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Juan Cole

Top Five Ways to Tell if a Terrorist Is Still al-Qaida Despite Name Change

This post originally ran on Truthdig contributor Juan Cole’s website.

The leftist Beirut newspaper al-Safir comments scathingly on the name-change of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front led by Abu Muhammad al-Julani, to the Syria Conquest Front.

Here are some reasons that the name change isn’t going to work:

1. Al-Julani got permission from 9/11 mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of old al-Qaeda, to sever public ties with him because, you know, being in a command line to al-Qaeda was a PR problem for the Syrian guerrilla opposition to the Syrian regime. But if you have to get permission from al-Qaeda to change your name, then guess what? You’re still al-Qaeda.

2. In the announcement of the name change, as al-Safir points out, there was no explicit renunciation of the ties between al-Julani and al-Qaeda or of the pledge of fealty al-Julani gave al-Zawahiri. (Or I might add, any apology for having hooked up with al-Qaeda.) He just said that a new organization has been formed that has no relations with any foreign quarter.

3. The new name is Front for the Conquest of Greater Syria. Conquest has a bad ring to it. I don’t think Syria needs to be conquered by these seedy-looking guys (and the name implies he wants Lebanon and Jordan and Israel/Palestine, too). The Huns conquered Rome. The Mongols conquered Iran. Tojo conquered the Philippines. Maybe if they had been a liberation front or a member of one it might have a less unsavory ring. As it is, it is still obvious that they want to impose their hyper-fundamentalist ideology at the point of a gun on Syrian women, Alawis, Kurds, Druze, secular Sunnis, etc. etc.

4. Al-Safir says that the attempted image change comes way too late. The Nusra Front was asked by former CIA head David Petraeus to ditch al-Qaeda and join the coalition against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), but it didn’t. As a result, it lost most international support and contributed to a loss of support for its allies. Now, the strategic and tactical situation in Syria has completely changed, since Russia began bombing last fall. Al-Qaeda and its allies have lost enormous ground in the meantime, and now even East Aleppo has been surrounded.

5. Nobody will believe you if you look like this:

Mohammad_al-Julanih/t Wikipedia

You might be thinking the switch from a black to a white turban would do the trick. But you forgot this one:

Osama_bin_Laden_portraith/t Wikipedia

Juan Cole
Contributor
Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the proprietor of the Informed Comment e-zine. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in…
Juan Cole

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