Al Qaeda’s leader disavowed the most aggressive and brutal jihadist group fighting in Syria, deepening rifts among rebels embroiled in an internal war distracting from their fight against the Damascus regime.
The leader of al Qaeda’s central command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, condemned the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in a posting on jihadist websites Sunday night. He decried the infighting among rebels as “a catastrophe for jihad in Syria.”
ISIS, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, has been one of the most effective rebel groups in claiming territory in the civil war. But rival fighters suspect the group has sought to turn the civil uprising against President Bashar al-Assad into a violent quest to build a cross-border Muslim state ruled by strict Islamic law in the Middle East.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi affirms loyalty to al Qaeda but has shrugged off previous commands from Mr. Zawahiri to respect the supremacy of al Qaeda’s recognized affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front.
The disavowal marked an attempt to restore al Qaeda’s influence on the Syrian battlefield and to rally jihadist groups fighting there against ISIS. A month-old war within the armed opposition has turned the focus of many rebels toward battling ISIS and away from fighting the regime. Al Qaeda sees ISIS as a renegade band damaging the terror group’s brand through car bombings, mass killings, and torture of fellow Muslims. . .