Cairo-The appearance of Egyptian extremist Abu al-Faraj al-Masri next to the leader of al-Nusra Front Abu Mohamad al-Jolani during his announcement over the group’s split with al-Qaeda has sparked a debate among radicals.
Amid this intense debate, radicals expected potential defections by Nusra members who will prefer to join another group following the decision to split from al-Qaeda.
“Masri’s presence next to Jolani was not surprising; it is no secret that several months ago he entered Syria through Turkey,” extremist movements expert Dr. Usamah Rushdi told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Yet, Masri’s presence will damage the credibility of al-Nusra Front and lead many to leave the group,” added Rushdi.
“Masri’s support to Golani emphasizes the legality of the latter’s leadership and reinforces the decision to end relations with al-Qaeda”, Yasser al-Sharqawi, a researcher in Islamic movements in Egypt, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Masri’s appearance raised questions over his ties with the leader of al-Nusra, given his previous close relations with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Masri and Zawahiri visited Sudan and succeeded in crossing the Russian border before being detained by the CIA and sent to Cairo, where they were sentenced over terrorism charges.
Egyptian sources said that the real name of Masri is Ahmed Salameh Mabrouk. He was an inmate in Egypt but was released post January 25 Revolution; at that time he moved to Syria to join al-Nusra.
Mabrouk was first arrested in Egypt in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat; he remained seven years in prison. In 1989, he travelled to Afghanistan and then to Yemen.
The same Egyptian sources revealed that he was raised in a religious family, showed excellence during his study period and graduated from the Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University. “He was sacked from the military intelligence in 1979 for his Islamic activity,” continued the sources.
The U.S. classifies al-Nusra as a terrorist group and “no change has occurred to this vision,” as stated by President Barak Obama. He reiterated mounting concerns over the group’s increasing ability to carry out foreign operations that threaten the security of U.S. and Europe.