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Al Qaeda Leader: Al Qaeda Merging With Top Syrian Rebel Group

Al Qaeda’s Iraqi wing is merging with an Islamist opposition group in Syria that the Washington Post describes as “the most aggressive and successful” of the rebel forces fighting in the country.

The announcement of a formal merger between Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Syria-based Al Nusra Front was made in an online audio posting by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State in Iraq.

The leader of the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda said that al-Nusra is battling for an Islamic state in Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State in Iraq, added that both groups were merging.

He said: “We announce the abolition of the Islamic state of Iraq’s name and Jabhat Al-Nusra’s name and their amalgamation in one state under one name: The Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant.”

The announcement follows a video published earlier this week of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri calling on rebels fighting in Syria to establish an Islamic state.

Western counter-terrorism officials have long considered the Al Nusra Front to be an Al Qaeda-linked group, and the U.S. has designated the group as a terrorist organization.The declaration is nonetheless likely to underscore fears that Syrian opposition forces battling the Bashar al-Assad regime are increasingly under the control of hard line Islamist radicals.

[Photo: Syriannewstube / YouTube]