Al-Qaeda prepared the ground for a break with its Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front (ANF), on Thursday (July 28th) following several days of online chatter over a break-up between the jihadist groups, AFP reported.
"We direct the leadership of Al-Nusra Front to go ahead with what preserves the good of Islam and the Muslims, and protects the jihad of the Syrian people," Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr said in an audio message released online by ANF.
"We urge them to take the appropriate steps towards this matter," said Abu al-Khayr, who was identified as a deputy of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
ANF's media arm, al-Manara al-Bayda, also announced that the group's head, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, was to deliver a speech and posted a picture showing him for the first time.
The image shows a smiling young man, with curly black hair and a beard, dressed in military fatigues and with a turban on his head.
Observers have been speculating online about a possible split between ANF and the network founded by Osama bin Laden to which it pledged allegiance in 2013.
Analysts say ANF aims to rebrand and defend itself as it comes under increased pressure after Moscow and Washington agreed to step up joint efforts against the group.
ANF is the main jihadist rival in Syria of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).
But unlike ISIL, which opposes all those who fail to swear allegiance, ANF has worked alongside an array of rebel groups fighting the Syrian regime.