EFESusana Samhan Beirut

The jihadist group known as the al-Nusra Front, until recently the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, has severed its ties to the latter due to pressures from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, several experts told EFE on Friday.

The two Gulf countries are looking to avoid accusations of financing terrorism, according to the same experts.

"They have distanced themselves from al-Qaeda due to high pressure exerted by their financers, Saudi Arabia and Qatar," said Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of international Arabic newspaper "Al Rai al-Youm" ("Today's Opinion").

Atwan said the two Middle Eastern states wanted to protect themselves from being accused of backing al-Qaeda.

In his opinion, al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, has been forced to concede to the Arabic countries' demands.

Al-Julani announced on Thursday that he was disassociating his group from al-Qaeda and renaming it Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or "Front for the Conquest of the Levant."

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had previously told al-Nusra it would be allowed to break ties with its parent organization if it were deemed beneficial for the unity of combatants fighting in Syria.

Atwan, who in 1996 interviewed the late Osama bin Laden, speculated that many al-Nusra fighters may leave to join its rival in Syria, the self-styled Islamic State (IS).

However, the decision to separate and change name has come too late, Atwan said.

He added that there was a possibility that al-Nusra could merge with a new group called Ahrar al-Sham (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant), a Salafist brigade that has already cooperated with and fought alongside the al-Nusra Front.

According to Hisham Yaber, a retired Lebanese general and now a Middle East analyst, al-Julani's decision comes on the heels of Russia and the United States including the group in their foreign terrorist organizations lists.

He said al-Nusra, unlike the IS, has since its creation in 2012 chosen to ally itself with other groups fighting Bashar al-Assad's Ba'athist regime, such as Ahrar al-Sham.

Yaber included a third country _ Turkey _ as having influenced the al-Nusra Front's decision.

According to hime, it "decided to change under the auspices of three countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, who do not want to be associated with terrorists."

All three states are members of the US-led international coalition to fight against the IS in Iraq and Syria.

According to Yaber, al-Julani's announcement is simply a "name change to take the al-Nusra Front off the terrorist organizations list."

He said he did not believe the US would accept this first step, and added the al-Nusra Front "needs to prove they are not real terrorists."

General Jaled Haius, a commander in the moderate, US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), also expressed caution.

"As drivers of the Syrian revolution, we do not like this measure; we fear its consequences," Haius said of the al-Nusra Front's change.

He added that the al-Nusra Front is a radical _ but not Islamist _ organization with plans for the country's future that "are not accepted by the Syrian people."

The group, in its first statement following the break with al-Qaeda, had called for the unity of combatants in Syria and claimed it was fighting for the establishment of Sharia (Islamic) law.

Haius said the majority of the group's principles were alien to Syrians.

The FSA leader suggested that al-Nusra's revamp could have come as a response to a petition by the Syrian regime's intelligence services.

He also said Iran could have requested it.

"They want us to associate ourselves with the al-Nusra Front so they can accuse us of being allied with terrorists and attack us," he said.

Haius also said he doubted al-Julani's group would merge with Ahrar al-Sham, since the latter "have a national vision of Syria and are Syrian nationals, unlike the al-Nusra Front."

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