SYRIA

Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front denies report of leader's death

The al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-linked rebel group, has denied reports by Syrian state TV that its general commander, Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, was killed during fighting in western Syria.

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The al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, one of the most powerful armed groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, issued a statement on Friday denying reports that its leader had been killed in the country's west.

Earlier in the evening, Syria's national broadcaster reported that Abu Muhammad al-Joulani had been killed in the Syrian coastal province of Latakia.

But in a statement published soon after the report, the al-Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, said its leader was "in good health".

The group announced its creation in early 2012, nearly a year after the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. It has since claimed credit for several suicide bomb attacks in Syria and is considered one of the better equipped and trained jihadist groups in the country.

The Nusra Front has been designated a terrorist group by the UN and the USA as well as several Western nations.

Very little is known about Joulani’s life. His nom de guerre, Joulani, suggests he is from the Golan Heights, but his nationality is not known.

A number of jihadist groups have been operating in Syria over the past two years under shifting allegiances and banners.

In April, Joulani released an audio message declaring that the al-Nusra Front was not merging with al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, but instead was pledging its allegiance to al Qaeda's overall leadership.

The statement followed a message posted on jihadist websites by another rebel commander who identified himself as Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. In the audio statement, al-Baghdadi announced that his group was merging with the al-Nusra Front to form the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant."

But in his statement, Joulani denied the merger. “We would like to inform the public that we were not informed or consulted of the content of the announcement," said Joulani in a statement that was picked up by the US jihadist monitoring group, SITE.
 

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