The Nusrah Front—al Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria—this summer changed its name to the Levant Conquest Front, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, as part of a rebranding strategy to improve its image among local Syrians, participate in future Syrian peace talks, and decrease the number of US-led airstrikes against its positions in Syria. In July, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the head of the Nusrah Front, stated the organization would no longer associate with groups outside Syria, including al-Qa’ida. However, Julani did not revoke the organization’s allegiance to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, suggesting communication between the groups will continue.
- Since 2012, the Nusrah Front has focused on building an Islamic emirate in Syria, with the top goal of winning support from the Syrian people, according to the Institute for the Study of War. This rebranding has probably been somewhat successful because the group’s membership has increased since August, according to press reporting.
- At the behest of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, the Nusrah Front did not participate in the last rounds of peace talks in Syria in September. Nonetheless, the group’s expansion of ties with moderate Syrian opposition factions and control of major portions of the key Syrian city of Aleppo now place it in a position to be a part of future talks.
- In June, US officials petitioned the Russian Government to not conduct airstrikes against the Nusrah Front, as they may mistakenly strike moderate opposition forces. The Nusrah Front will likely leverage the decrease in airstrikes to formalize ties with more moderate anti-Syrian government forces.
Nusrah Front’s Rebranding: Unlikely to Change Relationship With Al-Qa’ida
The Nusrah Front’s rebranding will likely have minimal impact on its relationship with its parent organization, al-Qa’ida.
Through a scenarios-based analysis,* we evaluated three possible ways in which the Nusrah Front will change in the next year.
*Scenarios analysis identifies multiple ways in which a situation may evolve. It is most useful when a situation is complex or when the outcomes are too uncertain to trust a single prediction.
Al-Qa’ida: Leveraging the Nusrah Front in Syria
Al-Qa’ida’s central leadership will continue to support and leverage its affiliate in Syria, the Nusrah Front, to build its global influence, despite Western media reports indicating a split between the two groups. In July, the Nusrah Front rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to gain new popular support, recruit rebel groups and new or disillusioned Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters, and obtain international support. These goals reinforce al-Qa’ida’s long-term strategy of attacking the “near enemy”—regimes in predominantly Muslim countries—in preparation for war with the “far enemy,” or the West.
*This product reflects al-Qa’ida’s likely strategy in Syria, not the likelihood of this strategy succeeding.