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Al-Qa’ida in the Levant Awaits its Amir

12th Apr 2013

By Radwan Mortada

Al-Akhbar: Syria’s main group, al-Nusra Front, declares its allegiance to al-Qaeda leader
Ayman al-Zawahiri and agrees to a merger with the Islamic State in Iraq in a joint effort to
revive the caliphate.

After much speculation about the Syrian al-Nusra Front’s relationship to al-Qaeda, the
group’s emir Abu Mohammed al-Julani emerged in an Internet audio clip, pledging his
allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Julani also accepted a merger announced the previous day by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader
of Iraq’s branch of al-Qaeda, to integrate their organizations. All that remains in the merger
process is for Zawahiri to name an emir to lead the new group, which should not be long in

Many media outlets were confused about Julani’s intentions as his audio statement noted
reservations about the timing of the merger, in addition to a mild protest that neither he, nor
the al-Nusra leadership, were consulted before such a decision was made.

Julani’s statement suggests concern about how other factions of the Syrian opposition will
react to the merger, and that although he has no problem pledging allegiance to Zawahiri, he
has tactical reservations about the need to publicly announce such a merger at this time.

Notably, Baghdadi had anticipated this by recounting the history of his group under the
leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the heavy cost the organization had to bear after
declaring its affiliation with al-Qaeda.

He also revealed that it was he who had sent Julani, along with some of his men, to Syria to
begin organizing the jihadi groups there: “We helped them draw up their plans of operation
and shared our finances with them. We did not declare this before for security reasons, but it
is high time that we declare that al-Nusra Front is an extension of the Islamic State in Iraq.”

All of this started with a speech by Zawahiri released on the Internet on April 7 calling on
jihadi groups to unite their efforts. He managed to cover all corners of the Islamic and Arab
worlds in his two-hour speech, advising his supporters “not to disassociate yourselves from
your jihadi Muslim brothers.”

This in turn prompted Baghdadi to make his move and call for the merger of the two
organizations by dropping their separate banners and uniting in an effort to revive the
caliphate by establishing an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Many Syrian opposition figures, like head of the Syrian National Coalition Moaz al-Khatib,
criticized al-Qaeda’s role in the uprising, asking the “revolutionaries” to take a clear position
on these new developments, while others saw it as interference in their internal affairs.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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Sectarianism in the Middle East and its rise in the UK, Standpoint, Sahar TV. Interview 29 May 2013 and aired on 12 June 2013

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