Al-Qaida Leader Calls On Followers To Reject ISIS, Support Taliban

REUTERS/SITE Monitoring Service via Reuters TV

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri called upon jihadists across the globe to reject the Islamic State and instead support the Afghan Taliban in a video released Sunday.

Zawahiri said that ISIS and its so-called caliph leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi look to “split the ranks of the mujahideen,” a term used to describe jihadists. He encouraged the Islamic community to “rally around the emirate,” a reference to the Afghan Taliban, which refers to itself formally as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The video address, titled “Be Not Divided Among Yourselves,” is the second in a series by Zawahiri called “Brief Messages to a Victorious Ummah,” the Arabic term for the global Muslim community. The first video attacked the Muslim Brotherhood, referring to them as “chickens.”

Zawahiri’s series appears to be an attempt to counter ISIS, which has been actively competing with al-Qaida as the premier global Islamic terrorist organization. While the two organizations share similar ideology, they have been active rivals since the rise of ISIS in 2014.

In addition to poaching recruits, ISIS has also challenged al-Qaida in its base of operations in Afghanistan. Known as Wilayat Khorasan (IS-K), ISIS’s Afghan branch is relatively small, but remarkably dangerous. The group was responsible for a massive suicide bombing in the Afghan capital of Kabul that killed over 80 people, making it the deadliest attack in the country since the U.S. invaded in 2001.

ISIS has, on occasion, accused al-Qaida of not following the proper path towards the founding of an Islamic caliphate. In his address, Zawahiri counters his rivals, calling on Baghdadi to provide proof to back the accusation.

The al-Qaida leader’s message serves a political purpose, as well. Zawahiri has sworn allegiance to the Taliban, meaning al-Qaida and its various branches technically owe its new leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada their support.

“Although [al-Qaida’s] jihadists are, strictly speaking, Mullah Haibatullah’s subordinates, history shows that the Taliban leader has little say over [the group’s] operations outside of Afghanistan,” explained Tom Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a post for the Long War Journal Sunday.

Regardless of al-Qaida’s loyalty to the Taliban, Zawahiri’s address is just another step in the ongoing jihadist civil war between al-Qaida and ISIS.

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