AL QAEDA, IS­LAMIC STATE TEAM­ING UP

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

U.S. airstrikes against Is­lamic State tar­gets in Iraq and Syria have prompted sev­eral cen­tral al Qaeda groups, in­clud­ing its two most dan­ger­ous re­gional af­fil­i­ates, to re­con­sider their op­po­si­tion to the ul­tra­vi­o­lent off­shoot or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cials, both the North Africa-based al Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ye­men-based al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) have seen de­fec­tions of fight­ers and lead­ers to the Is­lamic State in re­cent weeks.

The first in­dic­tor came Sept. 15 in a joint state­ment is­sued by both groups that ap­peared to support the Is­lamic State with­out us­ing its name, U.S. of­fi­cials said. The groups urged ji­hadists in Iraq and Syria to join forces against the common en­emy and fight the U.S.led mil­i­tary coali­tion.

Last month, two AQIM bat­tal­ions — one in Al­ge­ria, the other in Tu­nisia — de­fected from al Qaeda to the Is­lamic State. The de­fec­tions fol­lowed at least three AQIM lead­ers who joined the Is­lamic State, in­clud­ing re­gional com­man­der Khalid Abu Su­lay­man, who ac­cused al Qaeda of “de­vi­at­ing from the true path of ji­had.” In re­sponse, he formed a new group called the Caliphate Sol­diers of Al­ge­ria that pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State.

That group kid­napped a French tourist and video­taped his be­head­ing last month.

In June, an AQIM Shariah of­fi­cial, Sheikh Abu Ab­dal­lah Uth­man al-Asimi, re­leased an audio mes­sage an­nounc­ing his align­ment with the Is­lamic State and urg­ing other ji­hadists to join him. He also ques­tioned the decision by al Qaeda leader Ay­man al-Zawahri, who an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary that al Qaeda was break­ing all ties with the Is­lamic State.

The Al­ge­rian AQIM bat­tal­ion known as Al-Huda in May an­nounced it had joined the Is­lamic State, de­scrib­ing the group in an on­line fo­rum as the “vic­to­ri­ous sect and the sur­viv­ing group for which we have been wait­ing for so long.”

The Ye­men-based AQAP group an­nounced Sept. 30 that ji­hadists in Syria and Iraq should set aside their ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences to join the fight against the U.S.led coali­tion.

In a state­ment from an AQAP leader, Nasr al-Anisi, the group de­scribed Syria’s of­fi­cial al Qaeda-af­fil­i­ate Nusra Front and the Is­lamic State as “our mu­jahidin brothers” while call­ing on all Mus­lims to put aside their dif­fer­ences in the fight against the U.S.-led mil­i­tary coali­tion.

Al-Anisi also called for ter­ror­ist at­tacks around the world, mainly against the United States and its in­ter­ests.

Of­fi­cials said the state­ments and de­fec­tions in­di­cate that al Qaeda fac­tions are mov­ing closer to end­ing the rift.

Another omi­nous sign was seen in re­cent so­cial me­dia mes­sages from an al Qaeda ter­ror­ist who is part of the Kho­rasan Group of veteran al Qaeda fight­ers op­er­at­ing inside Syria.

Kho­rasan mem­ber Sanafi al-Nasr wrote a se­ries of Twit­ter mes­sages call­ing for join­ing forces with the Is­lamic State.

“I will stand along­side any Mus­lims in the war against the cru­saders, whether they be Sufi or ex­trem­ist,” he stated. “Arab and non-Arab tyrants have come to­gether to fight the Mus­lims, so when will we come to­gether?”

U.S. of­fi­cials have said the Kho­rasan Group, work­ing within Nusra Front in Syria, was in the late stages of plan­ning a ter­ror­ist at­tack on the West be­fore U.S. bombing strikes Sept. 23 against its fa­cil­i­ties in Syria.

The airstrikes are be­lieved to have killed Kho­rasan leader Muhsin al-Fadhli.

Al Qaeda cen­tral is­sued a se­ries of mes­sages Sept. 26 that made no in­di­ca­tion of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the Is­lamic State, although U.S. of­fi­cials said those mes­sages could have been pro­duced prior to the Sept. 23 mis­sile and air strikes.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Is­lamic State pro­test­ers chant pro-al Qaeda mes­sages in Mo­sul. Ac­cord­ing to U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cials, both the North Africa-based al Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb and Ye­men-based al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula have seen de­fec­tions to the Is­lamic State in re­cent weeks.

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