Day 1,155: The Al Qaeda split in Syria is now official


Today is Day 1,155 of the Syria conflict.

The break-up is official.

The United States now recognizes the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — which operates in Syria and Iraq — and Al Nusra Front — which operates in Syria — as two distinct groups.

The US' designation of Al Nusra Front and ISIL as separate entities just formalizes what is already happening on the ground in Syria.

ISIL and Al Nusra Front have fought increasingly bloody battles against each other, despite both having originated as branches of Al Qaeda. In fact, ISIL is reportedly killing more Syrian rebels than the forces of President Bashar al-Assad are.

Earlier this month, Nusra Front laid out its conditions to stop fighting ISIL: "We will follow the orders of... Ayman al-Zawahiri... to stop any attack from our side against ISIL, while continuing to respond whenever they attack Muslims and all that is sacred to them."

Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's leader, repeatedly called on ISIL to withdraw from Syria last year. Al Qaeda's General Command finally disowned ISIL in February, saying ISIL "is not a branch of the Al Qaeda group . . . does not have an organizational relationship with it and [Al Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions."

More from GlobalPost: Day 1,154: This map shows the attacks on medical workers in Syria

On Monday, ISIL's spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani released a recording (not authenticated) blaming Al Qaeda leadership for the infighting in Syria.

"Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] gathered all the mujahedeen (holy warriors) with one word, but you divided them and tore them apart," Adnani said about Zawahiri. He told Al Qaeda's chief, "You are the one who instigated the strife, and you have to extinguish it."

The State Department's announcement on Wednesday clarified that the group previously known as Al Qaeda in Iraq will now go by the name ISIL.

Al Nusra Front, which is sanctioned by Al Qaeda to fight in Syria, was also designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity in its own right. Earlier, Al Nusra Front was simply listed as an alias for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

More from GlobalPost: This disowned Al Qaeda branch is killing more Al Qaeda fighters in Syria than anyone else

The State Department noted that both groups were already designated as foreign terrorist organizations for several months, but "differences over management and tactics have led to an increase in violence between the two groups."

The State Department's designations attempt to financially isolate the groups by prohibiting anyone subject to US law from providing material support or resources to these organizations. Any assets the groups may have in the United States are also frozen.

Foreign Terrorist Organization designations are handled by the State Department, while the Treasury Department maintains the Specially Designated list. As the Justice Department explains, the main difference between the two is the Specially Designated list can include individuals and also organizations that are domestic.

The State Department also added the following aliases under ISIL: The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), ad-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-‘Iraq wa-sh-Sham, Daesh, Dawla al Islamiya, and Al-Furqan Establishment for Media Production.

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