When the Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusra rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in late July 2016, the BBC told its audiences that the group had “split from al-Qaeda“:
“Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.
Leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant].”
The BBC News website published an additional article on the same topic by an outside contributor titled “What drove Syria’s Nusra Front to detach itself from al-Qaeda?“.
At the time we asked “Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?” and a subsequently published BBC profile of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham used rather more guarded language.
“The Syria-based jihadist group al-Nusra Front changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant) at the end of July 2016, reportedly cutting ties with al-Qaeda at the same time.
It is thought that the public severing of links with al-Qaeda may not be as total as portrayed…”
However, when the BBC News website reported a double terror attack in Damascus on March 11th, the article included the following statement:
“A double suicide bombing in the Kafr Sousa district of the capital in January killed at least 10 people.
Former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said it was behind that attack.” [emphasis added]
Titled “Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate claims twin bombing in Damascus“, the report opens:
“A Syrian jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for a twin bombing on Friday [sic] in the capital Damascus that killed at least 40.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham said the attack was “a message to Iran” over the country’s support for Syrian president Bashar al Assad.” [emphasis added]
Later on readers were told that:
“Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organisation) is a new group formed from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (previously al-Nusra Front) and four smaller factions.”
Readers of this article would therefore understand that the BBC is telling them that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – including its Jabhat Fateh al-Sham faction – is “a Syrian jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda”.
However, just one day before the same website had told them that the largest faction in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was a “former al-Qaeda affiliate” and less than eight months prior to that it had told them that the same faction had “split” from al-Qaeda.
Although (as noted here at the time) Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was formed around the end of January 2017, the BBC did not cover that story until a month later when, on February 28th, BBC Monitoring published an article titled “Tahrir al-Sham: Al-Qaeda’s latest incarnation in Syria“. Confusingly, however, that report opened:
“The Syrian jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which was known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda last July, has rebranded itself again.
A statement issued on 28 January announced that it had agreed to merge with four smaller factions and form a new alliance, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organisation). […]
On 9 February, Abu Jabir delivered a message in which he insisted Tahrir al-Sham was an “independent entity and not an extension of former organisations and factions”.
It appeared to be an attempt to further distance the group from al-Qaeda.” [emphasis added]
Less than two weeks later, we now see the BBC describing Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as being “affiliated with al-Qaeda”.
Clearly there is a great deal of confusion among BBC reporters regarding this topic and obviously the appearance of conflicting and confusing information on the BBC News website is not contributing to meeting the BBC’s public purpose remit of building “global understanding of international issues”.