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

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