Skip to main content

Al Qaeda branch in Syria issues ultimatum to splinter group

By Salma Abdelaziz, CNN
updated 6:59 AM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Radical Islamist group in Syria is warned to accept arbitration or leave country
  • ISIS wants to form an Islamist state in Syria
  • Even al Qaeda's main leadership rejected the group's violent tactics

(CNN) -- The head of an al Qaeda-inspired militia fighting in Syria is giving a radical splinter group five days to end infighting and accept arbitration from Sunni clerics or face expulsion from the region, according to an audio message posted online Tuesday.

Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, the chief of al-Nusra Front, called on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to stop turning its guns on its allies and return to the fold of al Qaeda's central command.

"I swear by God, if you again refuse God's judgment, and do not stop your plague and pushing your ignorant ideology on the Muslim nation then you will be expelled, even from Iraq," al-Jolani said in the more than eight-minute message produced by al-Nusra Front's media wing al-Manara al-Baydha.

Earlier this month, even top al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri weighed in on the situation, and the group's central leadership posted a notice online saying ISIS "is not a branch of the al Qaeda group."

ISIS rule with fear in battle for Syria
The brutal tactics used in Syria's war
Al Qaeda 'disowns' affiliate, 'a PR move'

The al-Nusra Front and ISIS are both fighting in Syria. Al-Nusra and other Islamist insurgents argue that the toppling of President Bashar al-Assad's government is the top priority, but ISIS wants the formation of a radical Islamist state to be the main goal.

Apparently, ISIS also has been fighting against al-Nusra members and against civilians who support the opposition.

A conflict in Islamic jurisprudence appears at the core of the long-standing dispute between the Iraqi-born extremist group and its former comrades in al Qaeda.

"Know that we have patiently waited for a whole year while you committed violations, made false accusations, and misconstrued the truth to justify your greater corruption. We relinquished many of our rights," al-Jolani said in the audio message. "You know that until now we have not turned away from the frontlines or fighting the regime as you have done."

The order comes just two days after a suicide bombing allegedly carried out by ISIS killed a mediator representing al-Zawahiri in northern Syria.

Abu Khaled al-Souri's assassination dashed hopes for a political resolution to months of open warfare between ISIS and rebel factions that has claimed the lives of at least 2,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and culminated in the expulsion of the renegade group from al Qaeda's general command earlier this month.

"Al-Zawahiri is clearly fed up with ISIS's open rejection of his overall leadership of the al Qaeda network. Moreover, he is likely quite concerned about how ISIS is alienating ordinary Syrians by a brutal campaign that has involved the public beheading of opponents and the imposition of Taliban-style rule on the population, including the banning of smoking, music and unveiled women in public," Peter Bergen, a national security analyst for CNN, wrote earlier this month.

The bad blood between the two groups started last April when ISIS Chief Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced his group's expansion into Syria and claimed to absorb al-Nusra Front into his ranks. Tensions rose after al Baghdadi openly refused to heed al-Zawahiri's directive to disband and leave Syria.

Analysts say the factional fighting strengthens the government's hand in the country's nearly three-year civil war by distracting insurgents from engaging in combat with Syrian troops and diverting resources and manpower to the war within a war.

READ: Al Qaeda link to shoe-bomb warning

READ: A terror group too brutal for al Qaeda?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
The reported firing of artillery from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle, says CNN's military analyst Rick Francona.
updated 4:46 AM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
The young boy stops, stares, throws ammunition casings at the reporter's feet without a word.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer.
The worst ebola outbreak in history spreads out of control in West Africa. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
updated 2:08 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT