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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Al Qaeda's general command disowns the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham -- By Thomas Joscelyn, The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda's senior leadership has disowned the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) in a statement released online. ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, have repeatedly refused to obey orders issued by Ayman al Zawahiri and his subordinates. As a result, al Qaeda's general command -- commonly referred to as al Qaeda's senior leadership (AQSL) in the West -- has cut off the group.

Al Qaeda's senior leaders now say they have "no connection" with ISIS, which is "not an affiliate with the al Qaeda group and has no organizational relation with it." Furthermore, al Qaeda's general command is "not responsible" for ISIS' actions.

"The branches of al Qaeda are the ones that the General Command of the group announces and recognizes," the statement reads, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. "We emphasize our loyalty, love, and support for every mujahid. We are keen on the fellowship among Muslims and mujahideen."

The statement is clearly intended to distance al Qaeda's leaders from ISIS' approach to the Syrian war. ISIS has made exclusionary claims on power and refused to recognize the legitimacy of other jihadist groups.

Background on dispute

The dispute between ISIS and AQSL became public in the middle of last year. On April 8, 2013, Baghdadi tried to subsume control over the Al Nusrah Front, which is led by one of Baghdadi's former lieutenants, Abu Muhammad al Julani. Baghdadi claimed that Al Nusrah would be folded into the Islamic State of Iraq's operations and the new combined entity would be called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS).

Baghdadi's plan did not come to fruition. Shortly after Baghdadi's announcement, Julani issued his own message rejecting it. Julani conceded that Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) had helped establish the Al Nusrah Front, but he reaffirmed his allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri directly. Julani said his group would continue to fight under its own banner and not answer to Baghdadi.

The public spat forced Zawahiri to step in. On April 11, 2013, Zawahiri wrote letters to both Baghdadi and Julani, demanding that they report to him on the dispute. After consulting with al Qaeda's shura (advisory) council, Zawahiri issued a ruling on May 23. Zawahiri dissolved Baghdadi's ISIS and said its operations should be confined to Iraq. He also chastised Julani for publicly announcing his allegiance to al Qaeda's emir.

On June 14, 2013, Baghdadi rejected Zawahiri's order in an audio message released online.

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