Abu Muhammad al Julani, the leader of Al Nusrah Front in Syria, announced yesterday that his organization will now be known as Jabhat Fath Al Sham. Julani’s announcement has caused a lot of confusion in press reporting. You can read our analysis of Julani’s speech here.
The way Julani and his comrades choreographed the roll out of his announcement demonstrates that al Qaeda is fairly good at public relations. Julani’s carefully crafted statement was rebroadcasted by Orient News, Al Jazeera and other outlets. You can watch Julani read his prepared remarks here.
Many press outlets have reported that Julani said he and Al Nusrah “broke” or “split” from al Qaeda. But the transcript provided by Orient News does not support that conclusion. Some accounts even misquoted Julani, putting words into his mouth he didn’t even say.
As we noted, Julani’s statement was nuanced, didn’t include any explicit renunciation of al Qaeda, and was actually filled with praise for al Qaeda’s senior leadership. He even said al Qaeda’s leadership “shall continue to be” an “exemplar” for how things should be done.
Julani did claim that Jabhat Fath Al Sham will have “no affiliation to any external entity.” But as we explained, that phrasing is deliberately ambiguous and al Qaeda itself is not an “external” or “foreign” entity at this point given that much of the organization’s senior leadership has relocated to Syria. For example, Julani delivered his remarks while sitting next to a jihadist who has served Ayman al Zawahiri for decades. It is also possible that Zawahiri’s two top deputies are currently in Syria. For more on this point, see The Long War Journal’s analysis.
Given the confusion over what Julani actually said, The Long War Journal has reproduced the transcript provided by Orient News with only minor edits for clarity. Readers can examine the transcript below for themselves to see if the sweeping reports of a “break” between al Qaeda and Al Nusrah (now Jabhat Fath Al Sham) is supported by the evidence.
Transcript of Abu Muhammad al Julani’s speech, as provided by Orient News:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all and may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon His Messenger, Muhammad, his family and his companions. As for what is to follow, to my fellow Muslims everywhere, to the honorable people of Syria: Assalam alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.
We would like to thank our brothers, the commanders of Al Qaeda in general, Dr. Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri and his vice [deputy], Sheikh Ahmad Hasan Abu al Khayr especially, may Allah protect them. We thank them for their stance, whereby they gave priority to the interests of the people of Al Sham, their Jihad, their revolution, as well as their proper assessment of the general benefits [of] the Jihad. This noble stance will be recorded in the annals of history. Their blessed leadership has, and shall continue to be, an exemplar of putting the needs of the community and their higher interests before the interest of any individual group. They have practically implemented the words of Sheikh Osama bin Laden (may Allah have mercy on him), when he said, “The interests of the Ummah take precedence over the interest of any state; the interests of the state take precedence over the interest of any Jama’ah (group); the interests of the Jama’ah (group) take precedence over any individual.”
We, or the central command of Jabhat Al-Nusrah, in accordance with the general guidelines and directives of the aforementioned leadership, our obligations in serving the people of Al-Sham and their Jihad, lightening the weight upon the shoulders of the people, without compromising or sacrificing our solid beliefs, or laxity in the necessity of the continuity of the Jihad of Al Sham, which we will continue protecting, using all Islamically legitimate means which assist in the attainment of these objectives or ends in the achievement of these lofty goals as we strive to bridge the gaps between the groups of Mujahideen and ourselves, we hope to form a unified body, whose basis is Al Shura [consultation], uniting the masses of the people of Al Sham, liberating their lands, giving victory to their faith and upholding their testimony of faith, fulfilling the requests of the people of Al Sham to expose the deceptions of the international community, the leaders being the US and Russia, in their relentless bombardment and displacement of the Muslim masses of Al Sham under the pretense of targeting Jabhat al Nusrah, an al Qaeda affiliate.
For the aforementioned reasons, we declare the complete cancellation of all operations under the name of Jabhat Al Nusrah, and the formation of a new group operating under the name “Jabhat Fath Al Sham,” noting that this new organization has no affiliation to any external entity.
This new organization aims to fulfill the following:
 – To work toward establishing the religion of Allah (swt), having His shari’ah (law) as legislation, establish justice amongst all people.
2 – Strive toward unity with all groups, in order to unify the ranks of the Mujahideen and liberate the land of Al Sham from the rule of the tyrant [Bashar al Assad] and his allies. Allah (swt) said [Koranic verse]: “And hold onto the rope of Allah all of you together and do not be disunited.”
3 – Protect the Jihad of Al Sham and assure its continuity, utilizing all Islamically legitimate means to do so.
4 – Strive to serve the Muslims, attending to their daily needs and ease their hardship in every possible way.
5 – Ensure security, stability and honorable life for the general masses.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all.
Your brother, Abu Muhammad al Julani.