Qaeda says Iraqi branch should leave Syria

A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he stands in front of graffiti that reads “Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ) down” at Masaken Hanano neighborhood in Aleppo. (File photo: Reuters)

Iraqi al-Qaeda’s entry into Syria’s civil war caused “a political disaster” for Islamist militants there, the movement’s global leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in a video message, urging the faction to redouble its efforts in Iraq instead.

Zawahri has repeatedly tried to end infighting between the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and another al-Qaeda-aligned group, the Nusra Front.

He said on Friday in a message translated by SITE Monitoring that if ISIS had accepted his decision not to get involved in Syria and had instead worked to “busy itself with Iraq, which needs double its efforts” then it could have avoided the “waterfall of blood” caused by militant infighting.

ISIS militants joined the conflict in Syria last year and unilaterally declared they were taking over the Nusra Front, which had won the admiration of many rebels fighting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for its battlefield prowess.

Zawahri, who has run al-Qaeda since Osama bin Laden was killed in April 2011, accused ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, of “sedition” and said rebel disunity had been handed “on a plate of gold” to Assad, the ultimate target of all Sunni Islamist groups in Syria.

Zawahri said Baghdadi should instead redouble his efforts against the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is a Shiite - an Islamic sect regarded by al-Qaeda as heretical. Shiism is the dominant sect in Iran.

He said that toppling Assad would “cause the elimination of more than half of the Iranian power alliance that seeks to establish a Shiite state from Afghanistan to south Lebanon.”

On Wednesday the United States said al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan, led by Zawahri, had been severely degraded, but that the movement’s affiliates in Africa and the Middle East were becoming more autonomous and aggressive.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42