The head of Jabhat al-Nusra, a jihadist group at the forefront of Syria's civil war, has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda honcho Ayman al-Zawahiri. What that means isn't exactly crystal clear at this point. While Al-Qaeda in Iraq says the groups have merged under the snappy title of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, al-Nusra chief Abu Mohammed al-Jawalani denies his group will be ordering new letterhead just yet, the BBC reports. "The banner of the Front will remain unchanged despite our pride in the banner of the State and those who carried it and sacrificed and shed their blood for it," he said in an audio message, the AP reports.
Al-Nusra is among the most effective of the rebel groups fighting the Syrian government. It has committed more than 40 successful bombing attacks and has been on the frontline of clashes against Assad forces, adds the Daily Beast. The alliance is not a surprise (Obama labeled it a terrorist organization last year), but it is concerning, says CNN. Al-Nusra's success on the battlefield and reputation for distributing free bread makes it popular with everyday Syrians. With a powerful army in Syria, al-Qaeda would gain a strong strategic position in the Middle East, and a safe haven for long-term scheming.