The last few days have been really interesting for those following international Jihadism and Syrian Jihadism in particular.
On Saturday April 7th a new (103 minute !) audio message by Ayman az-Zawahiri was released on Jihadi fora. In the video, titled “Unification of the Word Surrounding the Word of Tawhid”, the al-Qaeda leader summoned al true Muslims to engage in the Syrian war. In a way it could be interpreted as the al-Qaeda central command approving the actions of groups like Jabhat an-Nusra.
Just two days after, on April 9th, on the same Jihadi fora, an audio message by the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq was published. In this audio message ISI’s Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Hussayni al-Qurayshi al-Baghdadi confirms what was known by many for a longer time; Jabhat an-Nusra is in fact the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Shaykh gives the official merger of the two groups an official new name: “The Islamic state of Iraq and Greater Syria” (الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام). This is not to be seen as an usurpation by al-Qaeda of Jabhat an-Nusra rather as a confirmation of a long lived strategic brotherhood.
The discussions on Twitter on April 9th were quite intense and point out three crucial points.
- Noman Benotman and Aaron Zelin were absolutely right about the al-Qaeda link of the group (months before the US designation of the group)
- This audio release is most likely linked to the video featuring az-Zawahiri and therefore some might expect that this was all part of a bigger, carefully scheduled, plan
- In the end, although thought otherwise, there still is a strong hierarchical structure in al-Qaeda. The entire “bigger plan” seems still to be drawn out by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.
There was no immediate offical response by Jabhat an-Nusra on April 9th, but a FaceBook post appeared using the group’s name. (to be analyzed).
And hence, today, as was to be expected, an audio message by the leader of Jabhat an-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Julani was broadcasted. In the message al-Julani acknowledges the links with al-Qaeda in Iraq and the supreme leadership of az-Zawahiri. However, giving their earlier strategy of avoiding to be linked directly to al-Qaeda, the current state of affairs leaves things open for interpretation. Julani calls ISI his brothers in Jihad but denies that there was a merger with the group, current politics will stand.
Bottom line … the central leadership of al-Qaeda, represented by Ayman az-Zawahiri, has it all under control. While Jihadist groups in Syria have been consolidating the last few weeks, now an “official” merger with international Jihadism is announced.
The following days and weeks will be interesting to say the least …
Which leaves me with a list of must-reads if you want to get a grasp on Jihad in Syria these last few days:
- Introducing the “Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria” by @colebunzel
- AQI + S = ISIGS by @abususu
- Jabhat al-Nusra responds by @abususu
- Al-Qaeda Announces an Islamic State in Syria by @azelin for the Washington Institute
- Welcome to the Islamic State of Syria by Brian Fishman for Foreign Policy
- Jihadists warn: Syria-Iraq Al Qaeda unification reflects badly on us by @hhassan140
Inspiration and sources:
@azelin, @abususu, @colebunzel, @hhassan140, @ElSaltador, @Charles_Lister