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Al Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri calls for halt to jihadist infighting

By Yousuf Basil, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 6:13 PM EDT, Sat May 3, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ayman al-Zawahiri calls for truce between Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
  • He orders ISIS to focus on Iraq, where violence has reached the highest levels in years
  • Some 60,000 people have fled Syrian province Deir Ezzor amid clases between the rival groups

(CNN) -- An audio message believed to be from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri sought to halt infighting among jihadist groups in Syria, urging them instead to turn their arms against Shiites.

In a 26-minute audio message posted on a jihadist website Friday, al-Zawahiri called on the Syria's al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as al-Nusra Front, to stop fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the message.

A voice that appears similar to previous messages from al-Zawahiri ordered al-Nusra general commander "Abu Mohammed al-Joulani and soldiers in al-Nusra front, and all other mujahedeen groups in Syria, to immediately stop fighting and aggression against their brothers and all Muslims, and should focus on fighting the enemies of Islam from Baathists, (Alawites) and their Shiite allies."

The al Qaeda leader also passed on orders for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers to focus on the fight in Iraq, where sectarian violence has reached the highest levels in more than five years, often pitting Sunnis, a minority in Iraq, against Shiite Muslims.

"Focus on Iraq even if you felt that you have been oppressed and taken advantage of, to stop this bloodshed and focus [on] enemies of Allah and Sunni people in Iraq," the message said.

The call for a truce among jihadist groups comes as some 60,000 people have been forced to flee the northern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor in recent days amid clashes between the rival organizations, the London-based opposition group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said via Facebook Saturday.

At least 62 fighters have been killed in fighting over the past four days, the SOHR said. The clashes pit Jabhat al-Nusra and another group against ISIS, according to the SOHR.

Al Qaeda splinter group ISIS this week staged bodies to look like they were crucified in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. The group said the brutal display served to send a message to anyone who dares challenge its rule.

The group carried out seven public executions in Raqqa on Tuesday, but only two bodies were displayed afterward, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The men in Raqqa were shot in the head before being affixed to crosses. The displays of their bodies appear to be largely symbolic acts by ISIS followers against members of their own Sunni Muslim sect for perceived acts of treason.

As Syria's civil war creates a power vacuum, groups such as ISIS have stepped in with their own form of radical Sharia law to rule over an exhausted and terrorized civilian population.

In a recent long-ranging interview, al-Zawahiri urged Muslims to capture Westerners as pawns that might be used to free prisoners aligned with his movement.

Asked what he'd tell "Muslims and the mujahedeen" -- a term used for some Islamist militants -- to do to "fulfill their duty" toward their allies in custody, al-Zawahiri said last week, "I advise them to capture Westerners -- and especially the Americans, as much as they can -- to exchange them for our captives."

Al-Zawahiri touched on an array of topics in a question-and-answer session with al Qaeda's media arm, audio of which was published on the radical Islamist website Hanein. CNN could not independently verify the authenticity of the recording.

In the first part of the interview, which was posted online two weeks ago, al-Zawahiri insisted al Qaeda is holding strong and, in fact, "expanding" 13 years after the United States launched its "war on terror" following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

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