The central leadership of Al Qaeda has renounced ties with Syrian rebel faction Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
"ISIS is not a branch of Al Qaeda and we have no organizational relationship with it," the group said in a statement, according to a translation from Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Al Qaeda added that it takes no responsibility for ISIS's actions in Syria.
The move is a political one, analysts claim. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has repeatedly ignored calls from Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri for an end to infighting between his group, an extension of the Islamic State of Iraq, and the Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's official satellite organization in Syria. Al-Zawahiri has already previously made clear his displeasure over the challenge to the Nusra Front by ISIS.
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 between ISIS and other Islamist rebel factions, with the group's leader calling for an end to the clashes, warning it would benefit the regime.
ISIS is part of a group of jihadist rebels that declared Aleppo to be an independent Islamist state, leading to a second civil war between moderate rebels and jihadist rebels, in addition to the war between Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces and the rebels. ISIS has executed dozens of rival Islamists as the group recaptured most territory it had lost in the northeastern Syrian province of Raqqa.
In recent days, the fighting between ISIS and other Syrian rebels has escalated, with hundreds having been killed in the fighting between rival groups. Three powerful rebel alliances – among them Islamist groups - have teamed up to fight ISIS, which they have warned is worse than Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
The ruthless fight ISIS has launched against rival rebel groups has made ISIS highly unpopular in Syria - a factor motivating the clear attempt by "central Al Qaeda" to distance itself from it.
“Jihadist groups are our brothers whom we refuse to accuse of apostasy,” Zawahiri noted last week, in his appeal to both Al Nusra and ISIS. “These organizational ties can be sacrificed without second thought if they conflicted with your unity... against your enemy.”