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)
Free Syrian Army issues ultimatum to al-Qaeda
This week it was revealed that militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) murdered Kamal Hamami, a Free Syrian Army military commander who also was a member of the US-backed Supreme Military Council. The killing took place near the northern city of Latakia, following a meeting with the ISIL militants which appears to been part of an effort to broker some kind of agreement with the FSA but broke down into a shouting match. The FSA has now issued an ultimatum to the ISIL to turn over Abu Ayman al-Baghdadi, the group’s “emir” in the Latakia region, or face “justice.” (Long War Journal, July 13)
Free Syrian Army clashes with jihadists
The Free Syrian Army and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) clashed July 13 in a struggle for control of a strategic checkpoint in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr district. (Al Jazeera)