The al-Nusra Front, one of the major players in the Syrian opposition, and al-Qaeda in Iraq, the hard-line Salafist group responsible for scores of attacks against US forces and international aid groups in Iraq, are essentially one and the same and will begin joint operations under a new name, “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” Reuters reported on Tuesday.
“It’s now time to declare in front of the people of the Levant and (the) world that the al-Nusra Front is but an extension of the Islamic State of Iraq and part of it,” said al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Monday, using an alternative name for al-Qaeda in Iraq, according the SITE monitoring service.
Experts have long suspected that al-Nusra, which the US State Department has labeled a terrorist organization, is linked to Islamic forces in Iraq.
Nusra Front’s presence on the battlefield complicates desperately needed international support for Syrian rebels, because foreign backers do not want to bolster Islamic extremist groups, and is seen as the main reason the US has been reluctant to arm the Syrian rebels.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.