Al Qaeda distances itself from Syria's rebel infighting

3 min

Al Qaeda broke ties with one of its main allied militant groups in Syria and tried to distance itself from the rebel infighting that has complicated the country’s civil war, according to a statement on Monday.


The announcement appeared to be an attempt by al Qaeda to reassert its influence among the rival Islamist groups that have turned against one another in Syria even while they share the goal of unseating President Bashar al-Assad.

Signed by the Al Qaeda “general command”, the statement said the leadership has cut off ties with the affiliate known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after it disobeyed orders from the terror network’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Al-Zawahri last May ordered ISIL to operate independently from a rival al Qaeda branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, led by Abu Mohammed al-Golani. Al-Baghdadi rejected al-Zawahri’s orders and unsuccessfully sought to merge the two branches.

In Monday’s statement, al Qaeda said it “did not approve of the creation of nor did it control” ISIL and therefore has “no organisational ties with it”.

“We distance ourselves from the sedition taking place among the mujahedeen factions and of the forbidden bloodshed by any faction,” the statement said of the infighting.

The jihadis, or holy warriors, it said, should realise the “enormity of the catastrophe” and the implications “this sedition” can have on the holy war in Syria. The authenticity of the statement could not independently be verified but it was posted on websites commonly used by al Qaeda.

The rebel infighting has added another bloody dimension to the Syrian crisis, which erupted in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad’s rule but later evolved into an armed insurgency and civil war.

The war provided fertile ground for militant Islamic groups and over time, ISIL and the Nusra Front emerged as the two main al Qaeda-linked groups until their falling out last spring. ISIL, meanwhile, largely eclipsed the Nusra Front in many parts of northern Syria.

Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center said the al Qaeda statement reflected its “attempt to definitively re-assert some level of authority over the jihad in Syria”.

It also showed the failure of al Qaeda’s leadership to control the rivalry between ISIL and the Nusra Front, and made it inevitable that al-Zawahri had to issue a decisive ruling with permanent consequences, said Lister.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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