Al-Zawahiri calls on ISIS leader to return to Iraq

Rebel fighters from the Ansar al-Sham brigade hold a position on a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean sea reportedly in the village of Kasab, in the northwestern Syrian province of Latakia, on April 4, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Hass News/Ali Nasser)

By Radwan Mortada

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to stop fighting in Syria and return to Iraq. Zawahiri has blamed Baghdadi for the infighting amongst Islamist fighters in Syria, describing him as “al-Qaeda’s rebellious soldier.”

Ayman al-Zawahiri has decided to take a decisive decision regarding the leader of ISIS, demanding he return to Iraq. He blames Baghdadi for the current infighting among Islamist fighters in northern Syria and he called on al-Nusra Front to stop fighting against ISIS.

Despite expressions like the “venerable sheikh,” and “God save him” that he used when talking about Baghdadi, Zawahiri was serious in his demand, saying “God bear witness, I have delivered the message.”

Referring to the motive behind his message, Zawahiri spoke again of “the sedition between the mujahideen in Syria.” He said that he responded to “the appeals of Sheikh Hani Sibai, who believes that by answering his questions there might be an end to the fighting between the mujahideen.”

Opinions differed regarding Zawahiri’s position. Some saw in his words “a last attempt to stop the sedition between the mujahideen,” while others argued that he sent his message “after ISIS fighters made progress on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.

In a recorded message that lasted 24 minutes, Zawahiri said: “I will divide my words into a testimony, an order, an appeal, a reminder and an advice.” The testimony was his confirmation that “the Islamic State in Iraq is a division of al-Qaeda.” Zawahiri went through the smallest details which reveal that the leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and their followers pledged allegiance to the mother organization – al-Qaeda – under Osama bin Laden’s leadership. He recalled even the dates and content – word for word – of the letters exchanged between al-Qaeda’s leadership and the organization’s Iraqi leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

Zawahiri disclosed the content and date of the last letter that he received from Baghdadi in which the latter addressed him as his leader. It is dated Jumada al-Awwal 29,1434 (10 April 2013) and Baghdadi began by writing “To our leader, the very generous sheikh,” and ended with:

“I received word now that [Abu Mohammed] al-Julani issued an audio recording in which he pledges allegiance to your Excellency directly. He is doing this to protect himself and those with him against the repercussions of the sins and calamities he committed. This poor fellow, and the brothers with him here in Syria, believe that our sheikhs in Khorasan should announce a clear and an unequivocal position to bury this conspiracy before blood is spilled and we become the cause of a new disaster for the Islamic nation.

We believe that any support for what this traitor has done, even if by insinuation, will lead to great sedition that would destroy the project for which the blood of Muslims was shed. Any delay in demonstrating the right position will seem that we are accepting the status quo that will ultimately divide the ranks of Muslims and lead to the collapse of the group’s prestige, which cannot be remedied afterward except by shedding more blood.”

Zawahiri reiterated the nature of his judgment in the problem emerging between Julani and Baghdadi saying: “This is an order issued by a leader regarding a problem that emerged between his soldiers and not a verdict by a judge between two adversaries who presented before him a problem.”

He then reviewed the differences between the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and ISIS. The similarity between both is failing to notify or consult al-Qaeda’s general leadership regarding their establishment. The difference is that “the first was not created based on sedition between brothers but after an extended consultation between the mujahideen, the Shura Council, and the Sunni tribes.” He pointed out that “establishing ISIS caused a political disaster for the people of Syria. After they were coming out in numbers to support al-Nusra Front when Washington put it on the terrorism list, they began to condemn the organization which ISIS’ leadership gave [Syrian President Bashar] Assad on a silver platter. The creation of the organization provoked other jihadi groups that believed that ISIS is trying to impose itself on them without consent or consultation.”

As for the “order and the appeal,” the former is for “Abu Mohammed al-Julani and al-Nusra Front soldiers” and “the appeal is for all the jihadist groups and communities in Syria to immediately stop any fighting that involves aggression against the lives and sanctity of the mujahideen and fellows Muslims, and to devote themselves to fighting the enemies of Islam including the Baathists, the Alawis, and their Shia allies.” Zawahiri repeated his call for everyone to appeal to an independent Islamic body.

He ended with what he called his “reminder and advice.” The former he addressed to “the rest of the mujahideen throughout Syria” saying, “enough spilling the blood of fellow Muslims, stop killing the leaders and sheikhs of jihad.”

Then he singled out Baghdadi and his supporters, telling them “to go back to listening and obeying your leader. Go back to the reasoning of your jurists and those who preceded you on the path of jihad. Devote yourselves to Iraq which needs your efforts, devote yourselves to it even if you see yourselves as wronged or not getting your due to end this bloody massacre. Heed my words for the sake of sparing the blood of Muslims, unifying their ranks and achieving their victory over their enemy, even if you consider it an injustice.”

He called on Baghdadi to “Tread in the footsteps of al-Hassan who relinquished the caliphate and spared the blood of Muslims fulfilling his grandfather, the Prophet Mohammad’s prophecy about him: “This my son is a master and perhaps God will mend through him two great factions of Muslims.’”

Then Zawahiri concluded by saying: “It does not please you to take a decision through which God will raise your rank in this world and the afterlife? You must stand up to the enemies of Islam in Iraq where they need your efforts and this will end the sedition among Muslims and bring back the bond of brotherhood between them. Rely on God and follow my orders. You will find in all your mujahideen brothers and the supporters of jihad the support and sustenance you need. Oh venerable sheikh, emulate your forefathers and be a worthy successor. Follow in their footsteps and you will gain this life and the next.”