Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for an end to clashes between Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists and Islamists fighting to oust Syria’s regime, in an audio message posted on the Internet and quoted by AFP.
Zawahiri urged all jihadist groups and “every free person in Syria seeking to overthrow [President Bashar] Al-Assad... to seek an end to fighting between brothers in jihad and Islam immediately,” in the recording uploaded on YouTube late on Wednesday.
The comments come in the wake of ongoing fighting between jihadist rebel groups in Syria. In recent weeks, a new front in Syria’s nearly three-year-old conflict opened when powerful rebel groups combined to attack bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
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 even accusations that they were serving the interests of the regime.
In some cases, Al-Nusra Front, the officially recognized Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, participated in fighting against ISIS whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for reconciliation on Sunday.
In Wednesday’s audio message, 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,” added the Al Qaeda chief, according to AFP.
Baghdadi had sought to merge his group with Al Nusra, but they rejected the alliance and pledged allegiance directly to Zawahiri.
Since then, the two groups have functioned separately, though Al Nusra has remained largely neutral in the latest infighting, and the group's leader has called for an end to the clashes, warning it would benefit the regime.
ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani sounded a defiant tone in his own audio message earlier in January, calling for ISIS forces to “crush them (the rebels) totally and kill the conspiracy at birth.”
ISIS has executed dozens of rival Islamists as the group recaptured most territory it had lost in the northeastern Syrian province of Raqqa.