After splitting with Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra is being presented to the West as a moderate force. It’s nothing of the sort. The jihadist force's reputation is being cleaned up, to suggest it is deserving of CIA support
So ol‘ Doc Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief executive successor, has told the Syrian Jabhat al-Nusra that it can dissociate itself from Al-Qaeda. Good public relations: Nusra doesn’t like the Isis “caliphate” very much, but as long as it remains a Qaeda clone, it can’t get off America’s terrorist list and qualify to join the (non-existent) 70,000 Syrian “moderates” dreamed up by David Cameron and a lot of American television networks.
Qatar's relations with Nusra raises questions. It denies direct ties with the group, and yet six months ago the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel interviewed Nusra’s leader, Mohamed al-Jolani, who said that it had nothing against Christians, Alawites or Americans.
Have no doubts about the Qatar link. Nusra boys have just released three Spanish journalists held in northern Syria for the past 10 months, after which the Qatari state news agency boasted that the Qatari authorities were involved in freeing them. You bet they were. Had the unlucky three fallen into the hands of those other morbid sons-of-the-desert, Isis (for whom many Saudis seem to have an unhappy affection), then the reporters would have had their throats cut on videotape against a soundtrack of yet more mushy "nasheed" music.
When a group of Christian nuns fell into Nusra hands in Syria in 2013, Qatar helped to bail them out via Lebanon – at a reported price of more than $1m a nun – and was duly thanked by the Lebanese security authorities. If readers are getting a little bit suspicious, perhaps wondering if the Qataris are trying to take over the armed Syrian opposition from Isis and its Saudi Salafist brothers, they may well be right.