Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri pledged his allegiance to the new leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, solidifying a longstanding historical alliance between the two terrorist groups.
Zawahiri delivered his oath of fealty via audio address, released late Friday. It is the second time in the past year that Zawahiri has pledged allegiance to the Taliban. He swore fealty to Mullah Akhtar Mansour, Mullah Haibatullah’s predecessor, in August 2015. Al-Qaida has sworn allegiance to the Taliban even before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks — when Osama bin Laden aligned the terror group with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
“We pledge allegiance to you on jihad to liberate every inch of the lands of the Muslims that are invaded and stolen, from Kashgar to al-Andalus, from the Caucasus to Somalia and Central Africa, from Kashmir to Jerusalem, from the Philippines to Kabul, and from Bukhara and Samarkand,” said Zawahiri in the address.
The pledge comes at a precarious time for al-Qaida, which has largely been overshadowed by rival terrorist group, the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS has a small, but growing, influence in Afghanistan, al-Qaida’s historical base of operations, in addition to its dominion in Iraq and Syria.
The Taliban has made a significant resurgence in Afghanistan since 2013, with the group currently controlling over 20 percent of the country. Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal, an organization that tracks the Taliban, admits the 20 percent is probably a conservative measure.
“They probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country,” Roggio told the New York Times in April.
Tom Joscelyn, Roggio’s counterpart at the Long War Journal, explained in a Saturday piece for the outlet the oath is very much a symbolic move.
“Al Qaeda’s (sic) regional branches are loyal to the Taliban’s emir by virtue of their bay’ah (allegiance) to Zawahiri,” said Joscelyn.
Technically, al-Qaida and its affiliates around the world are now “bound by a blood oath” to the Taliban and their leader, Mullah Haibatullah, making them subordinates. That said, Joscelyn noted that Taliban leaders have rarely had much direct influence over al-Qaida’s groups abroad.
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