Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, an influential jihadist ideologue who is jailed in Jordan, has purportedly issued a statement denouncing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) as a “deviant organization.” Maqdisi’s statement, published in both Arabic and English, is being promoted on social media by the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.
Maqdisi has long been critical of the ISIS, which was disowned by al Qaeda’s general command in February after multiple attempts to reconcile the group with the Al Nusrah Front and other jihadist organizations failed. In his new statement, Maqdisi provides more detail about his own alleged involvement in the mediation efforts, saying that he was in contact with al Qaeda head Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who is the emir of the ISIS.
“Perhaps you know that we have exhausted our efforts to be involved in mediation, as have other noble people, scholars, and Mujahideen,” Maqdisi writes, adding that “we communicated with those concerned in the dispute and the infighting, and amongst them was [Abu Bakr] al Baghdadi.”
“I advised him [Baghdadi] privately and advised his [organization] publicly,” Maqdisi claims. The ideologue writes that he was also in contact with the ISIS’ religious officials and he has “documented evidence of these correspondences, which exposes their fraud, their ‘beating around the bush’ and their lies when dealing with the leaders of Jihad, as well as other traits, which are not fitting for Mujahideen.”
The jailed cleric says he even “responded to some of the transgressions of their [the ISIS] official spokesman, [Abu Muhammad] al Adnani, as much as I was able to release from prison, even though his transgressions and reckless [talk] does not deserve to be responded to, more than this.”
While he was reaching out to the ISIS, Maqdisi was communicating with al Qaeda’s senior leadership as well.
“I also wrote to our beloved brother, the Sheikh, the Commander, the Mujahid Ayman al-Zawahiri (may Allah protect him), and I put him in the picture regarding my efforts at a reconciliation initiative or adjudicating between” the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front, Maqdisi continues. Maqdisi claims he told Zawahiri that he “would authorize some of [his] closest students to carry this out.”
In early May, Zawahiri again called for reconciliation between the groups, repeating his longstanding demand that the ISIS fight solely in Iraq and that it comply with the decisions of a common sharia court capable adjudicating between the ISIS and its rivals. In mid-May, Adnani, the ISIS spokesman, responded by blaming Zawahiri for the infighting in Syria and rejecting the al Qaeda master’s mediation plan.
Maqdisi says he witnessed this exchange and the ISIS “clearly state their refusal to the adjudication instructed by the Commander, Sheikh al Zawahiri.”
Maqdisi argues that the ISIS has repeatedly “disobeyed the orders of their leaders and head scholars,” including Zawahiri. The ISIS’ “religious officials have been transgressing their limits with our leaders and scholars,” Maqdisi charges, and this is “especially [true] with our beloved brother Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri.”
Some ISIS officials have claimed that their organization was not bound to follow al Qaeda’s orders, and that the ISIS pledged only to support al Qaeda. The jailed ideologue scoffs at the notion that the ISIS did not have a binding oath of allegiance (bayat) to Zawahiri. After jihadists rebutted the ISIS’ claims in this regard, Maqdisi says, the ISIS’ leaders “began to justify their sin and their transgression against the Mujahideen, as well as their rebellion against their leaders and their rejection of the advices of their leaders, under the guise that al Qaeda has deviated from the path of Jihad.”
Because the ISIS has “shut every door that was open for reconciliation,” Maqdisi argues, he was forced to issue his rebuke. After declaring the ISIS a “deviant organization,” Maqdisi lists a number of the group’s supposed offenses, including the “unlawful” spilling of Muslim blood.
Maqdisi then calls on all Mujahideen to adopt his denunciation of the ISIS and for jihadist websites to stop posting the group’s statements. “I also call upon the members of [the ISIS] to join the ranks of the Al Nusrah Front, giving bayat to its leaders,” Maqdisi writes.
In its online propaganda battle with the ISIS, the Al Nusrah Front and its allies have relied on statements from Maqdisi and Abu Qatada, among others, to undermine the ISIS’ legitimacy. The ISIS has countered by relying on figures such as Maqdisi’s brother, who is reportedly located in South Asia.
Both Maqdisi and Abu Qatada (who is also a leading jihadist ideologue) are imprisoned in Jordan, and their ability to communicate with the outside world, assuming their statements are genuine, raises questions about the circumstances of their confinement.
After all, Maqdisi claims from behind bars that he was able to write to the most wanted terrorist on the planet, Ayman al Zawahiri.