ISIS vs. al Qaeda: The Jihadist Divide
Why Al-Qaeda Kicked Out Its Deadly Syria Franchise
Feb. 3, 2014
After a protracted turf battle, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria finds itself on the outs. That will likely make things even more dangerous
Early Monday morning the leadership of al-Qaeda disowned the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS), the most effective of its two franchises fighting in Syria, in a maneuver that could alter the trajectory of the fight against President Bashar Assad. In a message posted on jihadi websites the al-Qaeda general command stated that its former affiliate “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group [and al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with it and is not the group responsible for their actions.”
The move had been a long time in the making. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri has grown increasingly frustrated with ISIS, ever since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, expanded into the Syrian conflict in April and attempted to bring the local al-Qaeda franchise, the Nusra Front, under his control. Zawahiri intervened in May, admonishing Baghdadi to go back to Iraq, but Baghdadi refused, snapping back in a terse audio recording. “I have to choose between the rule of God and the rule of Zawahiri, and I choose the rule of God.” It was a rare demonstration of defiance in an organization that demands absolute loyalty. Nonetheless, Zawahiri seemed prepared to let the matter lie, apparently in recognition of Baghdadi’s growing strength; by that time, ISIS, recently strengthened by an influx of foreign fighters, had taken control of the Syrian city of Raqqa. That brought al-Qaeda the closest it had ever been to achieving a longterm goal — establishing an Islamic state.
But ISIS’s savagery and draconian interpretations of Islamic law alienated many Syrians and drove a wedge between rebel groups. On Jan. 3, fighting broke out between ISIS and a new alliance that included the Nusra Front. ISIS has managed to stand its ground, but this most recent al-Qaeda announcement could lead to a greater conflagration. Al-Qaeda central may not have been able to stop Baghdadi outright, but the threat of excommunication seemed to have reined in his worst tendencies — his deadly campaign of suicide-bomb attacks in Iraq has not yet been replicated in Syria to the same degree. ISIS is now likely to lash out with increased attacks as it tries to prove its efficacy in spite of losing its valuable al-Qaeda designation.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi contested al-Zawahiri's ruling and the group continued to operate in Syria. (AFP)
INTERNET SOURCE: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2721417/So-wicked-Al-Qaeda-disowned-Letter-Bin-Ladens-hideout-warned-Islamic-States-extreme-brutality.html
So wicked that even Al Qaeda disowned them: Letter found at Bin Laden's hideout warned of Islamic State's extreme brutality
- 21-page letter found at the Pakistan hideout where Bin Laden was killed
- Note said Islamic State of Iraq and Syria could damage Al Qaeda's reputation
- Memo documented acts of barbarism including bombing mosques
- ISIS, now called Islamic State, has control of area larger than Great Britain
Lying among a pile of papers at the hideout in Pakistan where Osama Bin Laden was shot dead was a carefully worded 21-page letter.
It warned of the rise of a new and ruthless group of Islamic extremists capable of such extreme brutality that Al Qaeda should sever all links with them.
In fact, it claimed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or ISIS) had such complete disregard for civilian life that it could damage the reputation of Al Qaeda – if such a thing were possible for an organisation that has long traded in murderous terrorism.
The document, written by one of Bin Laden’s senior officials in 2011, went on to catalogue some of its acts of barbarism – including the use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon, bombing mosques and a massacre in a Catholic church in Baghdad.
In essence, the letter said that ISIS was simply too extreme even for the group that killed thousands in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Today, ISIS, which now styles itself as simply Islamic State (IS), has become a powerful military force that has control of an area larger than Great Britain.
Living under its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam are six million people, a population larger than that of Ireland, Denmark or Finland.
Its trademark black jihadi flag has fluttered in the background of chilling ‘promotional’ videos of executions – including crucifixions and beheadings – as the militia seizes vast areas of Iraq and Syria. In short, the ‘caliphate’ – or Islamic state – it claims to have established represents the biggest shift in the political geography of the Middle East since the borders of modern Iraq and Syria were drawn under the Sykes-Picot agreement drafted between Britain and France in 1916.
To understand the threat Islamic State poses to the region, it first needs to be appreciated how it has grown into a force to rival Al Qaeda.
The group was founded by 43-year-old Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a firebrand cleric held prisoner for four years by American troops in Iraq.
The leader, a Sunni Muslim who despises the Shia-run Iraqi government, now commands more than 10,000 fighters, many of them former Saddam Hussein-era soldiers or disenchanted Sunnis who lost power and influence after the fall of the dictator’s regime.
More worryingly, foreign Islamic extremists, including about 500 Britons, have joined IS to fight in Syria and Iraq.
The group controls valuable oil fields and, with the help of wealthy Sunni backers from the Gulf states, is estimated to have amassed a staggering £1.2billion. It has even sold 8,000-year-old antiquities it has seized.
But its real assets lie in the fanatical loyalty of its fighters (they all swear allegiance to IS) and the state-of-the-art weaponry they now possess.
Much of its armoury was seized during a lightning advance several weeks ago, when fleeing Iraqi troops abandoned the artillery and armoured vehicles that they had been given by US forces.
With captured American Humvees and the latest precision firepower, it is more than a match for the formidable Kurdish peshmerga – which defends the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region in the north – and its 12.7mm Soviet-era machine guns and outdated Russian T-55 tanks.
As Ali Khedery, a former American official who advised US generals in Iraq, has said: ‘They are literally outgunned by an IS that is fighting with hundreds of millions of dollars of US military equipment seized from the Iraqi Army, which abandoned it.’
So it would be naive in the extreme to think of Islamic State as a motley crew of scrappers.
A force capable of meting out so much wanton violence is invariably led by commanders who rule with an iron will.
But what marks them out as being particularly savvy is the way they have used social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to create a digital ‘public relations’ machine to promote their jihad and strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.
Any fighter on the ground can film an act of brutality and upload the footage in a matter of minutes – although some videos of botched amputations or killings have led to a clampdown by IS commanders. One Spanish fighter promised to upload a film of a man being crucified for his friends back home, but was quickly reprimanded by his superiors.
His later contrite posting simply read, ‘Our leadership forbade anyone filming it.’
However, the videos already in circulation have already created a climate of terror.
Some opposition soldiers, particularly in Syria, are defecting to the group. After all, IS has money – some of which is said to have come through private donations from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Equally, those captured by the militia face a stark choice – defect or die.
Despite being trained by American troops, the Iraqi army has proven worryingly ineffective in taking on this threat.
It’s why the terrorists now control much of the north of the country. They have also seized a former chemical weapons plant and a large dam that could be blown up to flood the regions downstream.
The populations of the Kurdish capital of Irbil, as well as the national capital Baghdad, are now in no doubt as to the fate that would befall them if these Sunni extremists prevail.
If IS cannot be stopped, they are clinging to the hope that rescue will come in the form of Iran, which supports Iraq’s Shia-led government, or the US.
However, both countries are reluctant to commit troops on the ground in the political and religious quagmire of Iraq.
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi knows this only too well.
It is why his IS troops have been so emboldened to sweep across much of Syria and northern Iraq in recent weeks. In the past fortnight they have fought on five fronts: against the Iraqi army, the Kurdish peshmerga, Bashar Al-Assad’s Syrian regime, the Syrian opposition and the Lebanese army.
When he was released by the American military police from the Camp Bucca detention facility in Umm Qasr, where he was held as an insurgent, al Baghdadi said ominously: ‘I will see you guys in New York.’
A fanciful threat?
Perhaps not, when you consider that the greatest threat Islamic State poses to the world is that this so-called caliphate becomes a training ground for international terrorism, and unleashes an army of extremists against the West to kill and maim far from the bloodsoaked deserts of Iraq.