Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, announced that it is splitting from the terrorist mother-group -- with its blessings -- in an apparent move to avoid being targeted by Russian and U.S. bombing campaigns.
Al-Qaeda affiliates and the Islamic State militant group have been specifically excluded from a Syrian cease-fire and peace negotiations and both a U.S.-led coalition and Russia have been targeting them with air strikes.
The Syrian group's leader Abu Mohamad al-Jolani said on Al-Jazeera television on July 28 that it will henceforward be named Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and "have no links whatsoever with foreign parties."
Al-Qaeda leaders in a separate broadcast urged the split to "preserve the good of Islam." But the Syrian group continues to espouse the goal of founding a caliphate based on Islamic law.
U.S. officials were skeptical of the change.
U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper called the split "a public relations move."
"Whether or not they are actually separating from Al-Qaeda -- that remains to be seen," he said.
"We certainly see no reasons to believe that their actions or their objectives are any different," said State Department spokesman John Kirby. "They are still considered a foreign terrorist organization."
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa