Institute for Study of War | Elizabeth O'Bagy | On April 7, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video message calling for the unification of the jihad in Syria and the establishment of an Islamic state. Two days after Zawahiri’s statement, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Husseini al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi released his own audio message announcing the extension of its “Islamic State” into the Levant and incorporating the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat Nusra into its ranks.
The U.S. has never recognized Jabhat Nusra as a uniquely Syrian construct separate from the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), and the designation of Jabhat Nusra as a Foreign Terrorist Organization specifically designates the group as an alias of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Accordingly, Jabhat Nusra falls under the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), and reportedly the CIA has already begun to consider Jabhat Nusra extremists for drone strikes prior to this week’s announcement. While al-Qaeda’s recognition of the relationship validates the U.S. designation and will likely result in a similar designation from other western countries, it is unlikely to alter U.S. policy on Syria. It will, however, affect the state of the opposition in Syria, state security in Iraq, and likely also the involvement of regional powers. (READ MORE)