Syria: Qatar plotting for Al Nusra Front to dump al Qaeda and challenge Isis

Member of jihadist group Jabhat al Nusra in Syria. (Getty)

Syrian militant group the Al Nusra Front is considering cutting ties with al Qaeda in order to secure backing from Gulf state Qatar to turn its guns on Islamic State

Sources close to the group told Reuters that Qatar was encouraging the jihadist group to make the break.

Rich Gulf state backers are believed to have funded extremist Sunni organisations in Syria, to extend their influence in the region, and wrestle control of the country from Iran-supported Assad.

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Intelligence officials have met with Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani, several times in recent months to encourage him to sever ties with al Qaeda, and to discuss what funding they could provide, the sources said.

"A new entity will see the light soon, which will include Nusra and Jaysh al Muhajereen wel Ansar and other small brigades," said Muzamjer al-Sham, a prominent jihadi figure who is close to Nusra and other Islamist groups in Syria told the agency.

"The name of Nusra will be abandoned. It will disengage from al Qaeda. But not all the Nusra emirs agree and that is why the announcement has been delayed," said Sham.

Al Nusra was formed when al Golani was sent to Syria by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, an Iraqi jihadist who now leads Isis, to establish militant cells.

The group split from Isis when al Golani refused to renounce loyalty to al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahri and scores of Nusra fighters defected to Isis, which they seized Nusra territory, and killed thousands of its remaining fighters.

Last year, the group had 5,000 to 6,000 fighters, according to figures from think tank Rand Corporation.

One of Nusra's main tasks should it shed its al Qaeda links would be to battle Isis, and establish itself as the dominant extremist Sunni organisation in Syria.

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Critics though, believe the project is riddled with hazards.

" An Al Nusra removed from Al Qaeda on paper wouldn't mean an anti-Al Qaeda Al Nusra at heart. The history of attempts to turn extremist groups into non-extremist, well-behaved proxies is riddled with failures and devastating blowbacks.

"Al Nusra was formed to spread bin Ladinism into Syria, and its members are true adherents of that ideology," said global security NGO The Soufan Group.

Nusra is on the US State Department's list of terrorist organisation, and coalition airstrikes have targeted positions believed to shelter Khorasan, a shadowy Nusra linked grouped believed to be planning terror attacks in the West.

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The source said that al Golani had already decided to split from al Qaeda, with the group desperate for resources and financial backing.

"He is going to do it, he does not have a choice. Those who are not happy can leave," said the source.

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