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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Al Nusra Splits From Al Qaeda: What It Means

After years of rumours, Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al Nusra is expected to sever its longstanding affiliation with al Qaeda at any moment.

As news of the impending split broke, many questions arose: Was it simply a smokescreen? Would al Qaeda still be pulling al Nusra’s strings? Won’t al Nusra still represent an extremist, violent ideology?

Healthy skepticism is definitely called for, but this extraordinary development is far from inconsequential. Even if the ideology remains the same, even if al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri continues to influence al Nusra’s ranks and its leaders, the shift in allegiance will reverberate around the globe.

The break formalises a dynamic that has been apparent for some time – al Qaeda’s affiliates have become less and less global, and more and more local. The vision of al Qaeda as one big thing has given way to the reality of multiple al Qaedas – in Syria, Yemen, Northwest Africa, East Africa, and the Indian Subcontinent. The affiliates increasingly cater to local concerns and local politics. Even before the break, al Nusra cited instructions from Zawahiri to cease any efforts to attack the West.

Of all the affiliates, al Nusra is best positioned to enjoy the benefits of independence.

Whatever skepticism and suspicions Western analysts and Syrian rebels rightly harbour about the split, some in the Middle East will be happy to take it at face value. Al Nusra functions within a highly diverse coalition fighting the Assad regime, and the separation from al Qaeda will enhance its ability to form alliances, despite lingering suspicions about its ultimate agenda. The break will also legitimise fundraising by Gulf donors and the states that regulate them, to a greater or lesser extent.

More broadly, this marks the beginning of the end for the global al Qaeda brand.

Read the full analysis at The International Centre for Counter Terrorism -- The Hague, web site
J.M. Berger is a fellow with George Washington University's Program on Extremism and an associate fellow with the International Centre for Counter Terrorism -- The Hague. 
Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. 
Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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