Center for Strategic Communication

Two branches of al Qaeda’s international organization, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have released a joint statement urging jihadists in Iraq and Syria to unite against their common enemy, America, “the head of infidelity.”

AQIM and AQAP also offer their condolences for the Ahrar al Sham leaders who were killed in an explosion last week.

The statement was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The two al Qaeda branches lament the “negative effects” of the infighting between jihadist groups in Syria, which has pitted the Islamic State against the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and others.

The Islamic State was once part of al Qaeda’s international network, but was disowned by al Qaeda’s general command earlier this year. Al Nusrah is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria and Ahrar al Sham is an al Qaeda-linked organization that is closely allied with Al Nusrah. Ahrar al Sham is also the most powerful group in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel organizations that is opposed to both Bashar al Assad’s regime and the Islamic State.

“The sadness of jihadi factions for the loss of the best of their leaders and sons in infighting is not absent from our minds,” AQAP and AQIM write, according to SITE’s translation. “Indeed, the infighting only benefits the sons of Zion, the worshippers of the Cross, the Rawafidh [Shiites], the Nusayris [a derogatory term for Alawites].”

“Then here is America, the head of infidelity and the symbol of aggression and tyranny, poking its head anew, bringing behind it an alliance of the Crusaders and their apostate agents,” the two al Qaeda branches write. “It is leading a Crusader campaign to fight Islam and the Muslims, so as to bring another tragedy upon the Ummah, under the excuse of striking the Islamic State, and destroying it, as they claim!!”

AQAP and AQIM urge the warring jihadist factions to “[s]top the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America’s campaign and that of its satanic alliance that lies in wait or all of us to break us stick by stick.”

Thus, the al Qaeda branches portray the American bombing campaign in Iraq and other actions not as a fight against the Islamic State, but as part of an imagined Zionist-Crusader conspiracy against Muslims.

They encourage the rival jihadist factions to stand together against the American-led alliance. And they recall the words of Osama bin Laden, who said: “Do not consult anyone regarding the fighting against Americans.”

Not siding with the Islamic State against al Qaeda

Both AQAP and AQIM have commented on the infighting between the Islamic State and its rivals previously. Their statements have been widely misinterpreted as evidence that they are siding with the Islamic State against al Qaeda. This is not true. While there have been individual supporters of the Islamic State within both organizations, neither group has broken from al Qaeda’s ranks.

AQAP and AQIM have consistently encouraged the opposing jihadists in Syria to set aside their differences. Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has made the same plea. Ayman al Zawahiri, the emir of al Qaeda, attempted reconciliation as recently as May, months after al Qaeda’s general command disowned the Islamic State.

In a message posted on jihadist forums on July 1, AQIM praised the jihadists’ advances in Iraq and called upon the Islamic State “to take advantage of these conquests and winds of victory to gather and meet, and forget the past of dispute and conflict, and open a new page with their brothers.” AQIM also recommended that the “mujahideen brothers in Sham … strongly support the conquests of their brothers in Iraq.” This was in line with Zawahiri’s advice, AQIM noted. The group also referred to Zawahiri as “our Sheikh and Emir,” indicating that Zawahiri was still its boss.

AQIM’s message in early July was very similar to a statement released by Abu Iyad al Tunisi, the head of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, in mid-June. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia is tied to AQIM. Tunisi also called on the jihadists to unite behind the Islamic State’s successes in Iraq. Tunisi, however, was still respectful of Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of Al Nusrah.

In a statement released in mid-July, AQIM made it crystal clear that it was not siding with the Islamic State in its rivalry with al Qaeda. AQIM released a statement explicitly rejecting the Islamic State’s caliphate declaration. In the same statement, AQIM reaffirmed its bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri. We “confirm that we still adhere to our pledge of allegiance to our sheikh and emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, since it is a Sharia-accorded pledge of allegiance that remains hanging on our necks, and we do not see what requires use to break it,” AQIM’s statement reads. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia republished the message on its official Facebook page.

AQAP has followed a similar course. In early March, AQAP released an audio message warning against “sedition” and decrying the “murder of any of the mujahideen in any group.”

On Aug. 12, AQAP’s chief theologian, Ibrahim Rubaish, praised the jihadists’ “victories” in Iraq, but did not even name the Islamic State in his video address. Rubaish’s statement is not evidence that his sympathies lie with the Islamic State, as opposed to al Qaeda.

Indeed, in early July, Rubaish and another AQAP ideologue released a message denouncing the “slander” of jihadist leaders. Even though Rubaish did not name the Islamic State’s supporters, the message was clearly aimed at them. Rubaish’s critique coincided with the release of a poem by Nasir al Wuhayshi, who serves as both AQAP’s emir and al Qaeda’s general manager. Wuhayshi heaped praise on Zawahiri in the poem, calling him the “sheikh father” of the mujahideen.

Earlier this month, AQAP heralded the creation of a new al Qaeda branch in the Indian subcontinent. AQAP offered “special congratulations” to “our Sheikh and good Emir,” Ayman al Zawahiri.

Honoring the fallen Ahrar al Sham leaders

At the conclusion of their statement, AQAP and AQIM honor the Ahrar al Sham leaders who were killed in an explosion in Syria earlier this month. “[W]e give our sincere condolences to the mujahideen of Ahrar al Sham, and we press on their hands and ask Allah to have mercy on their martyrs and reward us and them in their tragedy, and compensate us and them with those who are better,” the statement reads, according to SITE’s translation.

This is an additional indication that the two al Qaeda branches do not intend their statement to be read as a break from al Qaeda in favor of the Islamic State. Ahrar al Sham, which was cofounded by a senior al Qaeda operative, is one of the Islamic State’s fiercest rivals.

AQAP and AQIM have now joined the Al Nusrah Front and other al Qaeda members in mourning the death of Ahrar al Sham’s leaders.

Thus, the statement by the two al Qaeda branches should not be read as evidence that the groups are no longer loyal to al Qaeda’s senior leadership. Even some Al Nusrah Front officials are rhetorically siding with the Islamic State as the American bombs fall. Fighters from the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State have spilled each others’ blood since last year.