‘Islamic State’ versus al-Nusra: Will Baghdadi ask for al-Talli’s head?

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An al-Nusra Front fighter stationed in the Syrian region of al-Qalamoun bordering Lebanon. Al-Akhbar/Radwan Mortada

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Friday, December 26, 2014

The calm in the Qalamoun front will not last very long. The truce between the “brothers in jihad” is reeling, after Baghdadi’s emissaries arrived to consolidate the ranks of the “Islamic State” soldiers on the border with Lebanon. For the purpose, they have sought the help of veteran clerics and are paying new recruits monthly wages, with a view to bleed and poach fighters from al-Nusra Front ahead of a possible major showdown.

The temporary truce in Qalamoun did not do much to end the conflict between al-Nusra Front and the “Islamic State” (IS). Qalamoun is currently neutral in the battle between the brothers in arms in Syria, but this will not last long. The conflict between them is starting in this region just as it had started elsewhere in Syria, with Sharia-focused disputes. The war of statements between them could be a prelude for a real war, especially since the presence of the IS along this front is no longer minor.

The IS, which is now regrouping, is seeking to take over command of the front and pull the rug from under al-Nusra’s feet. For this reason, IS dispatched some of its top clerics as well as fighters armed to the teeth with advanced weapons and cash.

As a result, all efforts by the emir of al-Nusra in Qalamoun, Abu Malik al-Talli, to avoid sedition and bridge the rift in the jihadi ranks have now collapsed. According to reports, the IS – which is led these days by Sheikh Abu Abdullah al-Maqdisi, who is also known as Abu al-Walid al-Maqdisi – is paying a monthly salary of $400 to each fighter. This is another factor that attracts new members to the radical group in light of the deteriorating financial situation of the militants and the displaced people scattered in the area.

This is not to mention the recently launched Sharia debates by the IS against al-Nusra Front, to rally supporters and establish a Sharia argument proving that al-Nusra Front is the deviant faction. It should be noted here that Maqdisi, who is a “chief judge” in the IS, arrived as part of a delegation consisting of three Sharia experts sent by the central command of the organization in Raqqa, including one known as Abu Kifah al-Iraqi.

The coming war

In light of the above, the IS seems to be preparing to continue its war against al-Nusra, this time in Qalamoun. In this regard, information obtained by Al-Akhbar indicates that the emir of Al-Nusra in Qalamoun Abu Malik al-Talli was invited to meet with the IS delegation, who propositioned him to pledge allegiance to “Caliph Ibrahim.”

The reports indicate that one of the Sharia experts (an Iraqi national) who met with Talli promised him during the meeting to be appointed emir of the group in the region if he agrees, but that Talli rejected the offer, telling them, “By God if I had seen that the caliph state was on the side of righteousness I would have pledged my allegiance to it since it was established.” The IS delegates reportedly retorted, “You are a sect of infidels and apostates, so be gone with your religion.”

An altercation ensued between the two sides, but they agreed in the end to a truce and to cooperate where needed to repel the “aggressor enemy,” namely the Syrian army and Hezbollah, according to the sources. The agreement takes place in the context of the drive being spoken about by individuals close to IS regarding preparations for an assault on Lebanese villages and towns, as part of an ambitious plan to seize control of the central Bekaa region.

Meanwhile, the IS has been fighting a battle to purge Qalamoun from the Free Syrian Army, a battle whose slogan is “pledge allegiance to the IS or die.” IS fighters accuse the FSA of treason and of giving the territories it controls to the Syrian army and Hezbollah. There have been violent clashes in the past several days between the radical group and FSA factions, with rumors about the death of FSA leader Uraba Idris. However, Syrian sources denied Idris’ death, saying he had been detained by the IS and then released.

War of statements

A war of written and broadcasted statements has erupted between the IS and al-Nusra Front. An IS audio recording attributed to Abu al-Walid al-Maqdisi recalled that al-Nusra Front had betrayed Baghdadi and failed to pledge allegiance to him. The recording said that al-Nusra Front were in breach of Islam by allying themselves to an “apostate” military council, with the implication being that al-Nusra fighters were infidels who may be lawfully fought and killed.

Al-Nusra’s emir responded with a written statement addressing IS’ question regarding whether al-Nusra’s men were infidels or Muslims. The emir’s statement was cautious and refused to declare anyone an apostate, only saying that among IS fighters there were extremists and rogue elements, based on statements by Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi. The emir was not direct and only said that it was necessary to stop those who go too far in declaring Muslims apostates and their killing as lawful, whether from IS or any other group.

Meanwhile, the website al-Murabitun posted another statement quoting an al-Nusra Sharia expert responding to an IS Sharia official in Qalamoun, thoroughly refuting IS’ accusations against al-Nusra.

It should be noted that the differences between IS and al-Nusra Front had raged following the defection of an al-Nusra leader known as al-Ahwazi, who joined IS and became a military official in its ranks. Sources say that around 30 jihadists split up from al-Nusra recently to join the IS.

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter: @radwanmortada

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Contrary to Shias, the Sunnis disallow any official interpretation of the holy books. Therefore any group, or any clerics can claim that its interpretation is the 'right' one and will get followers. As such there is no single high level Sunni religious authority that can arbitrate. This absence has been a source of problems, abuses and conflicts with Sunni Islam.
If they are able to build up an all encompassing single religious authority for all Sunnis, then they may come out stronger. Otherwise they will continue to divide and weaken further, creating frustrations that easily morph to violent extremism.

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