The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, has announced it is breaking ties with the global terror network, in a video showing its leader Abu Mohamad al-Jolani for the first time.
The footage broadcast by Al-Jazeera news channel follows several days of online chatter over a split between al-Qaeda and its Syria affiliate, a main rival of Isis (Islamic State), from which it wants to distance itself as a target of foreign air strikes.
Appearing in public for the first time, Jolani said al-Nusra changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front of the Conquest of Syria) and would unify ranks with other mainstream fighters in Syria.
"We decided to stop operating under the banner of al-Nusra and to set up a new front, called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham," he said.
Clad in military fatigues and wearing a turban, the bearded Jolani thanked "the commanders of al-Qaeda for having understood the need to break ties".
Analysts said al-Nusra aims to rebrand and defend itself after Moscow and Washington agreed to step up joint efforts against jihadist groups.And he vowed the new group would "have no links whatsoever with foreign parties".
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said last week that they had agreed "concrete steps" to save a failing Syria truce and tackle jihadists such as al-Nusra and Isis.
But with the amicable break from al-Qaeda, Jolani "can now call upon a broad spectrum of armed groups in Syria to agree to unite initiatives", said analyst Charles Lister.
"It's also, plain and simple, a recognition of the need to confuse one's enemies, given US-Russian plans to begin military operations" against al-Nusra, he said.
The commander of the US Central Command, General Joe Votel, said al-Nusra continues to be an "organisation to be concerned about".