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Al-Qaeda In Iraq Announces Merger With Notorious Syrian Rebel Group

Michael Kelley

REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

On Monday the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda announced that it will merge with Jabhat al-Nusra  — a  highly effective  Syrian rebel force deemed a  terrorist  organization by the U.S. — and operate under  the title  the Islamic State of Iraq  and al-Sham (ISIS) .

The merger came after  "al-Qaeda Central"   leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video calling for unification of the jihad in Syria as they attempt  to  create a  new Islamic Caliphate .

Although the influence of al-Qaeda on Nusra has been known for months, Aaron Zelin at  The Washington Institute explains that  the timing of the announcement shows that al-Qaeda's central leadership in Pakistan "is still relevant to the global jihad that it originally called for in 1998."

Furthermore  Zelin writes that  al-Qaeda's Central may have actually ordered the establishment of al-Nusra. There are several indications that al-Nusra was founded around  the end of July 2011, which coincides with  Zawahiri's first video related to the Syrian uprising on July 27, 2011.

In any case, the merger creates a major headache for the West. Al-Nusra are the Syrian opposition's best and most organized fighters, and they also govern villages and parts of cities — including half of Aleppo — in northern and eastern Syria.

No wonder the CIA has expanded its support of non-islamist Syrian rebels, placed itself on at least three of Syria's borders, and is collecting intelligence on al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria for possible drone strikes.

Given the dominance of Nusra and other islamist groups, the secular Syrian rebels and their Western backers have their work cut out for them.

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