Conflict ruptured between Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the military commander of the terror group’s ex-offshoot in Syria Abu Mohammad al-Julani, after Julani led a wide campaign of arrests against Qaeda big shots near Afghan-Pakistani borders.
Zawahiri said in an audiotape broadcast on Tuesday night that he did not authorize Julani’s break from Qaeda.
In the 35-minute audio message, Zawahiri categorically rejected the rebranding and said that Jabaht Al Nusra had betrayed the oath of allegiance (bayat) it owed as the branch of his organization in Syria. Al Nusra Front, according to him, did not consult the organization’s leadership when it made the decision to formally disengage from Qaeda.
Tahrir al-Sham group was formed in summer 2016 as a merger between Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front), the Ansar al-Din Front, Jaysh al-Sunna, Liwa al-Haqq, and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement.
Zawahiri and Julani’s fight came into public spotlight after Jabhat Fateh al-Sham launched a large-scale arrest campaign on Monday.
Qaeda figures in Idlib, leaders and immigrants were among those taken away.
It is reported that the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham arrested the two most important figures on the wanted list, the former legitimate official in Al-Nusra Front Sami al-Aridi, and the former leader in Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Iyad al-Tubasi.
Zawahiri’s remarks showed grave discontent, as he said that Syrians had no right to ask militiamen to leave the country since the jihad in Syria was a matter pertaining to the global Muslim community.
His public statement signals that the schism reached a point of no return. Increasingly, the tension between the two rose.
On another hand, dozens of mortar bombs landed on the last major rebel stronghold near the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday, a war monitor and a witness said on Wednesday, despite a 48-hour truce proposed by Russia to coincide with the start of peace talks in Geneva.
After a relatively calm morning, shelling picked up later in the day, accompanied by ground attempts to storm the besieged enclave, a witness in the Eastern Ghouta area told Reuters.
The Syrian army stepped up bombardment two weeks ago in an effort to recapture Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held pocket of densely populated agricultural land on the outskirts of the capital under siege since 2012.