Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over as leader of al-Qaeda after the liquidation of Osama bin Laden, has released an audio message accusing ISIS leader and self-proclaimed “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of “sedition” – calling self leader of all Muslims – and declaring war against the Islamic State. Mirror reports.
In the message, released online on Wednesday, Sept. 9, al-Zawahiri said:
“We have endured a lot of harm from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his brothers, and we preferred to respond with as little as possible, out of our concern to extinguish the fire of sedition.
“But Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his brothers did not leave us a choice, for they have demanded that all the mujahideen reject their confirmed pledges of allegiance, and to pledge allegiance to them for what they claim of a caliphate.”
Al-Baghdadi had called on the world’s Muslims to “obey” him as the head of the caliphate in a rare public speech in Mosul, Iraq last year.
He said: “I am the wali (leader) who presides over you, though I am not the best of you, so if you see that I am right, assist me.
“If you see that I am wrong, advise me and put me on the right track, and obey me as long as I obey God in you.”
Zawahiri said “everyone was surprised” by al-Baghdadi’s declaration and he had done this “without consulting the Muslims”.
A counter terrorism expert has said the move will ‘irreconcilably’ divide the two militant groups.
ABC News quotes National Counter-Terrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen describing the new Zawahiri audio as an “interesting” development.
“Zawahiri until now has not been willing to openly condemn Baghdadi and ISIS. It highlights how deep the division is between al Qaeda leadership and ISIS. It suggests that the differences are irreconcilable,” he said, suggesting that U.S. intelligence operatives could take this opportunity to goad ISIS and al-Qaeda into more gunfights and assassinations.
Other intelligence analysts quoted by ABC agreed that the split between ISIS and al-Qaeda, and perhaps a growing divide within al-Qaeda itself, should be exploited.
However, it should be noted that while Zawahiri had strong words for Baghdadi, he reiterated the willingness of al-Qaeda to fight alongside ISIS against common enemies such as the United States.