Al-Qaeda’s general command said yesterday that it has no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in an apparent attempt to assert authority over the Islamist militant groups involved in Syria’s civil war.
Small but powerful, ISIL has been caught up in battles with other Islamist insurgents often triggered by disputes over authority and territory and has clashed with secular rebels.
The internecine fighting — among the bloodiest in the three-year conflict — has undermined the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and dismayed Western powers pushing for peace talks.
Rebel-on-rebel violence in Syria has killed at least 1,800 this year alone.
ISIL follows al Qaeda’s hard-line ideology and, until now, the two groups were widely believed to be linked.
However, organizations that have clashed with ISIL include Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian wing, which is led by al-Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahri.
In a message posted on jihadi Web sites yesterday, the al-Qaeda General Command said ISIL “is not a branch of the al Qaeda group ... [al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with it and is not the group responsible for their actions.”
In April last year, ISIL head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi tried to merge ISIL with Jabhat al-Nusra, defying orders from Zawahri and causing a rift.
Brookings Doha Center visiting fellow Charles Lister said that the al-Qaeda statement “represents an attempt by al-Qaeda to definitively reassert some level of authority over the jihad in Syria” following a month of fighting and ISIL disobedience.
“This represents a strong and forthright move by [al-Qaeda] and will undoubtedly serve to further consolidate Jabhat al-Nusra’s role as al-Qaeda’s official presence in Syria,” Lister added.
Meanwhile, Syrian forces bombarded Aleppo with barrel bombs and air raids for a second day on Sunday, with scores of people killed in 48 hours after peace talks ended inconclusively, a monitor said.
At least 36 people were killed on Sunday’s attacks alone in Syria’s second city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, after reporting 85 deaths he previous day.
On Sunday, regime warplanes pounded rebel-held districts in eastern Aleppo, with helicopters dropping the controversial makeshift barrel bombs denounced by rights groups as indiscriminate.
SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman said that 21 people were killed in three waves of barrel bomb attacks on the Tareq al-Bab district, including 13 children.
Another 15 people died in separate air raids and barrel bomb strikes in the divided city.
Additionally, at least 16 Syrian rebels were killed in a double bomb attack carried out by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, SOHR said.