Islamic State’s Rivalry with al-Qaeda Runs Deep

May 19, 2020 | Thomas Joscelyn
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Originally known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State (IS) had been in increasing tension with bin Laden’s organization for several years before it split ties altogether and took on its current form. Since then forces loyal to IS have clashed with those loyal to al-Qaeda in Syria, Gaza, and Yemen. The Yemeni IS province issued a video on April 29 condemning its rival, and showing that the conflict between the two terrorist groups isn’t going away. In his analysis of the video, Thomas Joscelyn writes:

For those who have followed Islamic State’s messaging since its rise to power in 2014, . . . the allegations [it makes against al-Qaeda] will be familiar.

[But] al-Qaeda’s senior leaders and the group’s regional branches are not the only ones featured in the video. Islamic State harshly criticizes various other Salafists and Islamists, especially [the former Egyptian president] Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s men in Egypt. There are brief glimpses of Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well. The former caliphate argues that all of them are insufficiently religious and have “betrayed Allah’s sword.” Those same figures are used mainly to impugn al-Qaeda’s own jihadist reputation, as the organization cooperated with some of those same parties, or took a lenient approach to them, during the Arab Spring.

The fact that some of the IS’s current criticisms of al-Qaeda are identical to those it voiced in 2014, writes Joscelyn is evidence that the group has “a deep institutional memory.” He concludes:

It is always possible that some factions within each group are currently working together, or they will do so. . . . But the video indicates that a grand reconciliation between the two jihadist rivals is unlikely in the near future.

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