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Al Jazeera instructs staff to refrain from calling al-Nusra Front 'al-Qaeda'

Labelling al-Nusra Front 'al-Qaeda' is 'irrelevant in this context' says news head at Al Jazeera English
Colleagues work in the news room at al-Jazeera English (AFP)

Al Jazeera English will stop referring to al-Nusra Front in Syria as “al-Qaeda” in future articles and programmes, a leaked staff email has suggested.

In an email obtained by Islam-focused website 5Pillars from Kelly Jarrett, the executive producer of news at Al Jazeera English, staff have been instructed to stop referring to al-Nusra as “al-Qaeda affiliated”.

“Syria’s war is complex and the battlefield is crowded with competing ideologies and aims,” she wrote. “We have a hard enough time trying to explain the state of play without including labels that mislead."

“The reality is that al-Qaeda isn’t the organisation it used to be and it’s irrelevant in this context. Al Nusra Front is part of Syria’s rebel coalition which is made up of multiple armed rebel groups including many based on religious ideology with various funding streams, our viewers need to understand that these armed groups form the main opposition to the government led by President Assad. And these rebel groups are opposed to, and actively fighting ISIL [the Islamic State group].

“ISIL is opposed to, and actively fighting the government. The government is attacking civilians, while fighting the rebels and ISIL. By describing al-Nusra Front as affiliated with al-Qaeda we’re adding another layer which causes only confusion. This applies to many of the stories we cover regularly, from Yemen to Somalia to Nigeria, please consider the context before adding any labels.”

Al-Nusra Front pledges allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

In May, Al Jazeera Arabic released an interview with Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, the leader of al-Nusra, which came in for criticism in some quarters for being too lenient on the militant leader.

"It's all part of a normalisation process that al-Qaeda in Syria has been seeking to do for some time now," said Charlie Winter, an analyst at the Quilliam Foundation.

"It wants to appear more palatable to the West ... It was kind of like an infomercial for 'al-Nusra, the moderates'.”

During the interview Jolani said he would be happy to protect Syrian Alawites so long as they “leave their religion”.

Al-Jazeera is owned by Qatar, which is currently supporting a number of rebel forces within Syria, including the Jaish al-Fatah coalition in northern Idlib province of which al-Nusra is a member.

It was previously reported that Qatar had been in talks with al-Nusra about the group potentially severing its links with al-Qaeda in return for more resources, though this has yet to materialise.

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