BEIRUT — Al-Qaida's branch in Iraq said it has merged with Syria's extremist Jabhat al-Nusra, a move that shows the rising confidence of radicals within Syria's rebel movement and is likely to trigger renewed fears among its international backers.
A website linked to Jabhat Al-Nusra confirmed Tuesday that the merger with the Islamic State of Iraq, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first made the announcement in a 21-minute audio posted on militant websites late Monday.
Jabhat Al-Nusra has taken an ever-bigger role in Syria's conflict over the past year, claiming to have taken the lead role in key battles and staged several large suicide bombings. The U.S. has designated it a terrorist organization.
The Syrian group has made little secret of its ideological ties to the global jihadist movement and its links across the Iraqi border but until now has not officially declared itself to be part of al-Qaida.
Al-Baghdadi said that his group, the Islamic State of Iraq, and Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra will now be known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham. Sham is a name for Syria and the surrounding region.