A man rests in front of a wall decorated with religious phrases written by members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front in Aleppo's Qadi Askar neighborhood, Syria July 13, 2015.
Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters

The market for extremism has been so disrupted by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and its penchant for extraordinary brutality that even a group as notorious as al Qaeda is now able to reposition—or, one might say, rebrand—itself. In Syria, al Qaeda has tried to paint itself as a more reasonable jihadist force with which other rebels on the ground and outside states can cooperate.

One indication of al Qaeda’s success in this regard is that its Syrian affiliate group, Jabhat al Nusra, now openly receives financial and other material support from major U.S. allies, an arrangement that would have been unthinkable four years ago. Al Nusra plays a critical role in Jaysh al Fatah, the rebel coalition fighting against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in northern Syria. Jaysh al Fatah, in turn, is backed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. (The United States

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  • DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, CEO of the consulting firm Valens Global, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University.
  • AYMENN JAWAD AL-TAMIMI is a Research Fellow at the Middle East Forum and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, where his professional work focuses on Syria and Iraq.
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