Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri on Wednesday called for an end to clashes between al-Qaeda-linked jihadists and Islamists fighting to oust Syria’s regime in an audio message posted online.
In a recording uploaded on YouTube, al-Zawahiri urged all jihadist groups and “every free person in Syria seeking to overthrow [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad ... to seek an end to fighting between brothers in jihad and Islam immediately.”
A new front in Syria’s nearly three-year-old conflict opened early this month when powerful rebel groups combined to attack bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The jihadists were initially welcomed by other rebels, but allegations of brutal abuses against civilians, as well as rival opposition fighters, sparked a backlash and accusations that they were serving the interests of the al-Assad regime.
In some cases, al-Qaeda’s officially recognized franchise in Syria, al-Nusra Front, participated in fighting against ISIL, whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called for reconciliation on Sunday.
In Wednesday’s message, al-Zawahiri said that “these organizational ties can be sacrificed without second thought if they conflicted with your unity ... against your enemy.”
“Jihadist groups are our brothers whom we refuse to accuse of apostasy,” the al-Qaeda leader added.
Most rebels in Syria are Sunni Arab and have fought against al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Yet ISIL has faced a rebel backlash in Syria and been hit by days of fighting against a coalition of moderate and Islamist rebels, including al-Nusra.
Al-Baghdadi had sought to merge his group with al-Nusra, but the latter rejected the alliance and pledged its allegiance directly to al-Zawahiri.
Since then, the two groups have functioned separately, although al-Nusra has remained largely neutral in the latest infighting and the group’s leader has called for an end to the clashes, warning that it would benefit the Damascus regime.
Yet ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani struck a defiant tone in his own audio message earlier this month, in which he called for ISIL forces to “crush them [the rebels] totally and kill the conspiracy at birth.”