BEIRUT — The leader of Syria’s Nusra Front said in a recording aired Thursday that his group is changing its name, claiming it will have no more ties with al-Qaida in an attempt to undermine a potential U.S. and Russian air campaign against its fighters.

The announcement is the first time that an entire branch of al-Qaida has said it is leaving the terror network. But the move took place with the endorsement of al-Qaida’s central leadership, and its ideology remains the same, raising questions whether the change really goes beyond the new name, the Levant Conquest Front.

The United States, which considers Nusra a terrorist organization, immediately expressed its skepticism. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday the U.S. continues to assess that Nusra leaders intend to attack the West and said the U.S.-led military campaign is focused on a number of extremist groups, including Nusra and the Islamic State group.

But the step could complicate U.S. efforts in Syria.

Without the al-Qaida name, the group will now seek to expand its alliances with other Syrian rebels, including relative moderates backed by Washington and its allies. Those factions may then oppose international airstrikes against Nusra fighters, arguing that they are now simply fellow rebels against President Bashar Assad, not an al-Qaida affiliate.

Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, made his first appearance showing his face in the video message, aired on the Syrian opposition station Orient TV and Al-Jazeera sitting alongside two bearded men.

Sitting between two bearded men, al-Golani said the delinking from al-Qaida aimed to remove “pretexts” by the U.S. and Russia to strike other rebel groups while claiming they are targeting Nusra.

He underlined the step took place with the blessings of al-Qaida’s leadership, and he thanked them for their understanding. He also said the move upholds dictates of Osama bin Laden and was necessary “to protect the Levantine Jihad.”

“We decided to cancel work under the name of Nusra Front and form a new group under a new front called the Levant Conquest Front. This new front will have no links to any outside groups,” he said.

Before his announcement, al-Qaida’s central leadership gave its blessing in a message from Ahmed Hassan Abu el-Kheir, the deputy of al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri. He said in an audio file posted online that the Nusra Front should do “whatever protects the interests of Islam and Muslims and protects jihad” in Syria.

He also urged the Nusra Front to unite with other factions against “Crusaders” and form a good “Islamic government.”