Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) this week each broke a two-month silence, releasing new propaganda messages that seem to indicate that a dispute between the two franchises has been settled by the terrorist network’s overall “emir,” Ayman al-Zawahiri. Nusra stopped posting videos and messages online through its official media arm, the Manara al-Baydha’ Media Foundation, after the dispute broke out in April. The new releases maintain the original “branding” of the two organizations, despite reports of a merger instigated by ISI.
On April 8, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the ISI, tried to place the Al Nusra Front under his command and rebrand the two Qaeda affiliates as the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” Nusra Front “emir” Abu Muhammad al-Julani shortly rejected al Baghdadi’s announcement, saying that his allegiance was owed directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Baghdadi had been al-Julani’s subordinate within Iraq prior to the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime. The ISI helped launch the Nusra Front in late 2011.
Zawahiri stepped into this dispute on April 11, when he wrote letters to both commanders. Zawahiri describes these communications in a letter dated May 23 that was first published by Al Jazeera. Zawahiri writes that he “sought to resolve the dispute by sending a message” and wanted to freeze “the matter as it was before the dispute until the matter could be arbitrated,” according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Zawahiri’s May 23 letter contained his ruling on the disagreement, mandating that the Nusra Front and the ISI will remain independent wings of al-Qaeda and should avoid infighting while supporting each other with “fighters, arms, money, shelter and security.” The Nusra Front will continue to report directly to al-Qaeda’s “general command,” Zawahiri decided—a clear repudiation of al-Baghdadi’s attempted power grab. (Long War Journal, June 14)