A group of jihadist ideologues, including a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, have called on Ayman al Zawahiri to address the specific problems that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has caused inside Syria.
The message, which was obtained by The Long War Journal, is being disseminated on Twitter. A photo of Zawahiri next to a sealed envelope, shown above, as well as a hashtag are accompanying the message. Oren Adaki, a research associate and Arabic language specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has provided a translation of the missive.
The ideologues argue that the infighting has led the jihad in Syria astray.
They continue: “And due to our keenness on this blessed jihad and so that it should lead to fealty along the lines that Allah desires and would be satisfied with, we ask our Sheikh, Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri – may Allah keep him – to speak that which is good for the jihad and the mujahideen about the current situation and specifically about what relates to ISIS before the announcement of the expansion and after it, and the issue of allegiances (bayat), and the disputed arbitration between the adversaries.”
The three areas the ideologues ask Zawahiri to specifically address are all hot button issues in the dispute between ISIS and the other jihadist factions, including the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.
In a previous message, al Qaeda’s general command addressed the first issue, making it clear that the organization’s most senior leaders had not been consulted before the Islamic State of Iraq decided to expand into Syria. Afterwards, the group was rebranded as ISIS and its leaders tried, unsuccessfully, to subsume the Al Nusrah Front under its command. The latest message implies that there may be more to the story, however.
The issue of ISIS’ bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri has also been contentious. Al Nusrah Front officials have alleged that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS, had sworn bayat to Zawahiri and, therefore, pledged to obey Zawahiri’s orders. Al Baghdadi has repeatedly disobeyed Zawahiri’s command. If it is true that he had sworn bayat, then al Baghdadi has violated the terms of his oath.
To date, Zawahiri has not spoken publicly on this issue despite its importance to the conflict between ISIS and Al Nusrah.
Finally, the message’s signatories call on Zawahiri to discuss “the disputed arbitration between the adversaries.” Multiple attempts have been made to mediate the differences between ISIS and other groups. ISIS has repeatedly refused, however, to submit itself to a common sharia (Islamic law) court. Al Qaeda’s leaders and others have advocated for the establishment of such a court.
Signatories in Zawahiri’s camp, but want more pointed criticism of ISIS
The signatories on the message are listed as: Dr. Tareq Abd Al Haleem, Dr. Hani Al Sibai, Dr. Iyad Quneibi, Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, Sheikh Mohammad Al Hassam, and Dr. Sami al Uraydi.
Uraydi is a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front. On his personal Twitter feed, he has tweeted and retweeted posts praising Zawahiri as the “sheikh of the mujahideen.” Uraydi also reposted the latest message addressed to Zawahiri on his Twitter feed earlier today.
Quneibi is a preacher in Jordan whose sermons are commonly uploaded and linked to on Salafi jihadist pages, including those run by al Qaeda ideologues.
Sibai is a longtime member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a group run by Zawahiri that merged with Osama bin Laden’s venture prior to 9/11. Sibai heads a jihadist media shop, Al Maqreze Center, that produces an online radio program. The message addressed to Zawahiri was posted on Al Maqreze’s Twitter feed today.
Muhaysini is a popular, al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric who relocated to Syria in late 2013. On Jan. 23, Muhaysini released a reconciliation initiative that was intended to bring ISIS back into the fold. ISIS rejected Muhaysini’s proposal, which followed a message from Zawahiri, and was then disowned by al Qaeda’s general command.
While the signatories are clearly in Zawahiri’s camp, they appear to be unsatisfied with the al Qaeda master’s messaging on Syria thus far. Zawahiri has discussed the infighting in mainly general terms and has avoided addressing the specific allegations being hurled back and forth.
For instance, in his recent statement eulogizing Abu Khalid al Suri, Zawahiri did not mention ISIS by name even though he criticized the group’s practices. Al Suri served as Zawahiri’s main representative in Syria and was also a founding member and senior leader in Ahrar al Sham, one of the leading groups in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups. Al Suri was killed in a suicide attack on Feb. 23. The attackers were most likely dispatched by ISIS.
“The situation can no longer bear a delay, and it is no secret to anyone who follows the jihad in Syria,” the signatories write in their message to Zawahiri, adding that their request is consistent with Islamic teachings.
They add: “We want from our Sheikh [Zawahiri] – may Allah keep him – to detail for us in a statement and direct us to what will make the matter clear and reveal it to us, for perhaps Allah is fit to advise him and direct him on the situation.”