The global jihad movement has split in two. Members of al-Qaeda will now have to choose between two different emirs. The so-called ‘Khorasan pledge’ was the final nail in the coffin of the reconciliation between al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The rift no longer pertains to Syria only, but has spread to the other arenas of global jihad.
The network, known as the Khorasan Group, was acknowledged and named publicly for the first time on Thursday by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He confirmed the group is operating in the region and said they may pose as great a threat to the U.S. as the Islamic State. “There is potentially yet another threat to the homeland, yes,” Clapper said at an intelligence conference in Washington.
But the group’s name, Khorasan, or its links to al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, which is considered the most dangerous terrorist threat to the U.S., have not previously been disclosed. Khorasan refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan.
The Khorasan Group has been described by U.S. intelligence officials as a cell of veteran Al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who are trying to recruit western extremists to attack Europe and the U.S. The Khorasan group, which has not been subject to American military action, is considered the more immediate threat. That Yemen affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been able to place three bombs on U.S.-bound airliners, though none has succeeded in downing the aircraft.
Syria360 Nine al-Qaeda emirs from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran declared their allegiance to the new emir of the faithful, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – the head of ISIS – in what is being termed as the “Khorasan pledge.” A few days later, ISIS spokesperson Mohammed al-Adnani declared that “al-Qaeda deviated from the rightful course,” indicating that “it is not a dispute about who to kill or who to give your allegiance. It is a question of religious practices being distorted and an approach veering off the right path.”
This is a turning point in the clash – currently limited to the Syrian arena – between Baghdadi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, threatening to create an open conflict throughout jihadist movement. The anticipated split had been declared by ISIS advisor Abu Ali al-Anbari. “Either we eliminate them or they will eliminate us,” he said in one of the reconciliation sessions, repeating the sentence three times.
The nine defected emirs’ declaration have put Baghdadi in a direct confrontation with current al-Qaeda leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. They want to attack al-Qaeda’s leader, saying his rule was “a thing of the past and today’s triumphs are made by the soldiers of ISIS.” Mullah Omar had been the emir of emirs of al-Qaeda, enjoying both Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri’s allegiance. During his reign, Afghanistan was destroyed after he refused to deliver Bin Laden and others to the United States.
Baghdadi’s challenge to Mullah Omar is a major confrontation on the jihadi scene. He identified his adversary, bypassing al-Joulani and Zawahiri and going for their senior sheikh. Although it was thought that Mullah Omar was killed, after news of him stopped in the wake of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, some facts and indicators point to the opposite.
On the eve of the September 11 attacks in 2012 in Libya, Zawahiri came out with a eulogy of Abu Yehia al-Libi, considered to be the number two man in al-Qaeda. “I announce to the Islamic nation, the mujahideen, Emir of the Faithful Mullah Mohammed Omar, and the mujahideen in Libya, the news of the martyrdom of Sheikh Hassan Mohammed Qaed [al-Libi].”
The Khorasan pledge, circulating on jihadi online sites such as the Shumukh al-Islam forum, was all that was needed by the war raging in Syria between al-Nusra Front and ISIS. It will be adding more fuel to the fire between the two sides.
The nine emirs are Sheikh Abu Ubaidah al-Lubnani, Abu al-Muhannad al-Urduni, Abu Jurair al-Shamali, Abu al-Huda al-Soudani, Abdulaziz al-Maqdisi (brother of Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi), Abdullah al-Punjabi, Abu Yunus al-Kurdi, Abu Aisha al-Qurtubi, and Abu Musab al-Tadamuni.
In the Khorasan pledge message, the nine emirs elaborated on the stages of jihad against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. They talk about the experience of the Tawhid and Jihad group under Zarqawi, who pledged allegiance to Bin Laden from Iraq to Khorasan. Then they spoke about Zarqawi’s death in 2006, which was followed by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir taking the reign of al-Qaeda’s emirate in Iraq. This coincided with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi announcing the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Muhajir gave him his support and merged his emirate with ISI.
When Baghdadi and his war minister, Muhajir, were killed, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took over ISI with the blessings of Bin Laden and Zawahiri. They believed it to be an “extension of jihad.” It was also highly praised by Sheikh Atiyyah Allah and Sheikh Abu Yehia al-Libi. The nine emirs continue with assessing the events up to the war in Syria, “where it was the duty of ISIS to reach out and provide support for its people, to defeat the conspiracy of the two armies, the Syrian Army and the Free [Syrian] Army (FSA).”
According to the nine sheikhs, after the expansion of ISI, “the forces of infidelity and apostasy quickly sowed the seeds of hypocrisy, using new groups under Islamic sounding names to be a rival and an obstacle to the Islamic state.” They criticized Zawahiri and al-Nusra Front without naming them, saying “the group did not have any courage to enforce judgements over those who disobey sharia, under the pretext of avoiding a clash with the people or due to their inability and incapacity, although they enforced in secret more than they did out in the open.”
They concluded by saying, “we ask God for forgiveness for being late to reveal the truth and fix what we corrupted, disobeyed, and did not accept. Thus, we wrote this message to the Muslim nation and to ask forgiveness from our Lord. We showed that ISIS was right. It raised the banner without hesitation, weakness, or account to anyone by God. We count them as such and, as long as they persevere, they have [our support and allegiance] for its Emir of the Faithful Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurashi and our obedience in fortune and adversity and in hardship and prosperity, without challenging his command. But if it alters or deviates, it will only get from us what others had gotten before before.”
The war between ISIS and al-Qaeda is no longer confined to Syria. It is an open conflict with each side vying for legitimacy. ISIS emirs, in turn, recalled past events. They argued about the origin of the disagreement between Zarqawi and Zawahiri in 2005. “Zawahiri had always been lax,” they replied. “It is not enough that he does not declare Shia as infidels. He objects to Zarqawi’s methods, accusing him of being a takfiri.”