AL QAEDA, ISLAMIC STATE TEAMING UP
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.
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.