Extremist militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lashed out at the leader of its former affiliate al Qaeda for “making the mujahideen sad” in a recent statement, adding that it is determined to stay in Syria.
In an audio recording posted to jihadist internet forums on Sunday, a man who appears to be ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani criticizes al Qaeda’s Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri for fragmenting jihadi groups and called for the head of al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, to be fired, according to AFP.
In the recording, Adnani appears to fondly recall the days when Osama bin Laden headed al Qaeda. "Sheikh Osama gathered all the mujahideen with one word, but you divided them and tore them apart," he said. The authenticity of the recordings has not yet been confirmed.
ISIS and al-Nusra have clashed in a series of increasingly bloody encounters in Syria. The groups have even launched suicide attacks against each other despite both being Sunni Muslim extremist militant group opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
'You make the mujahideen sad, and make the enemy of the mujahideen gloat because you support the traitor.'
An apparently upset Adnani advised Zawahiri to get rid of al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, who he described as a "traitor." "Either you continue with your mistake and remain stubborn, and the division and fighting among the mujahideen will continue, or you confess to your mistake and correct it," AFP said.
He added: "You make the mujahideen sad, and make the enemy of the mujahideen gloat because you support the traitor, and you make the heart bleed — you are the one who instigated the strife, and you have to extinguish it. Review yourself and stand in front of God to correct what you have ruined."
This is just the latest chapter in an exchange of strongly worded statements that has continued for some time. Al Qaeda disowned ISIS in February for being too extreme even for them. Zawahiri has repeatedly, and ineffectively, pleaded for al-Nusra to stop fighting ISIS and turn their attention to government forces. At the same time, Zawahiri has called, just as ineffectively, for ISIS to stay in Iraq.
'It's true that the events of the last few weeks have shown that al Qaeda Central does not have much influence on the ground in Syria, but that's actually nothing new.'
Adnani also refused to do the latter in this statement, saying leaving Syria is "impossible because it is unreasonable, unrealistic and illegitimate."
Al Qaeda appears to have little control of its affiliates in Syria. But then this has always been the case, Noah Bonsey, Senior Syria Analyst with International Crisis Group, told VICE News. "It's true that the events and audio tapes of the last few weeks have shown that al Qaeda Central and Zawahiri do not have much influence on the ground in Syria, but that's actually nothing new,” Bonsey said.
“We know from previous audio tapes released in this tit-for-tat exchange that both ISIS and al-Nusra have been ignoring Zawahiri since the groups split from each other in April 2013. And there's no evidence that he's ever been influential on the ground in Syria."
The same, Bonsey says, is true in Iraq, where ISIS, known previously as the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Qaeda in Iraq, also operates. There, its leadership has been "effectively ignoring" al Qaeda Central since 2005, he said.
ISIS first appeared in Syria around April 2013. It quickly attempted to merge with the smaller al-Nusra. However, al-Julani rejected the move, as did Zawahiri.
Since then, the two groups have stuck to very different operating models. The predominantly Syrian al-Nusra has worked closely with the opposition forces, such as the Islamic Front and Free Syrian Army and focused on attacking government troops. ISIS has done its own thing, however, and concentrated on seizing territory as well as implementing its brutal and extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
ISIS has clashed with both Islamist and secular rebel groups as a result. It has been accused of many abuses and atrocities — from the kidnapping and murdering of activists, journalists, and aid agency workers to slicing off hands, and even crucifying “spies.”
Opposition forces, including an initially reluctant al-Nusra, launched a concerted attack against ISIS earlier this year, beating them back to the area surrounding their stronghold of Ar-Raqqah in north central Syria.
Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck