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Al-Qaida Disavows Syrian Rebel Group

People demonstrate outside the offices of the al-Qaeda-linked ISIS, demanding that they stop fighting with the rebels, on Jan. 6, 2014, in Aleppo, Syria. 

Photo by Mohammed Wesam/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been fairly clear for a while that despite the common description of the Syrian rebel group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as “al Qaida-linked,” the group has actually been operating on its own. It has defied instructions from global al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and fought with Jabhat al-Nusra, another Syrian group linked to the international terror network.

Today, however, al-Qaida central seems to have made it official. In a newly released statement (translation via Aaron Zelin) it fully denounces the group once known as “Al-Qaida in Iraq”:


FIRSTLY: Qae’dat al-Jihad (AQ) declares that it has no links to the ISIS group. We were not informed about its creation, nor counseled.

2. Nor were we satisfied with it rather we ordered it to stop. ISIS is not a branch of AQ & we have no organizational relationship with it.


3. Nor is al-Qaeda responsible for its actions and behaviors.

ISIS fighters tend to be more international and less focused on the narrow political goal of overthrowing the Assad regime than other rebel groups. Rival rebel groups have suggested that ISIS may actually be cooperating with the Assad regime, and while there’s no direct evidence of coordination, there have been reports suggesting it is actually selling fuel to the government from oil fields it controls.

Whether or not the two are actually directly working together, it seems clear that ISIS’s rise to prominence, and the split it has contributed to among rebel groups, has certainly worked in Assad’s favor.