A militant group disavowed by al-Qaeda has accused the international terrorist network of shielding Iran from militant attacks over the past several years by issuing orders to Islamist militants not to attack Tehran and its interests.
While Muslim-majority countries from Afghanistan to Morocco have had their share of bloody al-Qaeda violence over the past decade, Iran has remained largely unscathed.
An audio recording, believed to belong to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, heavily criticized al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and urged him to admit his “mistakes.”
“What were your achievements?” Adnani asked Zawahiri who had ordered that ISIS be disbanded.
The authenticity of the recording could not be immediately verified.
Adnani added: “The Islamic state was continuing to be committed to orders from jihadist sheikhs and jihad symbols to not strike Iran; it suppressed its anger despite its ability to transform Iran into lake of blood.”
“ISIS bore accusation of being an agent of its staunch enemy Iran … all in order to respect the orders of al-Qaeda and to protect its interests and supply lines,” the spokesman said.
When ISIS was formed in April last year, Syrian activists claimed its served the interests of President Bashar al-Assad and his main ally, Tehran.
“Sheikh Osama gathered all the mujahedeen with one word, but you divided them and tore them apart,” Agence France-Presse quoted Adnani as saying in the audio statement posted on jihadist forums on Sunday, referring to Zawahiri’s predecessor Osama bin Laden.
He also dismissed that ISIS was a branch of al-Qaeda. “ISIS is not a branch of al-qaeda and never was.”
While he urged Zawaheri to admit his mistakes, he said that ISIS is still “extending its hands” to him.
Adnani called on Zawahiri to replace al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, warning:
“Either you continue with your mistake and remain stubborn, and the division and fighting among the mujahedeen will continue, or you confess to your mistake and correct it”
“You make the mujahedeen sad, and make the enemy of the mujahedeen gloat because you support the traitor (Jolani), and you make the heart bleed -- you are the one who instigated the strife, and you have to extinguish it.
“Review yourself and stand in front of God to correct what you have ruined.”
Adnani also rejected the latest of Zawahiri’s multiple calls that ISIS restrict its activities to Iraq, stating that this was “impossible because it is unreasonable, unrealistic and illegitimate.”
Ali Reza Nourizadeh, a senior researcher and director of the Center for Arab & Iranian Studies in London, told Al Arabiya News Channel on Monday that al-Qaeda has had “long established relations with Iran.”
He said the former al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in June 2006 in a special U.S. airstrike, was treated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of wounds he sustained during fights in Iraq.
Persistent jihadist infighting between ISIS and al-Nusra, both of whom oppose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has prompted 60,000 people to flee towns in oil-rich Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria.
The latest round of battles come after Islamist and moderate rebels launched an offensive against ISIS earlier this year. They were later joined by al-Nusra.
While al-Nusra has been accepted as an ally by many rebels, ISIS has been criticized for its attacks on civilians and rival opposition groups.
The fighting with ISIS has killed about 4,000 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The two jihadist groups have continued to clash despite a call from Zawahiri for an end to the hostilities.
In an audio recording released this month, Zawahiri urged al-Nusra to stop fighting ISIS and focus on battling the Syrian regime.
He also repeated a call for ISIS to restrict its activities to Iraq.