Al Qaeda branches urge jihadist unity against US

Two branches of al Qaeda’s international organization, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have released a joint statement urging jihadists in Iraq and Syria to unite against their common enemy, America, “the head of infidelity.”

AQIM and AQAP also offer their condolences for the Ahrar al Sham leaders who were killed in an explosion last week.

The statement was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The two al Qaeda branches lament the “negative effects” of the infighting between jihadist groups in Syria, which has pitted the Islamic State against the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and others.

The Islamic State was once part of al Qaeda’s international network, but was disowned by al Qaeda’s general command earlier this year. Al Nusrah is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria and Ahrar al Sham is an al Qaeda-linked organization that is closely allied with Al Nusrah. Ahrar al Sham is also the most powerful group in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel organizations that is opposed to both Bashar al Assad’s regime and the Islamic State.

“The sadness of jihadi factions for the loss of the best of their leaders and sons in infighting is not absent from our minds,” AQAP and AQIM write, according to SITE’s translation. “Indeed, the infighting only benefits the sons of Zion, the worshippers of the Cross, the Rawafidh [Shiites], the Nusayris [a derogatory term for Alawites].”

“Then here is America, the head of infidelity and the symbol of aggression and tyranny, poking its head anew, bringing behind it an alliance of the Crusaders and their apostate agents,” the two al Qaeda branches write. “It is leading a Crusader campaign to fight Islam and the Muslims, so as to bring another tragedy upon the Ummah, under the excuse of striking the Islamic State, and destroying it, as they claim!!”

AQAP and AQIM urge the warring jihadist factions to “[s]top the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America’s campaign and that of its satanic alliance that lies in wait or all of us to break us stick by stick.”

Thus, the al Qaeda branches portray the American bombing campaign in Iraq and other actions not as a fight against the Islamic State, but as part of an imagined Zionist-Crusader conspiracy against Muslims.

They encourage the rival jihadist factions to stand together against the American-led alliance. And they recall the words of Osama bin Laden, who said: “Do not consult anyone regarding the fighting against Americans.”

Not siding with the Islamic State against al Qaeda

Both AQAP and AQIM have commented on the infighting between the Islamic State and its rivals previously. Their statements have been widely misinterpreted as evidence that they are siding with the Islamic State against al Qaeda. This is not true. While there have been individual supporters of the Islamic State within both organizations, neither group has broken from al Qaeda’s ranks.

AQAP and AQIM have consistently encouraged the opposing jihadists in Syria to set aside their differences. Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has made a similar plea. Ayman al Zawahiri, the emir of al Qaeda, attempted reconciliation as recently as May, months after al Qaeda’s general command disowned the Islamic State.

In a message posted on jihadist forums on July 1, AQIM praised the jihadists’ advances in Iraq and called upon the Islamic State “to take advantage of these conquests and winds of victory to gather and meet, and forget the past of dispute and conflict, and open a new page with their brothers.” AQIM also recommended that the “mujahideen brothers in Sham … strongly support the conquests of their brothers in Iraq.” This was in line with Zawahiri’s advice, AQIM noted. The group also referred to Zawahiri as “our Sheikh and Emir,” indicating that Zawahiri was still its boss.

AQIM’s message in early July was very similar to a statement released by Abu Iyad al Tunisi, the head of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, in mid-June. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia is tied to AQIM. Tunisi also called on the jihadists to unite behind the Islamic State’s successes in Iraq. Tunisi, however, was still respectful of Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of Al Nusrah.

In a statement released in mid-July, AQIM made it crystal clear that it was not siding with the Islamic State in its rivalry with al Qaeda. AQIM explicitly rejected the Islamic State’s caliphate declaration. In the same statement, AQIM reaffirmed its bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri. 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. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia republished the message on its official Facebook page.

AQAP has followed a similar course. In early March, AQAP released an audio message warning against “sedition” and decrying the “murder of any of the mujahideen in any group.”

On Aug. 12, AQAP’s chief theologian, Ibrahim Rubaish, praised the jihadists’ “victories” in Iraq, but did not even name the Islamic State in his video address. Rubaish’s statement is not evidence that his sympathies lie with the Islamic State, as opposed to al Qaeda.

Indeed, in early July, Rubaish and another AQAP ideologue released a message denouncing the “slander” of jihadist leaders. Even though Rubaish did not name the Islamic State’s supporters, the message was clearly aimed at them. Rubaish’s critique coincided with the release of a poem by Nasir al Wuhayshi, who serves as both AQAP’s emir and al Qaeda’s general manager. Wuhayshi heaped praise on Zawahiri in the poem, calling him the “sheikh father” of the mujahideen.

Earlier this month, AQAP heralded the creation of a new al Qaeda branch in the Indian subcontinent. AQAP offered “special congratulations” to “our Sheikh and good Emir,” Ayman al Zawahiri.

Honoring the fallen Ahrar al Sham leaders

At the conclusion of their statement, AQAP and AQIM honor the Ahrar al Sham leaders who were killed in an explosion in Syria earlier this month. “[W]e give our sincere condolences to the mujahideen of Ahrar al Sham, and we press on their hands and ask Allah to have mercy on their martyrs and reward us and them in their tragedy, and compensate us and them with those who are better,” the statement reads, according to SITE’s translation.

This is an additional indication that the two al Qaeda branches do not intend their statement to be read as a break from al Qaeda in favor of the Islamic State. Ahrar al Sham, which was cofounded by a senior al Qaeda operative, is one of the Islamic State’s fiercest rivals.

AQAP and AQIM have now joined the Al Nusrah Front and other al Qaeda members in mourning the death of Ahrar al Sham’s leaders.

Thus, the statement by the two al Qaeda branches should not be read as evidence that the groups are no longer loyal to al Qaeda’s senior leadership. Even some Al Nusrah Front officials are rhetorically siding with the Islamic State as the American bombs fall. Fighters from the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State have spilled each others’ blood since last year.

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

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  • Eric says:

    Any organization setting itself up in charge of a populace makes its public statements which assure the populace of it’s goals. Taken from these words is the public knowledge of the public welfare living under their authority. Al-Qaeda has chosen to use brutality and complete disregard for the safety of outsiders as their means of asserting authority. They have chosen to use murder as their instrument of public policy. If we do not shoot back, they will shoot us. The more ground we give them, the more they will take. The rest of the world is once again making common cause to ‘neutralize’ their threat. Quietly astounded, people scratch their chins and try to understand why the local populace does not fight back with a will approaching respectability. Intimidation simply paralyzes these people with fear?
    Well are we staring across an abyss at a people who are unreachable with a doctrine of living in peace under mutual trust, under law, in an open society? There is a lack of education in the Middle East. People there learn by association, and too often accept rumor for fact, with no tendency to check facts. The notion of their homeland living in peace can only be imagined under the cover of a strongman. A constitutional system merely devolves into a deal-making arena. Deal-making according to the regional custom is the old game of maneuver in which cheating is admired, even respected. And there in the heart of custom is an accommodation with dishonesty which renders them a breed apart from the rest of the world. From this arises a coziness with conspiracy, and an ease with creating conflict with outsiders to the conspiracy that gives way to a deviant ideology that the populace can view with a certain respect, and a society accepts a group that will enslave them, provide that strongman cover, and bring peace.
    I don’t know about 9 billion other people, I just know I am staring across a gulf at the state of affairs in the Middle East, realizing that I have no common values with them. I live in a world where science and discussion inform the debate on how to shape the future. They live in a world where there is no serious effort to find answers for the future, and no-one among them can articulate why that is. When I ask a Middle Eastern Muslim if it is just for non-Muslims to persecute and discriminate against Muslims, I get a NO, A Thousand Times, No. When I ask them if it is just for Muslims to persecute and discriminate against non-Muslims, I get an empty stare for an answer. That is completely unsatisfactory, with all that is going on in the world today. I want to hear the answer to my question, from every Middle Eastern voice. Starting with the Public figures, secular and religious. Religious Discrimination justified for both sides, Yes or No? I want to hear them choose violence, choose war and the destruction of their homeland, or NOT.
    Really, extracting that answer is right at the heart of the ideological war that has brought us to this. That is where any peace accord, any treaty or partnership, and any authorization for the use of force should refer itself – to deny the use of religious discrimination in the world as a tool for destroying accountability to rule of law in the world, near and far.

  • Barnhart says:

    Thankfully, they (AQ affiliates and ISIS) have already caused much damage and bad blood. This surely will be exploited to all their enemies advantage, and at a minimum has hamstrung both’s ability to have capitalized on key moments in the war. Eager to see what the actual extent of the damage is, especially after the master stroke of Ahrar’s cadre decimation.

  • Tom says:

    I give it two more months before we start seeing major defections to IS from Islamic Front, Al-Nusra, and other groups.
    Given the recent IS offensive against Kobane and YPG’s inability to break the stranglehold on the Kobane Canton, plus YPG’s recent massacre of Sunni Arabs and attacks on Syrian Regime forces in Hasakah, plus renewed PKK violence in Turkey makes for a clean noose around YPG’s neck.
    I give the Kobane canton till mid October before it falls to IS. Once it does, IS will have tightened its hold on the Turkish Border and be free to clean out Hasakah fully.IS takes Deir Ezzor Airport, Kuwhares (ten different spellings depending on dialect) Airport, and Qamishli Airport, and Assad will lose his ability to conduct sorties in the north with ease.
    In Iraq fighting has appeared to largely stalemated with the Kurds unable to break out of the Mosul Dam flood plain and slowly losing ground again in the Northern Ninewha Plains with IS having retaken Bashiqa and Batnaya and still holding jump off points to Irbil. Then again, Iraq is largely looking to be a side show for IS with Syria consuming the bulk of its resources. The Anbar tribes take an area back, lose it again, and back and forth with IS systematically killing Sawha leaders as they are identified. The ISF is basically fire support for the Shia militias now with Iran being the troubleshooter trying to keep the various groups shooting at IS instead of each other.
    Overall KDP is useless, their units keep breaking and running.
    YPG/PKK are tough light infantry, but get massacred in a straight fight with IS and Turkey sees them as worse terrorists than IS.
    PUK and PJAK are Iranian subsidiaries wielding ex-Iranian-ex-American equipment and following Iran’s line.
    ISF: Fire support and logistical support for Iranian backed Shia Militias.
    Anti-IS Sunni Tribes: Weak leadership, poor coordination, and lack of strategy.
    US: Serving as Iran’s Airforce- Oops!

  • Tom says:
    Interesting video of YPG “terrorists” fighting IS west of Kobane.
    Notice how IS is using that Tank to spearhead, its a change I noticed or it may be this particular unit has a different policy on tanks.
    No infantry in close protection of the Tank, though you can see them further behind popping up behind a wall.
    There is a technical that has been shot up. I’m guessing it was a scout that went ahead and got wasted.
    Pretty interesting video and I’m sure more tactically minded people will notice other things.

  • Read says:

    The United States and United Kingdom, unlike some European nations, do not pay ransom for the release of hostages.
    American Politicians prefer sacrificial lambs to bolster there Defense/Offense Stock

  • gitsum says:

    BLAH, BLAH, BLAH nothing new here thay all hate Westerners and the U. S.:GOT DRONES?!


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