 / Reuters

Beirut, London- Syrian opposition military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that al-Nusra Front in Syria has taken a decision to break its link with Al Qaeda organization, adding that the decision might be officially announced in the next hours.

The sources said that the suggestion was presented to Nusra’s Shura Council during the month of Ramadan, and discussions had started when leaders from the foreign fighters known as the “Muhajereen” had expressed their opposition to the decision.

Also, there is conflicting information regarding when exactly did the Shura Council decide to announce its rupture from Al Qaeda.

According to some, the decision, which was announced on Saturday night through the social media, was taken in the same night. Another source close to Nusra in North Syria told Asharq Al-Awsat that the suggestion was presented to the Shura Council on the 9th of Ramadan. “The final decision of the rupture was issued on the 22nd of Ramadan and there was an agreement to keep it undisclosed. The decision was later conveyed to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.”

The source added: “However, the U.S.-Russian decision to attack Nusra in the north of Syria had pushed the Front to accelerate the announcement of its separation from Al-Qaeda through the social media, in order to protect itself from any attack.”

The source said: “Had the Americans and Russians not announced their decision to hit the organization, the rupture would not have been announced.”

Asked whether foreign fighters would be able to reject Nusra decision, the source said: “The decision is now biding. However, there are some reservations on small procedural details such as a request not to change the flag or the uniforms, and keep the Islamic rule and the Islamic systems of judicial procedures.”

A source updated on Nusra’s file told Asharq Al-Awsat that the organization’s Syrian leaders, who server as the regions’ Omara, had exerted pressure on the Shura Council to break its relation with Al Qaeda.

Several observers now bet on whether Nusra would escape from the U.S. air assaults in case it breaks its link with Al Qaeda.

Sources say there are discussions among al-Nusra members on whether the U.S. was fighting the Front based on its link with Al Qaeda or whether Washington was fighting the extremist ideology in general.”

Political analyst and expert on Islamist groups Hassan Abu Haniyeh said the decision to be separated from Al Qaeda would not “change much the position of the international community, because Nusra Front was placed, since its establishment, on the list of terrorism. Therefore, its ideology would not change with the simple modification of its name.”

Meanwhile, there are fears that ISIS would benefit from the rupture between Al Qaeda and Nusra Front to attract the foreign fighters. Al Qaeda has already started campaigns on the social media accusing Nusra of being a traitor.

Abu Haniyeh said that in 2014, Nusra already lost many of its fighters who decided to join the ranks of ISIS.

On the other hand, Nusra might win a local support. A Syrian source told Asharq Al-Awsat there are already signs of this change in the North of Syria as hundreds of fighters have decided to join the ranks of Nusra following its decision to be separated from Al Qaeda. “There are currently 400 people who will join the ranks of Nusra, but are only waiting for the rupture decision to be officially announced,” the source said.

According to some information, the decision of Nusra to break its relation with Qaeda does not mean a decision to abandon foreign fighters.