On February 2, 2014, al-Qa`ida released a statement declaring that “it has no connection” with the “group” called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).[1] The statement further highlighted that al-Qa`ida was not responsible for founding the ISIL and was not privy to the deliberations that led to its establishment. That is why, the statement continued, “The ISIL is not a branch of al-Qa`ida, the latter is not bound by organizational ties to it and is not responsible for the ISIL’s actions.”[2]

This article discusses the context of the statement, its significance, its impact on the jihadist landscape and concludes by assessing its potential consequences on Ayman al-Zawahiri’s leadership. It finds that al-Zawahiri’s once symbolic leadership over various jihadist groups is now undermined, and the ISIL has clearly emerged as a rival of al-Qa`ida. The article also finds that the Syrian arena, and potentially the Iraqi landscape, will serve as the war of jihadists against jihadists as a result of the public schism between the ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN). This is not about “near enemy” or “far enemy,” but is equivalent to suicide or, in jihadist parlance, martyrdom in concert.

The Context of the Statement
The ISIL is not a new group that recently emerged on the scene. It is the same group that until April 2013 called itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which Ayman al-Zawahiri had considered to be a branch of al-Qa`ida and had publicly praised on numerous occasions.[3] Yet a public dispute emerged in April 2013, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the ISI, unilaterally proclaimed the founding of the ISIL by declaring a merger between his group and that of JN in Syria. The merger came as a surprise to the leader of JN, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, who quickly rejected it, publicly explaining that “we were not consulted” about the merger.[4] Before long, in June 2013, al-Zawahiri intervened, annulling the merger and therefore the very concept of the ISIL, and appointed Abu Khalid al-Suri, a member of the Syrian militant group Harakat Ahrar al-Sham, to serve as an arbitrator between the two groups.[5]

Al-Zawahiri’s intervention was in the form of a private communiqué to the leaders of the ISI and JN, but it was leaked to al-Jazira as a typed letter. When the ISI continued to operate under its new name, the ISIL, and debates among jihadists surrounding the authenticity of the letter ensued, an audio statement of the same letter, with the unmistakable voice of al-Zawahiri, was leaked to al-Jazira in November 2013, leaving no doubt as to its authorship. While it is not clear whether al-Zawahiri intentionally leaked the letter in June, one cannot help but wonder whether he lent a helping hand to al-Jazira when the audio of the letter was leaked in November.

The Significance of the Statement
The statement marked the first time that al-Qa`ida publicly disowned a jihadist group. To be sure, the leadership of al-Qa`ida has on numerous occasions dissociated itself from attacks characterized by indiscriminate killings, particularly those that targeted Muslim civilians.[6] Yet at no point did al-Qa`ida publicly rebuke a jihadist group by name.

The ISIL’s defiance of al-Qa`ida is not new, however, and although it was not made public, captured internal communiqués authored by al-Qa`ida leaders demonstrated the rift that the Iraq-based group has caused in the jihadist world. Disagreements began as early as 2005 when the group was still called “al-Qa`ida in Mesopotamia” and under the leadership of Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi. The latter’s relentless attacks against Shi`a in Iraq alarmed al-Qa`ida’s central leadership, prompting al-Zawahiri and `Atiyya al-Libi[7] to send al-Zarqawi gentle reminders that it was not the general public, but the Americans and their Iraqi collaborators, who should be the target of his attacks.[8] The situation took a turn for the worse when in late 2006 al-Zarqawi’s successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, pledged allegiance to Abu `Umar al-Baghdadi’s newly formed group, the “Islamic State of Iraq” (ISI), thereby submitting the “army of al-Qa`ida,” as Abu Hamza put it, to the authority of the ISI.[9] U.S. and Iraqi forces killed Abu `Umar and Abu Hamza in April 2010, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi assumed the leadership of the ISI as Abu `Umar’s successor.

Two serious implications, however, resulted as a consequence of this pledge. The first concerns the very notion of declaring an “Islamic state”: this entails elaborate conditions, including providing security to the populace residing in the territory of the “state” and making jihadists accountable to good governance, an accountability that the ISI could hardly deliver, not least given the occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces at the time. That is why internal communiqués showed that some religious scholars considered the ISI to be unlawful,[10] and some jihadist leaders considered Abu Hamza and Abu `Umar to be “extremists,” “repulsive,” and “lack[ing] wisdom.”[11] For the same reason, Usama bin Ladin mocked al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for wanting to declare an Islamic state in Yemen,[12] and urged Somalia’s al-Shabab not to go that route.[13] Indeed, al-Qa`ida’s recent statement disowning the ISIL does not admit that it represents a “state”; instead, it refers to it as the “group” that calls itself a “state.” The criticism is made more apparent when the statement derisively remarks that “we do not hasten to declare emirates and states…that we impose on people, then declare whoever disapproves of such entities to be a rebel (kharij) [against whom it is lawful to fight].”[14]

The second serious and related implication pertains to Abu Hamza’s oath to Abu `Umar when he pledged that “I hereby enlist under your direct leadership 12,000 fighters who constitute the army of al-Qa`ida.” Did the ISI cease to be under the leadership of al-Qa`ida in 2006, and, indeed, did the pledge by Abu Hamza effectively submit Bin Ladin’s authority to al-Baghdadi? Bin Ladin had admitted al-Zarqawi’s group into the fold of al-Qa`ida in December 2004, and because the leader of the “Islamic state” is meant to be amir al-mu’minin (Leader of the Faithful) to whose political authority all Muslims must submit, the argument can be made that al-Qa`ida transferred leadership to the ISI—at least technically. Put simply, a “state” (like the ISI) is meant to have authority over an organization (like al-Qa`ida), not the other way around.

Of course, Bin Ladin never pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi, but because Bin Ladin did not go public and discredit the declared state, it became a fait accompli since the gravity of declaring a state was swept under the carpet. Now that Bin Ladin’s successor, al-Zawahiri, went public, disowning the “group” that calls itself a “state,” zealous members loyal to the ISIL are reminding jihadist leaders of the (technical) landmines that they had managed not to step on since 2006. One such member posted that when Abu Hamza made his pledge, he effectively subordinated the authority of Bin Ladin to the leadership of the ISI. In other words, as the successor of Bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri is in no position to be giving orders to “amir al-mu’minin al-Baghdadi”; instead, he should be taking them. The posting was removed three times by forum administrators, which led the author to post it on JustPaste.It.[15]

Why did it take so long for al-Qa`ida to disown the ISI/ISIL publicly if the problems began in 2005 and worsened in 2006? To put this in a broader context, it is useful to remember that some jihadist groups, such as al-Qa`ida, are driven by strategic considerations, while others, such as the ISI/ISIL, are driven by sectarian differences and pedestrian disputes.[16] To project a strong presence in the eyes of their enemies, strategically-driven groups are willing to present a unified front and avoid airing the dirty laundry of other groups in public. Those driven by sectarian or pedestrian differences are willing to sacrifice strategic objectives and rush to air their grievances with other groups for the sake of purifying the creed or upstaging their competitors. Yet it is evident that the ISI had long been testing the limits of al-Qa`ida’s leaders. In an internal communiqué dated early 2011, the American jihadist Adam Gadahn advised the leadership that “it is necessary that al-Qa`ida publicly announces that it severs its organizational ties with the Islamic State of Iraq, and [to make known] that the relationship between its leadership and that of the State [i.e., ISI/AQI] have not existed for several years, and that the decision to declare a State was taken without consultation with the leadership, and this [ill-considered] innovation (qarar ijtihadi) led to divisions among jihadis and their supporters inside and outside Iraq.”[17] It is as if Gadahn’s 2011 letter served as a draft for al-Qa`ida’s recent statement.

Impact on the Jihadist Landscape
The broader jihadist reaction to the public dispute between al-Qa`ida and the ISIL initially translated into fierce debates and quarrels on jihadist forums, the likes of which have never been observed. Some, but not all,[18] pundits adopted a diplomatic approach.[19] Some called on both sides to unite, but their language betrayed the group with which they sided;[20] others attributed the schism to years of scheming by “the RAND Corporation” and similar think-tanks to create a “good” al-Qa`ida and a “bad” al-Qa`ida, a plot which time has now come to divide jihadists.[21] At times, the forum contributions reached a certain level of vulgarity that saw al-Julani getting cursed,[22] and numerous references gently criticizing al-Zawahiri and calling on him to renege on his decision.[23]

The online divide among members put those overseeing the forums in an unenviable position. Of the three websites considered to be reliable by jihadists, Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya bore the brunt of the dispute and has been accused of siding with JN.[24] The other two forums (Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam and Shabakat Ansar al-Mujahidin) had been experiencing technical difficulties, and were suffering from intermittent shut downs.[25] Rarely in the history of jihadist websites did forum administrators intervene to remove contributions by members; yet since the beginning of the public divide between the ISIL and JN, not only have they removed postings by members, but they have also removed articles by pundits whose analyses and contributions in support of jihad had for years animated discussions on the forums.[26]

Before long, what began as a public dispute in April 2013 has since developed into a bloody conflict that is tearing apart the ISIL and JN and their respective supporters.[27] It is not clear which side initiated the transgression: although the ISIL has received the lion’s share of criticisms in the mainstream media,[28] it is also the case that statements by the ISIL in early January 2014 suggested that members of the group were being harassed, imprisoned and constrained in their movements by other militant groups in Syria.[29] Regardless of which side transgressed first, the public statements by JN and the ISIL leaders (released in February and March 2014) suggest that the differences between the two groups are no longer reconcilable. The audio statement by Abu `Abdallah al-Shami, a member of JN’s consultative council,[30]  and the response by the ISIL’s spokesperson, Abu Muhammad al-`Adnani al-Shami, released in early March left no room for mediation.[31] The language of “brotherhood” and “unity” that both groups initially strived to maintain is now replaced by accusatory vocabulary littered with terms such as “liars,” “betrayers,” and “enemies.”[32]

From the perspective of JN and its allies, two key events seem to have detonated their anger. The first is the kidnapping and killing of Abu Sa`d al-Hadrami, the leader of JN in the province of al-Raqqa. The geographical importance of al-Raqqa cannot be exaggerated: its proximity to the border with Turkey makes it critical for the flow of foreign fighters; its economic prospects are assured given that it holds oil reserves and the Euphrates River runs through it; and it is also in the middle of five strategic provinces (Aleppo, Hasaka, Dayr al-Zur, Hums and Hama), hence serving as a focal point for military expansion. The ISIL has admitted that it was behind al-Hadrami’s killing, justifying it on account of his apostasy (radda). The ISIL’s statement did not provide supporting details.[33] JN claims that al-Hadrami had been duped into pledging allegiance to the ISIL, but when al-Zawahiri made his judgment in favor of JN and when “he saw for himself the crimes and torture of the innocents [ordered] by the [ISIL] governor of al-Raqqa [as a form of punishment] for even the most minor and dubious errors and pettiest causes, he returned to JN dissociating himself from ISIL.”[34] The ISIL now controls al-Raqqa.

The second key event that further unleashed JN’s wrath was the killing of one of the leaders of Ahrar al-Sham, Abu Khalid al-Suri, in February 2014. Al-Zawahiri nominated al-Suri to serve as arbitrator in the disputes between the ISIL and JN. In January 2014, al-Suri released a public statement in which he accused the ISIL of “crimes and erroneous practices in the name of jihad.”[35] He further decried the way in which he believed the ISIL was degrading those who have “liberated the country,” behaving as if it was a real state while other groups were mere “platoons.”[36] Soon thereafter, a suicide bomber assassinated al-Suri.[37] The Saudi cleric `Abdallah al-Mhisni claimed on his Twitter account that, prior to his death, al-Suri had told him that the ISIL had threatened to send five suicide bombers to kill him,[38] although the ISIL denied any responsibility.[39]

The assassination of al-Suri created shock waves in the jihadist world. In his eulogy, JN leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani remarked that al-Suri fought the Syrian regime some 30 years ago, which suggests that he may have been a member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood that bore the wrath of Hafiz al-Assad’s regime in the 1980s, particularly in Hama.[40] Al-Julani also reported that al-Suri knew Bin Ladin and al-Zawahiri well, in addition to “his jihad companion Shaykh Abu Mus`ab al-Suri,” the renown jihadist strategist.[41] In a phone conversation from prison in Jordan, the Palestinian-born ideologue Abu Qatada al-Filastini almost choked from distress as he described the importance of al-Suri and the respect he commanded in the jihadist world, believing that his death was the worst “that has devastated us since [the killing] of Bin Ladin.”[42]

It is perhaps because of al-Suri’s jihadist pedigree that al-Julani thought he would receive the support of jihadist leaders when he gave the ISIL an ultimatum, threatening that if the group refused to respond within five days of his statement and “did not cease to burden the umma [Islamic community] with this ignorant and belligerent mindset and eradicate it even from Iraq, you know too well that hundreds of virtuous brothers in Iraq await a signal to [remove you].”[43] Al-Julani miscalculated: the ISIL did not come begging, and days later a member of JN’s Consultative Council, Abu `Abdallah al-Shami, reneged on the threat, complying with the urging of “scholars such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filastini,” who called for an end to the jihadist in-fighting in the Levant. Al-Shami announced that JN would limit its actions to reclaiming the territory the ISIL usurped from JN and “to repelling the aggression of the ISIL.”[44]

From the perspective of the ISIL, it sees itself as the only credible jihadist group in Syria. Notwithstanding the jihadist credentials of JN, the alliances it has formed with Ahrar al-Sham of the Islamic Front has cast doubt on its commitment to global jihad. In fairness to the ISIL, while the charter of the Islamic Front is keen to emphasize the Islamic character of its program, it is committed to a nationalist agenda, focusing specifically on Syria as the “nation” and precluding any commitment to global jihad.[45] More disturbing from a jihadist perspective are leaked documents that are said to detail the internal organization of Ahrar al-Sham. These documents reveal that Ahrar al-Sham seeks to establish “communication with external parties” that include states and “liaise with foreign embassies” and even work “with the security intelligence of neighboring countries.”[46]

If these documents are authentic, it would be understandable for a jihadist group to question whether the banner of jihad under which JN is said to be fighting has been compromised by its alliance with groups espousing a nationalist agenda. The ISIL’s concern is further supported by the many accounts that suggest that JN and other Syrian militant groups are not as welcoming of muhajirun (foreign fighters) in their midst and are keen to preserve an ansar (local/Syrian) membership. Indeed, most of the foreign fighters in Syria appear to be siding with the ISIL.[47]

Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Dilemma
It is not clear if al-Zawahiri’s statement on February 10, 2014, and addressed to “our people in the Levant” amounts to a mea culpa. In it, he is at pains reaching out that “we were addressing all of you as brothers…and that the brotherhood we share through Islam is stronger than all the organizational bonds that are transient and subject to change.”[48] Regardless, al-Zawahiri’s inability to exert decisive authority over the dispute between the ISIL and JN has led to an unprecedented level of public criticism against him on jihadist forums. One forum member questioned if al-Zawahiri can exert authority of any kind, lamenting: “Jihad was orphaned after you departed [Bin Ladin], and we [the jihadists have all become] orphans!!”[49] Others accused al-Zawahiri of having “admitted the legitimacy of Sykes-Picot,”[50] one of the worst charges of which a jihadist leader could be accused. Sykes-Picot represents the 1916 agreement between the United Kingdom and France in which they carved out their respective spheres of influence in the Middle East in anticipation of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, eventually leading to its division into nation-states.

To be fair to al-Zawahiri, the declassified Abbottabad documents revealed that Bin Ladin did not have much authority over the actions of regional jihadist groups either.[51] The main difference is that Bin Ladin was able to keep the jihadists’ dirty secrets in hiding and therefore maintain an aura of dignity to his leadership in the jihadist world, however symbolic it was. Al-Zawahiri seems to have overestimated the degree of his influence.

Jihadist groups around the world are starting to take a position vis-à-vis the Syrian jihadist scene, and every group that does not condemn the ISIL is seen as undermining al-Zawahiri’s position, at least indirectly: AQAP has taken a neutral stance; two Sinai-based groups, Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin: Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, declared their support to the ISIL;[52] from his prison cell in Jordan and in an audio recording posted on YouTube, the Palestinian jihadist ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi initially criticized, somewhat diplomatically, the ISIL for having “rejected the order/judgment (amr) of our brother Ayman,”[53] but later the jihadist website Minbar al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad released a statement “at his [al-Maqdisi’s] urging” asserting that only those statements released on al-Minbar should be considered reliable;[54] Abu `Iyad al-Tunisi, the leader of Ansar al-Shari`a in Tunisia, released a statement supporting both groups;[55] Abu Bakar Ba`aysir, the leader of Indonesia’s Jama`at Ansar al-Tawhid, released a statement from prison calling on all jihadists to unite in Syria;[56] a statement signed by 20 scholars, including Abu Mundhir al-Shanqiti,[57] has endorsed the ISIL;[58] a group of jihadists in Khorasan, supposedly in al-Zawahiri’s backyard, has endorsed the ISIL;[59] and the jihadist website Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam released a statement in support of the ISIL and counseled JN, whose current stance “does not please God,” to change its ways.[60] Abu Muhammad al-Qawqazi, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, released a video statement appealing to all jihadists from the Caucasus fighting in Syria to avoid getting involved in this fitna (sedition) and not be misled by those who claim to be on the right path.[61] He addressed the leaders of both JN and the ISIL and called on them to compromise through dialogue to end this fitna and accept the judgment of either the “general leadership or a Shari`a court.”[62] AQIM and al-Shabab have not yet weighed in on the dispute.

A coup is not what one would envisage happening in the jihadist world, but this is a new era for jihadism.

Nelly Lahoud is Associate Professor at the Combating Terrorism Center in the Department of Social Sciences at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.

Muhammad al-`Ubaydi is a research assistant at the Combating Terrorism Center and monitors Arabic jihadist websites.

The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

* Correction: This text was modified at 1:33 PM on March 27, 2014, as it mistakenly said that Abu Hamza pledged an oath to Abu Bakr. It has been corrected to state that Abu Hamza pledged an oath to Abu `Umar.

[1] Tanzim Qa`idat al-Jihad – al-Qiyada al-`Amma, “Bayan bi-Sha’ni `Alaqat Jama`at Qa`idat al-Jihad bi-Jama`at al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-`Iraq wa-al-Sham, Markaz al-Fajr li-al-I`lam,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, February 2, 2014. For consistency, this article uses “al-Qa`ida” instead of “Qa`idat al-Jihad.” For the possible nuance between the two names, see Nelly Lahoud, “The Merger of Al-Shabab and Qa`idat al-Jihad,” CTC Sentinel 5:2 (2012), footnote #6. Unless otherwise stated, all translations are by Nelly Lahoud.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Tawhid al-Kalima hawla Kalimat al-Tawhid,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, April 2013.

[4] Abu Muhammad al-Julani, “Hawla Sahati al-Sham,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, April 2013.

[5] “Al-Zawahiri Yulghi Damj ‘Jihadiyyi’ Suriya wa-al-`Iraq,” al-Jazira, June 9, 2013. It should be noted that Ahrar al-Sham is part of the Islamic Front (al-Jabha al-Islamiyya), one of the largest coalitions of militant groups operating in Syria under the banner of Islam. Ahrar al-Sham was a signatory to the charter that the Islamic Front released in November 2013.

[6] See, among others, Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Tawjihat `Amma li-al-`Amal al-Jihadi,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, September 13, 2013.

[7] In addition to being one of the public faces of global jihad until he was killed in August 2011, the declassified Abbottabad documents show that many of Bin Ladin’s communications were done through `Atiyya. His real name is Jamal Ibrahim Ishtiwi al-Misrati and is also known by two aliases: Abu `Abd al-Rahman and `Atiyyatullah (`Atiyya is short for the latter). He was born in 1970 in Misrata, Libya, pursued Islamic religious studies in Mauritania, then joined jihad in Algeria. He went to Afghanistan in the late 1990s and was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan on August 22, 2011.

[8] See the captured letters authored by Ayman al-Zawahiri and `Atiyatullah al-Libi to Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi. These are available at www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/zawahiris-letter-to-zarqawi-original and www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/atiyahs-letter-to-zarqawi-original.

[9] Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, “Inna al-Hukma illa li-llah,” November 10, 2006. The ISI was announced on October 15, 2006.

[10] Harmony Document SOCOM-2012-0000014. All Harmony documents can be accessed at the following URL: www.ctc.usma.edu/programs-resources/harmony-program. A document can be queried by entering the identification code into the search field.

[11] Harmony Document SOCOM-2012-0000011, p. 1.

[12] Harmony Document SOCOM-2012-0000019, pp. 19, 23.

[13] Harmony Document SOCOM-2012-0000005.

[14] “Bayan bi-Sha’ni `Alaqat Jama`at Qa`idat al-Jihad bi-Jama`at al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-`Iraq wa-al-Sham, Markaz al-Fajr li-al-I`lam.”

[15] Abu Mustafa al-Anbari, “Khadhaltum al-Dawla al-Islamiyya,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, accessed January 22, 2014.

[16] See Nelly Lahoud, The Jihadis’ Path to Self-Destruction (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), pp. 140-143; Nelly Lahoud, Beware of Imitators: Al-Qa`ida through the Lens of its Confidential Secretary (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2012), pp. 41-54; Brynjar Lia, “Jihadi Strategists and Doctrinarians,” in Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman eds., Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions Within Al-Qa`ida and its Periphery (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2010), pp. 100-131.

[17] Harmony Document SOCOM-2012-0000004, p. 8.

[18] Abu Shadia, “Da`wa Muwajjaha li-Abi al-Fadl Madi ila Munazara Maftuha,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, January 10, 2014.

[19] Nasir al-Qa`ida, “Ham wa-`Ajil li-Ansar al-Mujahidin,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, January 13, 2014. Pundits are not ordinary forum members who contribute their reactions to events; instead, they are established writers who contribute analytical essays and are referred to on jihadist websites as great writers or contributors (Kibar al-Kuttab).

[20] See, for instance, the interventions by Abu al-Fadl Madi that were designed to be neutral, yet it was clear that he supported JN: Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, January 9, 2014.

[21] Yaman Mukhaddab, “al-Qa`ida al-Tayyiba wa-al-Khida`bi-al-Iiham,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, January 10, 2014; Yaman Mukhaddab, “Harbu al-Fi’at wa-al-Jama`at,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, January 15, 2014. Also see his article in support of the ISIL: Yaman Mukhaddab, “Fa-Ya-Layta Qawmi Yaqra’un … `An Dawlatu al-Amali Atahaddath,” January 9, 2014.

[22] Abu Shadia, “Ikhsa’ fa-lan Ta`duwa Qadraka,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, January 9, 2014. This essay was quickly removed by the forum administrator.

[23] This is from a letter addressed to Ayman al-Zawahiri and authored by Muhammad al-Zuhayri, who is described as the poet of al-Qa`ida, on Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, February 10, 2014. The letter was removed.

[24] See the numerous postings on Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, including the ones posted on March 9, 2014, many of which have been removed by forum administrators.

[25] It is possible that they actually shut themselves down to avoid serving as the broadcasters of jihadist disputes.

[26] In addition to the examples listed in the previous footnotes, see for instance what is a fairly neutral contribution by Husayn bin Mahmud, “Kashf al-Litham `amma Yajri fi al-Sham,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, January 9, 2014.

[27] The protagonists on the battlefield are many, but the main ones consist of the ISIL (supported by Katibat al-Muhajirin led by Abu `Umar al-Shishani) on the one hand, and JN and its seeming allies (the Islamic Front coalition, particularly the group Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, and smaller militant groups).

[28] Muhammad al-Najjar, “Abu Qatada Yuhajim Tanzim al-Dawla wa-Yu’ayyid Muhlat al-Nusra,” al-Jazira, February 27, 2014. See also Abu Qatada al-Filastini, “Ma ba`da al-Muqaraba {Rabi` al-Mujahidin} … Waqi` wa-Amal,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, February 2014.

[29] See, for example, “Nida’ mina al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-`Iraq wa-al-Sham,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, January 4, 2014.

[30] Abu `Abdallah al-Shami, “La-Tubayyinannahu li-al-Nas wa-la Taktumunahu,” March 3, 2014, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=njlyCHa-q7Y.

[31] Abu Muhammad al-`Adnani al-Shami, “Thumma Nabtahilu fa-Naj`alu La`natu Allahi `ala al-Khadhibin,” March 7, 2014, available at http://ia801306.us.archive.org/35/items/al_adnani/nabtahil.mp3.

[32] Such terminology is used by both al-Shami and al-`Adnani.

[33] The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, “Bayan al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-`Iraq wa-al-Sham – Wilayat al-Raqqa Hawla ma Tashhaduhu al-Madina min Ahdath,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, January 13, 2014.

[34] See the statement by the ISIL, posted January 13, 2014, and the statement by Jabhat al-Nusra, “Raddan `ala I`tiraf Jama`at al-Dawla bi-Qatli al-Sheikh Abi Sa`d al-Hadrami,” January 15, 2014.

[35] Abu Khalid al-Suri, “Risalat Munasaha min al-Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, January 16, 2014.

[36] Ibid.

[37] The ISIL reportedly sent three suicide bombers on the mission. For details, see Abu Yazan al-Shami, “Qissat Istishhad al-Sheikh Abi Khalid al-Suri,” February 2014, available at www.justpaste.it/eiv5.

[38] `Abdallah al-Mhisni, February 23, 2014, available at www.twitter.com/mhesne.

[39] The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, “Bayan Mawqif al-Dawla al-Islamiyya min Maqalat al-Muftarin,” March 1, 2014, available at www.justpaste.it/elax.

[40] Abu Muhammad al-Julani, “Laytaka Rathaytani,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, February 24, 2014.

[41] On the importance of Abu Mus`ab al-Suri, see Brynjar Lia, Architect of Global Jihad: the Life of al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus`ab al-Suri (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). One tweet by a certain Abu al-Bara’ al-Zahrani reported that Abu Khalid was in fact the brother of Abu Mus`ab al-Suri. See Abu al-Bara’ al-Zahrani, February 24, 2014, available at www.twitter.com/Braa73.

[42] Abu Qatada al-Filastini, February 27, 2014, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=gem3m2bgGAA.

[43] Abu Muhammad al-Julani, “Laytaka Rathaytani,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, February 25, 2014.

[44] “La-Tubayyinannahu li-al-Nas wa-la Taktumunahu.”

[45] See, for example, the Charter of the Islamic Front, “Mithaq al-Jabhat al-Islamiyya al-Suriyya,” Shabakat Ansar al-Mujahidin, November 2013.

[46] Qisam, “al-Adilla wa-al-Barahin `ala ma Hadatha fi al-Sham laysa Fitna,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, January 23, 2014.

[47] See, for example, the account by Abu Mujahid al-Shishani, “Hawla al-Mu’amara didda al-Dawla al-Islamiyya,” three parts, March 2014. The first two parts can be accessed at www.justpaste.it/fursan-t-sha and www.justpaste.it/fursan-t-sha2.

[48] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Nida’ `Ajil li-Ahlina fi al-Sham,” Minbar al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad, February 10, 2014.

[49] Ibn al-Dira, Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, January 10, 2014.

[50] Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, available at www.alfidaa.org/vb/showthread.php?t=94883.

[51] See Nelly Lahoud et al., Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Ladin Sidelined? (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2012).

[52] Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin: Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, “Bayan min Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin hawla ma Yahduth fi Syria,” February 2, 2014. The support of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis was given in an audio statement by Abu Usama al-Misri, posted January 23, 2014, at Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya.

[53] Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, March 2, 2014, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAjX4Z445eo.

[54] Minbar al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad, March 12, 2014. Several jihadist websites, including Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam and Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, reposted the announcement.

[55] Abu `Iyad al-Tunisi, “Bayan Nusra wa-Ta’yid li-Ikhwanina al-Mujahidin bi-al-Sham,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, January 15, 2014.

[56] Abu Bakar Ba`aysir, “Risala min Amir Tanzim Ansar al-Tawhid fi Indonesia,” March 10, 2014, available at www.ansharuttauhid.com/read/publikasi/404/#sthash.OJULQLP7.dpuf.

[57] Abu Mundhir al-Shanqiti is a legal scholar whose writings are posted on the renowned jihadist website Minbar al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad, which is devoted to jihadist ideological materials.

[58] “Bayan al-Ukhwa al-Imaniyya fi Nusrat al-Dawla al-Islamiyya,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, January 24, 2014.

[59] Jam` min Mujahidi Khurasan, “al-Munasara al-Khurasaniyya li-al-Dawla al-Islamiyya,” Shabakat al-Fida’ al-Islamiyya, March 3, 2014. This statement is signed by several jihadists whose identities are not well known (at least to these authors); however, the media wing that released this statement, Mu’assasat al-battar al-I`lamiyya, was founded by a group of members of the jihadist website Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam and later merged with al-Ma’sada Foundation, the media production group for the same website.

[60] “Bayan Ham: al-I`lan `an Mawqif Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam min al-Ahdath al-Jariya fi al-Sham,” Shabakat Shumukh al-Islam, March 10, 2014.

[61] Abu Muhammad al-Qawqazi, “Risalatu Nush li-Mujahidi al-Sham,” March 19, 2014, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8V5lTAQ9jE.

[62] Ibid.

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