In a move that’s going to cause no end of confusion in the naming of factions in the Syrian Civil War, al-Qaeda’s general command today announced that they have severed all ties with the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) faction, colloquially known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
ISIS is the more recent name AQI gave itself in 2012 when it expanded into Syria. The group was endorsed by al-Qaeda’s parent organization in 2004, during the US occupation of Iraq, and appeared to remain so throughout the war.
But al-Qaeda has another dog in the fight in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. The group is directly affiliated with the parent al-Qaeda, despite a failed attempt by AQI to “merge” the two organizations under their direct control.
Having two al-Qaedas in Syria (and arguably three, since the Islamic Front’s leadership includes a number of self-proclaimed al-Qaeda members) wasn’t a problem until the past few weeks, when rebel infighting began spiraling out of control and Jabhat al-Nusra began engaging in open fights with AQI/ISIS. This led Western media outlets to dub Jabhat the “good al-Qaeda,” and AQI the “bad al-Qaeda.” Apparently al-Qaeda sees things much the same way.
A top pro-al-Qaeda Saudi cleric, who has moved to Syria to oversee the assorted jihads ongoing there, echoed al-Qaeda’s sentiment as well, urging fighters loyal to AQI to defect to Jabhat al-Nusra, or failing that at least join the Islamic Front.