After the May 23rd letter from Ayman al Zawahiri, Al Nusra pulled back their own propaganda, apparently waiting to see how things were going to settle out, as Abu Khalid al Suri was appointed by the emir of Al Qaeda to mediate the dispute. However, on June 14th, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, apparently issued an audio message through social media sites defying Zawahiri’s ruling.
According to SITE Intelligence Group’s translation of the message, al Baghdadi said, “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant remains as long as we have a pulse or an eye that blinks.” He claims that Zawahiri’s letter was not in keeping with Shariah, according to his own consultation with the shura of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The Al Nusra Front, meanwhile, has resumed its previous branding, apparently accepting Zawahiri’s letter as binding. This is really no surprise, considering that they were disputing al Baghdadi’s assumption of authority in the first place.
The April formation of the ISIL has led to a fair amount of confusion in Syria, with Al Nusra seeing considerable defections from Al Nusra to ISIL. A spokesman for ISIL claimed that some 90 percent of Al Nusra’s fighters had gone over to the new organization (though given the source, the veracity of that claim is rightly suspect). Al Jazeera has reported logistical disruptions, as fighters gone over to the ISIL refused to acknowledge the Al Nusra authorities in charge of distributing the food they were guarding.
This little squabble between al Baghdadi and al Julani could disrupt AQ-affiliated operations in Syria. Given the sheer number of Islamist rebel groups, however, it is unlikely to affect the civil war in any particularly significant manner, aside from shedding light on the internal politics of Al Qaeda and its affiliates.