January 29, 2014
Last Wednesday, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio recording calling for unity in Islamist ranks in Syria, responding to the three weeks of intense violence across northern Syria that has pitted the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS)—an al-Qaeda offshoot—against a diverse array of armed opposition factions.
ISIS’ increasing isolation is exemplified by the group’s open confrontations not only with moderate, Free Syrian Army-aligned rebel groups, but also with Jabhat a-Nusra, a hardline jihadist group which, like ISIS, traces its roots to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Throughout January’s violence, various leaks have illuminated ISIS’ perspective toward the fitna, including Syria Comment’s deep-dive into a Twitter account that purports to divulge the inner workings of ISIS and the genesis of its war with Jabhat a-Nusra. Tweeting from @WikiBaghdady, Syria Comment notes that, while not vouching for its veracity, “some connected observers have asserted that the author’s knowledge is real.”
The tweets, which match the account of our interview with an ISIS spokesman below, suggest that ISIS leader al-Baghdadi credits himself with the creation of Jabhat a-Nusra: he supported “the formation of a group of non-Iraqis that would go to Syria under the command of a Syrian” led by Abu Mohammed al-Joulani. “Alarmed” by al-Nusra’s quick rise, fueled by the prestige of landing on the American list of terror organizations and perceived betrayal of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), al-Baghdadi and ISI expanded into Syria, becoming the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS).
The source described al-Baghdadi’s second-in-command, Hajji Bakr, as a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist party in Iraq and ISIS’ true strategic mastermind; he has since been reported killed, twice. This week, photos circulated of Hajji Bakr in which he appears to have been shot and killed by Aleppo-based rebels close to the Turkish border.
Throughout the violence, ISIS has withdrawn from wide swaths of Aleppo, Idlib and Deir e-Zor provinces, but has consolidated power across north-central a-Raqqa province, and recently seized control of the Aleppo province town of Menbej.
After the release of al-Zawahiri’s audio recording, Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zaid spoke with Malath Abu Ra’fat, an ISIS spokesperson near Syria’s border with Turkey. Describing ISIS’ view of events in the first section of a two-part interview, Ra’fat insists that ISIS has no allegiance to al-Qaeda, says that Jolani is a former disciple of al-Baghadi and argues that ISIS is on the ground to protect Syrians.
Translation courtesy of Syria Direct’s Elizabeth Parker-Magyar.
Q: What is ISIS’s relation to al-Qaeda? Are they taking orders from al-Zawahiri?
A: ISIS does not follow al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is a jihadi organization, and Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham is jihadist and represents a legitimate project to undertake sharia law and break the Sykes-Picot agreement. When it started, it was endorsed by the top leaders of jihad.
Q: Why do you think the FSA battalions target ISIS not Jabhat a-Nusra? What is the difference between them?
A: The ISIS established Jabhat a-Nusra and sent it to Syria. What is called “Jabhat a-Nusra” was a safe media cover, and “Jolani” was only one of al-Baghdadi’s soldiers, may God protect him.
Since then, the strings of a Western conspiracy to divide the nation have been unfolded and shown. The media presented Western officials claiming the necessity of dividing, taking advantage of the people’s suffering. Here it was necessary for ISIS to turn the table on these conspirators; and it announced its expansion from Iraq to Syria to shuffle the cards of the enemies and leave them in shambles.
But Jolani, God forgive him, has defected from the State and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, and started, like many others who defer plans for the unknown future to forget that the West will never allow us to rule by Islam, to forget that traitors do not occupy them except to rule, forgetting they are on the terrorism list. It is essential that we have a state that stands in the face of plans and conspiracies that aim to further the suffering of the people and allow criminality to predominate.
Before [ISIS’] announcement of expanding [to Syria], they were fighting Jabhat a-Nusra, wielding accusations, claiming it was a takfiri group, bombing and killing innocent and people and so on.
After the announcement, some came to praise a-Nusra in order to challenge ISIS.
A-Nusra means to do jihad and then leave [Syria], ISIS means to do jihad and then to govern. The treacherous only think about ruling, working for al-Qaeda. “The jihadi is working, and the secular is getting the fruits of the jihadis work.” That was prevalent in the past.
The Free Syrian Army are today against a-Nusra. The Sahwat started battles against it in Aleppo, asking Jabhat a-Nusra to defect from al-Qaeda, and to become the National Liberation Movement, nothing else, otherwise they’ll receive what the ISIS received.
The truth: ISIS is present to protect everyone. The West fears it, is preoccupied by it. It is a project that wants all of the loyal governing by Islam, by God’s will all will join.
A purported photo of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, posted to Twitter Wednesday by @Khaled_Maghrebi.
Q: There are representatives of the Syrian opposition at Geneva II. Does ISIS watch the events there?
A: With God’s permission, it is a failing operation that will not succeed. The West itself knows that. It is afraid of directly fighting ISIS, but they fight by letting others do so, which costs them less time and money. In addition, those traitors are not prepared for death, while strong mujahideen heroes of ISIS are ready.
ISIS’s men advise the Sahwat to repent. They do not only do that for pleasantries and morals; but for the mercy of the Sahwat. Chicks are not stronger than Eagles.
Ed.: Abu Rafa’at proceeded to share a number of Western media articles depicting ISIS’ military superiority in Syria and Iraq, including ones from the Washington Post, CNN and the Japan Times.
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