AQIM rejects Islamic State’s caliphate, reaffirms allegiance to Zawahiri

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 2.33.24 PM.png

This image is taken from Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s Facebook page, which reposted AQIM’s statement rejecting the Islamic State’s caliphate.

Update: The SITE Intelligence Group reports that, on July 15, AQIM officially released its statement rejecting the Islamic State’s caliphate. This confirms the authenticity of the message described below.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has purportedly released a statement rejecting the Islamic State’s caliphate. And the group rejects the Islamic State’s demand that all jihadists now swear bayat (or allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed new caliph.

We “confirm that we still adhere to our pledge of allegiance to our sheikh and emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, since it is a Sharia-accorded pledge of allegiance that remains hanging on our necks, and we do not see what requires use to break it,” AQIM’s statement reads.

The message was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, which notes that it was posted on Twitter feeds that have not yet been authenticated by AQIM. The al Qaeda branch has operated multiple official Twitter feeds in the past, but they have taken down. AQIM has not confirmed that the new Twitter sites that released the statement are, in fact, official. If the statement is not genuine, then we can expect AQIM to say so in short order.

The statement is attributed to AQIM’s official propaganda arm, the Al Andalus Foundation for Media Production, which is the only body authorized to disseminate AQIM’s messages. And other jihadist groups have reposted the statement, which indicates that jihadists consider it authentic. In particular, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, a jihadist organization that is affiliated with AQIM, reposted the message on its official Facebook page.

The message attributed to AQIM begins by noting the jihadists’ infighting in Syria, where the Islamic State has warred against its rivals, including the Al Nusrah Front, which is an official branch of al Qaeda. “We were silent throughout this period, not for our inability to speak or a shortcoming on our part, but fearing that our talk will be fuel for the fire of the burning sedition,” AQIM says. The organization feared that “the enemies of the Muslims would take advantage of our words and transform them into a strike against a sect of the mujahideen, in a time when we hope to heal the rift and dissipate the plight.”

Next, AQIM reveals an interesting detail that was not publicly known. The al Qaeda branch apparently tried to help mediate the jihadists’ feud in private. “It is not enough to have hope and be silent, so we sought in efforts to mend the conditions in secret, together with our brothers in the other jihadi fronts, in our belief that the disputes of the mujahideen should be resolved in secret, away from the ears and eyes of lurking enemy media.”

Other al Qaeda parties, including veteran jihadists dispatched by al Qaeda’s senior leadership to Syria, have assisted in the mediation efforts as well. And in an audio message recorded in late February, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said that it had “sought reconciliation between the mujahideen” and was “still trying our best in it.” So, accepting the group’s words at face value, AQIM joined this international coalition in attempting to resolve the ongoing dispute.

Those efforts failed, leading al Qaeda’s general command to disown the group now known as the Islamic State in early February. And in late June, after making advances in Iraq alongside allied organizations, the Islamic State declared itself a caliphate. This was a direct challenge to the authority of Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaeda’s senior leadership.

AQIM rejects the Islamic State’s caliphate, however. The al Qaeda group says while it too wants to resurrect the caliphate, the Islamic State has not followed the appropriate protocols.

“The establishment of the rightly-guided Caliphate … is the effort of every honest mujahid, and all organizations and known jihadi groups in their honest and the correctness of their method, strived and exerted their selves, and spilled blood, and spent money in the cause,” AQIM says, according to SITE’s translation.

“It is obvious for the Muslims and all jihadi organizations that follow the correct method, that the announcement of such a serious step (meaning the establishment of the Caliphate), will not happen but after the expansion of consultation,” AQIM’s statement continues.

Coordination with other jihadist groups and Islamic scholars is considered to be a crucial step in establishing the caliphate. But the Islamic State unilaterally did so, thereby ignoring numerous ideologues and leaders many jihadists believe should have been consulted. This is what AQIM means when it says “the expansion of consultation” is necessary before announcing a caliphate.

In fact, AQIM says that it was previously consulted by the Islamic State with respect to the infighting in Syria, thereby making the Islamic State’s failure to consult before the caliphate announcement all the more noteworthy.

“We are not the ones who speak in secret if we say that when the signs of sedition appeared in Syria, our brothers in the [Islamic] State sent to us messages in which they made us aware of details of what happened, and it is an act for which we thank them, as we thanked them their trust in us,” AQIM’s statement reads. “Then why today, and the calamity is greater and the issue is more serious, do they make such an announcement without the advice of the leaders of the mujahideen, who have proven their sincerity and excellence, their advice for the Ummah, and their efforts to establish the rightly-guided caliphate were proven[?]”

Echoing the criticisms of other leading jihadists, AQIM wonders what the Islamic State’s position is with respect to the Taliban, the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, and all of the “al Qaeda branches in other regions.” The Islamic State’s caliphate declaration can be read as an attempt to abrogate the authority of all these groups, which AQIM obviously does not think is justified.

AQIM calls on a number of jihadist leaders to rectify the intra-jihadist conflict. Among the leaders mentioned in AQIM’s statement are Ayman al Zawahiri, the heads of the other al Qaeda branches, Taliban emir Mullah Omar, and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (now called “Caliph Ibrahim” by his followers). Also included on AQIM’s list of jihadists the group hopes can bring an end to the infighting is Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a staunch critic of the Islamic State and its caliphate.

AQIM wants the “scholars of the Ummah, led by the sheikhs of the mujahideen and their references, to give us a fatwa that is absolutely clear in this calamity, and to straighten our position if they see that it is crooked.” Perhaps out of frustration that more has not been done to confront the Islamic State’s caliphate claims, AQIM says, “The truth is our demand, so this is the time to speak the truth aloud and to guide the mujahideen.”

The al Qaeda group again implores the jihadi factions in Syria to end their war against one another. “We call upon the jihadi factions that are fighting against the [Islamic] State, and on top of them, our brothers in the Al Nusrah Front, to stop the campaign of incitement against it, and to commit to the order of their emir, Sheikh Ayman [al Zawahiri],” AQIM’s statement reads, according to SITE’s translation. “We also call on our brothers in the Islamic State to do the same. All this is to facilitate the reconciliation between them.”

Earlier this month, it was erroneously reported by some media outlets that AQIM had defected from al Qaeda’s ranks and sworn bayat to the Islamic State. That reporting was based on a misreading of another statement issued by AQIM, in which the group praised the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq. But even in that statement, AQIM referred to Zawahiri as the organization’s “sheikh” and “emir.”

Assuming the latest statement from AQIM is authentic, the group makes clear that it is still loyal to Zawahiri, and doesn’t think highly of the Islamic State’s attempted power grab within the jihadist world.

AQIM confirms that the formation of an Islamic Caliphate is AQIM’s “demand” and that its members “are working towards” the goal through their jihad. The Islamic State’s caliphate has not put an end to AQIM’s quest. Nor, in AQIM’s view, has the Islamic State successfully usurped al Qaeda’s authority.

While no other al Qaeda group has officially responded to the Islamic State’s claims, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released two messages earlier this month demonstrating that it also remains loyal to al Qaeda’s senior leadership.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

Tags: , , , , , ,


  • Abu Adam says:

    According to Islamic law, the pledge of allegiance must be given to the Khalifa (the Caliph, who is the leader of all muslims).
    AQIM’s claim that it cannot pledge allegiance to Khalifa Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi because it has already pledged allegiance to Al-Qa-eda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri is baseless because Al-Zawahiri was not declared the Khalifa, and rightfully so, as Al-Zawahiri does not have control over any territory, resources and is unable in any way to enforce Islamic law. The Khalifa Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi does. It is therefore incumbent upon all the mujahedeen to pledge allegiance to their leader — Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi.
    If Al-Zawahiri is declared the Khalifa at this point, it is justified to kill him according to Islamic law. This is based on a prophetic tradition which says that if anyone declares himself a Khalifa, after someone has already filled that position, he must be killed.
    We must remember that Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi was declared the Khalifa in the absence of any Caliphate. 🙂

  • Caleb says:

    Besides AST, what other jihadist groups reposted this on Twitter and other social media sites?
    — Caleb

  • Wallbangr says:

    @Abu Adam: declared by whom? Himself? if it was that simple then why doesn’t zawahiri simply declare himself caliph? Hell, why don’t you just decree yourself caliph? Or malaki, for that matter? The fact is, the IS and Abu bakr have little credibility in the eyes of the ummah. Zawahiri at least has some bonafides, whether or not he has control over any territory, per se. Rolling corrupt and incompetent Sunni Iraqi army units aside, what makes Abu bakr the leader of the umma to whom bayat is rightfully owed? Do tell, sir.

  • Madhabuti Qawi says:

    Abu Adam, one problem. the entire Islamic Law “thing”. Did you happen to see the ISIS propaganda video? I don’t see any Islam in that. Especially the drive by shootings. That looked like a bunch of gangbangers. I thought I was watching the application of rap lyrics to political theory. Nothing personal but if this is what Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is about then he is not about Islam. ISIS looks to me to be either the Crips or Bloods, nothing more. And the accusations of ISIS drug dealing to finance their activities have yet to be discredited. This caliphite seems to resemble the rise to power of a a drug cartel in a group of loosely connected housing projects somewhere in the South Bronx. That’s how it looks to me.

  • Stephanie says:

    I respectfully disagree. The recent sermon by Al-Baghdadi was heavily religious and all about the fear of God and living righteously, then tied into jihad as the means for establishing the rule of God on earth (through the caliphate).
    This explains why people are so easily deceived by groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, because average Muslims are zealous for righteousness and a moral society. Islam as the law of the land is naturally how they see that being attained – just as Al-Baghdadi said – so it is no surprise that people would rally behind the Islamist and jihadist groups who seem to espouse piety and goodness and the fear of God.
    But by their fruit, we will know them. I hope that if nothing else good can come out of this mess in Iraq, at least it will cause people to see the fruit of the Islamist ideology taken to its logical conclusion.

  • Evan says:

    Baghdadi is a wannabe dictator. He’s a thug, one who’s sold drugs, yes, and also looted the histories and cultures, quite literally, of both Syria and Iraq.
    Irreplaceable pieces of history that belong to all mankind, sold into the obscure and opaque, shady and twisted world of underground illegal art. And that’s what he hasn’t ordered destroyed with bulldozers and sledgehammers.
    This is what Sunni Muslims look up to? He’s a mass murderer, a psychopath, and obvious sociopath. While he may have been brought up around “religion,” and he was a sort of monk, (he lived in a small room attached to a mosque for a decade and helped to lead prayers because of his “voice,”) it matters not.
    Baghdadi has no more to do with Islam, than I do with the Russian space program, comrades.
    Just like Big Z, and OBL, Baghdadi is using “Islam,” or some version thereof, to justify his actions.
    Here’s proof proper. Look at the top 2 lieutenants Baghdadi has, both of them are former high ranking officers within Saddams’ Baathist military. A highly secular organization, both of these men were similarly described as being “battle hardened,” with extensive experience, etc…
    Experience more likely than not gained against US forces in Iraq, and now Hezbollah and the SAA in Syria.
    What are 2 Baathists doing leading the IS?
    Baghdadis LT’s, all named some version of “abu,” were also described as if they were dogs, Baghdadi was a “Shepard,”(pffffff, really??) And the IS and I guess now his caliphate were his “flock.”
    These evil men have no claim to anything but death.
    “but by their fruit, we will know them,”
    Because you must reap, what you sow….
    Some of us will be ready for what’s coming, thanks to LWJ.
    We are watching, studying, learning the ways, habits, fears and thoughts of our enemies.
    So, that when the time comes, in this long war, we will utterly destroy them, and their hate filled, evil ideology will die with them.

  • Madhabuti Qawi says:

    Stephanie, I see where you are coming from. What you say is valid and makes sense. On a larger level, I see individuals attaching themselves to a collective. Furthermore, I also see young men attaching themselves to a collective and this is why I issued the “Crips and Bloods” reference. The Islamists have created a brand of Islam that resembles gang membership rather than an individual pursuit of individual spiritual actualization. The jihadis are collectivists and the notion of “ummah” has become collectivization rather than a unity that respects the individual search for spirituality. But back to the thing about young men… The dynamics I’ve learned about people organizing into lawless packs (gangs) seem, to me, to be expressed in what I’ve seen with the appeal of the jihadis, whether they be Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, etc., I could be wrong but I am of the opinion that this is not Islam but a gathering of wayward young men who are prostituted by a “wannabe” tyrant.

  • Stephanie says:

    But in many cases people become disillusioned with the corrupt secularists and join the ranks of those who appear “pure” and righteous, so just because Baghdadi’s lieutenants used to be on Saddam’s side doesn’t mean that they are just using religion as a ruse and they don’t really believe in it.
    For example, “The Weight of a Mustard Seed” by Wendell Steavensen is an excellent book about a former high-ranking Saddam loyalist who turned to intense religiosity (though not, in his case, Islamic fanaticism) in response to his war experiences in the Baath party. Excellent read.

  • Evan says:

    Fair enough, yes, some of them, the less intelligent ones, probably actually believe that what they are doing in Syria and Iraq is somehow virtuos in the eyes of Islam. They are wrong.
    Madhabuti is actually far closer to the truth.
    It’s not about islam.
    Look at it, look at all the young men running off to fight against the “nusayris,” or “Safavids,” both derogatory terms for shia, commonly used by just about every Sunni jihadi group in the world. They use sectarianism, racism, hatred, and bigotry, to name a few, to recruit cowards and idiots from all over.
    They offer something very real to these very disaffected, very confused young men that show up to be cannon fodder.
    It’s not Islam, that’s for sure. It’s sort of a symbiotic relationship. These young men, who I think feel “picked on,” in general, and who see the weakness and yes corruption of the countries that they or their families originate from, and they see the differences I think, between this one world where everything sucks and people live like cavemen, and thats the world Islam has ruled over for centuries, an then there’s the rest of the world, especially countries like the US and Britain, where life is pretty good and things are safe, and Christianity has played undeniable roles in both of these countries. And I think that they are flat out jealous. Why should we get the good life? We’re the “infidels,” remember?
    And what do they all want? A caliphate. An empire. They want power. And not just a little either. Who better to rule you? Then them? They have the worst historical case of little man syndrome ever, the jihadis. So, yeah, I guess in that vague way, it’s about Islam.
    But what it’s really about is power, and the unquenchable thirst for power, especially in Baghdadi’s case.
    Isn’t that what it’s always about?

  • Eric says:

    @ Abu Adam
    You explain the islamic tradition of silencing any dissenting opinion by murder quite nicely for us with your own words “If Al-Zawahiri is declared the Khalifa at this point, it is justified to kill him according to Islamic law. This is based on a prophetic tradition which says that if anyone declares himself a Khalifa, after someone has already filled that position, he must be killed.”
    If you must kill someone for declaring themselves an alternative, and rightful leader, you can expect no future for your ideology. Indeed it is the very nature of intolerance that has infected Islam with a rationale to commit atrocities against fellow Muslims everywhere. And indeed, just as you make no accomodation for others, none can be made for you. None can be made for you. Have you noticed that your power derives from weapons and a will to use them with utter savagery? Well, you may have invented utter savagery, but you have neither the mental facilities nor the R&D facilities to produce weapons on your own. as long as you can capture and buy them, you can pretend to be your own masters, but ultimately, exist only by feeding from the flow of technology that arises in modern, secular nations with tolerant societies. If you want an Islamic State, it is FINE by me. I want the world to see what passes for lifestyle aims and achievements in your version of the world. Once your way of running the show is seen by the Muslim World, you will have a very short future.
    And when, not if, but when the West decides it is time to strike at your merry band of cave-dwellers, the few of you who survive will be back to starting from nothing in a Muslim community disillusioned by your pretense at rule.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram