Qaeda cements split with Iraqi affiliate

2014-02-03 17:34
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) marching in Raqqa, Syria. (File, AP)

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) marching in Raqqa, Syria. (File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Beirut - Al-Qaeda's command has cemented its split with its one-time Iraqi affiliate, in a statement distancing itself from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its battle with Syria's rebels.

The statement released late on Sunday builds on previous comments by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has called on Isil to withdraw from Syria and deemed another jihadist group, the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's official Syrian affiliate.

The statement comes as moderate and Islamist Syrian rebels are locked in brutal conflict with Isil.

The clashes began in early January, after accusations that Isil was abusing both civilians and rival rebel forces. The fighting has left more than 1 700 people dead, according to a monitoring group.

"Al-Qaeda announces it is not linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as it was not informed of its creation... [and] did not accept it," the statement said.

Isil "is not a branch of al-Qaeda, has no links to it, and the (al-Qaeda) group is not responsible for its acts," it added.

Isil grew from the Islamic State of Iraq, al-Qaeda's one-time Iraqi affiliate, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Return to Iraq

In the early days of the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011, Isil dispatched members to the country to start forming a fighting force.

Shortly afterwards, al-Nusra Front emerged and began claiming responsibility for attacks against the government.

In April 2013, Baghdadi announced his group would merge with al-Nusra to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, but they rejected his overtures and pledged direct allegiance to Zawahiri.

The al-Qaeda chief also rejected the merger, ordering Isil to return to Iraq, a directive they ignored.

Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre, said the new statement was unlikely to chasten Isil.

"Considering its long-established behavioural norms, it seems unlikely that Isil will issue anything representing an apology or retraction," he said.

"All of this is damaging to the Syrian revolution," he added.

"So long as it continues, these inter-group hostilities make any kind of provincial, let alone national, opposition victory in Syria highly unlikely."

The statement comes as a bloody conflict-within-a-conflict between Isil and other rebels plays out in opposition areas of Syria.

Al-Nusra has largely remained out of the fighting, with its chief calling for a truce, though its forces have battled Isil in limited areas.

Some rebels initially welcomed jihadists to the fight in Syria, valuing their battlefield experience, funding and weapons.

Public criticism

But Isil has drawn the ire of many for imposing harsh Islamic strictures, including bans on music and smoking, detaining and torturing rebels and civilians, and seeking to consolidate its power in areas under its control.

Al-Qaeda's statement criticised Isil's tactics, saying jihadists should "be part of the nation" and avoid "any action that could lead to the oppression of jihadists, Muslims or non-Muslims".

Jihadists must "not rush to announce emirates and states... and impose them on people," it added.

In a new toll on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 1 747 people had been killed in the clashes since 3 January, including 215 civilians.

At least 979 moderate and Islamist rebels were killed in the fighting, along with 531 Isil members, the group said, adding that the real toll was likely to be much higher.

Aron Lund, editor of the Carnegie Endowment's Syria in Crisis website and an expert on the conflict, said the statement could open cracks within Isil.

He noted that the statement followed comments from a prominent Salafist Saudi cleric who publicly criticised Isil for failing to sign up to a jihadist "peace plan".

"It's quite possible that [it] could cause splits in the Islamic State. And even if it doesn't, it's likely to hurt their ability to recruit and pull in financing," he said.

But the pressure was unlikely to prompt Isil to shift course, he said.

"If history is anything to go by, the Islamic State will respond negatively. They always do, they never compromise."

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  al-nusra  |  is  |  isil  |  ayman al-zawahiri  |  syria  |  syria conflict

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.