Daniel Pipes: I suspect that the larger, deeper reason [for the split] is that this group, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, now Jabhat Fat'h al-Sham, finds it inconvenient to be connected to Al-Qaeda, that the Al-Qaeda connection makes it less viable in the very intense politics of Sunni, jihadi, Salafi groups within Syria, and so it's better to strike out on its own, better to not be connected to this international organization. This might increase its power within Syrian, Sunni, jihadi, Salafi networks.
Interviewer: But does it work like that? Can this leader just come out and say, okay, we're not the same that we used to be, we've changed our ways and secret services from whatever countries aren't going to go after them?
DP: No, I think the foreign forces will continue to go after them. As I'm suggesting, the split has more to do with internal matters. It might be accompanied by actual changes in policy and behavior and personnel – who knows? I suspect it's more than just simply PR change. There is likely to be an effort to reach out to other groups, to accommodate, to be more flexible.
Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani announced on July 28 that his group was splitting from al-Qaeda.
In other words, instead of being part of a global organization and being given orders from abroad, it can now make its own decisions locally and be more flexible as a result. Yes, there is a PR component, but I think there is also a potential substantive component to it.
Interviewer: Well, could you say that if they're making the decisions on the ground that the security services around the world are closing in on the larger umbrella structure? Or is this just a small faction?
DP: There are many competing groups with similar ideologies but different personnel and different tactics on the Sunni jihadi side in Syria. They compete for allegiance of militia members, for money, for help among the general population, and it stands to reason that you're better off competing if you can make your own decisions locally rather than being handed dictates from above. It gives you more flexibility and allows you to adapt to circumstances rather than if you're getting orders from a hierarchy.