The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has issued a statement saying it will comply with Ayman al Zawahiri’s orders with respect to the jihadist infighting in Syria. Al Nusrah has been at odds with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which has been disowned by al Qaeda’s general command.
In a recently released audio message, Zawahiri addressed Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of Al Nusrah, and made three demands. Zawahiri ordered Julani and Al Nusrah to “immediately stop any fighting” that is an act of aggression against “their jihadist brothers.” Zawahiri reiterated his call for the establishment of an independent sharia (Islamic law) court capable of settle the ongoing dispute. He also said the jihadists should stop criticizing each other in the media.
In its reply to Zawahiri, Al Nusrah announces its “commitment” to comply with all three orders. While the group says it will stop attacking ISIS, it will respond defensively to any act of aggression. As soon as ISIS stops initiating attacks, Al Nusrah will stop returning fire “automatically.” Al Nusrah says it is willing to submit to a sharia court, and will stop insulting its rivals on social media as well.
In mid-April, a group of jihadist ideologues, including senior sharia officials in Al Nusrah, called on Zawahiri to address the situation in Syria once again. The ideologues used social media to amplify their request of Zawahiri. They wanted Zawahiri to discuss the history of ISIS’ relationship with, and allegiance to, al Qaeda’s senior leadership.
Zawahiri obliged a little more than two weeks later. And now Al Nusrah has answered by saying it will follow Zawahiri’s commands.
Zawahiri’s message was largely conciliatory, with the al Qaeda emir even praising Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS. Zawahiri said al Qaeda would be willing to accept ISIS back into the fold if ISIS’ leaders left the jihad in Syria.
In its own statement, the Al Nusrah Front indicates that it is willing to put an end to the infighting, too. This is the case despite the fact that Al Nusrah blames ISIS for instigating the conflict in the first place.
Al Nusrah blames ISIS for the death of Abu Khalid al Suri, who served as Zawahiri’s chief representative in Syria until he was killed in late February. Al Suri was a founding member and senior leader in Ahrar al Sham, which is allied with Al Nusrah and is a prominent part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups.
Al Nusrah also blames ISIS for the death of Abu Muhammad al Fateh, a leader in the group who was killed along with other members of his family in Syria’s Idlib province.