The leader of the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, warned the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham to end its attacks on jihadist and rebel units in Syria or the groups will destroy the ISIS in both Syria and in Iraq. The statement by Al Nusrah emir Abu Muhammad al Julani took place after Ayman al Zawahiri’s emissary was killed in a suicide attack over the weekend.
Al Julani made the threats in an audiotape that was released by the Al Nusrah Front today. His ultimatum gave ISIS five days to come to an agreement or face a concerted effort to “banish it” from both Syria and Iraq. Al Qaeda’s general command recently disowned ISIS as it would not agree to mediate its disputes with the Al Nusrah Front and other groups. The ISIS has been clashing with the Al Nusrah Front, the Islamic Front, and remnants of the Free Syrian Army in several provinces.
“If you refuse God’s ruling, and do not cease afflicting the ummah (Muslim community), it will act against this aggressive, ignorant way of thinking and banish it – even from Iraq,” al Julani warned the ISIS, according to the BBC, which obtained the statement.
Al Julani also accused the ISIS of killing Abu Khalid al Suri, a.k.a. Mohamed Bahaiah, who once served as Osama bin Laden’s courier and was appointed by Zawahiri to represent him in Syria. Bahaiah was a founding member of Ahrar al Sham and a senior leader in the organization before he was killed on Feb. 22 in a suicide attack in Aleppo. Ahrar al Sham is arguably the most powerful rebel organization within the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist rebel groups that was formed late last year.
“We say to his killers: may your hands perish and your deed be damned. You, those who give you your orders, and those who write your fatwas are wretched, O deceived ones,” al Julani said.
He also said the ISIS had “abandoned the fight against the Nusayris,” or Alawites, a Shia sect that backs Syrian President Bashar al Assad, in order to fight the rebel groups.
Al Julani’s warning that the ISIS will be targeted in both Iraq and Syria indicates there may be dissent within the leadership of ISIS as well as its rank and file over the very public dispute between the two jihadist groups that resulted in the ISIS’ ouster from al Qaeda. The ISIS surged in Iraq over the past year, and since January has seized control of many areas in Anbar province, including the city of Fallujah. A split within the ISIS as well as open warfare with the Syrian jihadist groups would jeopardize ISIS gains in Iraq.