The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has issued a short statement denying that the group has announced the creation of an Islamic emirate (or state). The group has posted the message online in both Arabic and English.
The statement is a “clarification” and was released in response to a leaked audio recording that was disseminated online just hours before. The audio is allegedly a recording of a fiery speech by Abu Muhammad al Julani, the Al Nusrah Front’s leader. “The time has come … for us to establish an Islamic emirate in the Levant,” Julani says during the speech.
The leaked recording was not an official production of the Al Nusrah Front, nor was it a formal announcement. But Julani’s words were widely interpreted within the online jihadist community to mean that the group would be announcing the creation of an Islamic emirate soon.
“We … strive to establish an Islamic Emirate according to the regarded Islamic [Sunnah],” the newly-released statement reads. “We have not announced the establishment of an Emirate, yet. When the time comes and the sincere Mujahideen and the pious scholars agree with our stance, we will announce this Emirate, by the Will of Allah.”
Thus, the Al Nusrah Front says that it will seek to build a consensus among jihadists before establishing an Islamic emirate. This is in contrast to the Al Nusrah Front’s rival, the Islamic State, which unilaterally declared in late June that it now rules as a caliphate covering parts of both Iraq and Syria. One of the jihadists’ main objections to the Islamic State is that the group refuses to consult with other organizations and share power.
The Al Nusrah Front does not deny that the leaked audio is a recording of Julani’s speech. And parts of the organization’s statement are actually consistent with what Julani told his audience.
“We strive to rule by Shariah [Islamic law] by establishing Islamic Courts, Security Offices and offering general services to the Muslims within the next ten days,” the statement reads. In his purported speech, Julani said his group would establish new sharia courts within one week.
The statement continues, “We will not allow anyone to pick the fruits of this Jihad and establish a secular scheme, or any other scheme, which takes advantage of the sacrifices of the Mujahideen and is established on their blood.” This, too, was a theme in Julani’s speech. The Al Nusrah Front head said he would not allow his fighters’ sacrifices on the battlefield to be squandered such that other groups, including the Islamic State, benefit at their expense.
The perception that the Al Nusrah Front was moving to create an Islamic emirate had the potential to cause rifts between Julani’s forces and their allies in other rebel groups, which may not share all of the Al Nusrah Front’s beliefs. The newly-released statement seeks to allay these concerns as Julani’s group says it “will not hesitate to deal [militarily] with the corrupt groups in the liberated areas,” but this “will be done by cooperation with the sincere groups [Mujahideen].”
The Al Nusrah Front “is determined to unify ranks to face the dangers which threaten the Jihadi front [in Syria], whether these threats are from the Nusayri [Bashar al Assad’s] Regime or from the group of Khawarij and ghulaat (extremists).” The latter is a reference to the Islamic State and its emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who now claims to rule as “Caliph Ibrahim.”
Jihadists frequently use the words Khawarij and ghulaat to describe the Islamic State, as these words refer to Muslims who hold beliefs considered too extreme for most other Muslims. Of course, the Al Nusrah Front adheres to an extremist ideology as well.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.