WASHINGTON – In spite of its growing split with al-Qaida central in Pakistan led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the more brutal Islamic state in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, has agreed not to attack al-Qaida interests in Iran, according to ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani.
The decision by ISIS, known for the savagery of its attacks, is to insure preservation of al-Qaida’s supply network inside Iran, Adnani said.
He pointed to a continuing relationship between Sunni al-Qaida and Shiite Iran.
“The ISIS has kept abiding by the advices and directives of the sheiks and figures of jihad,” Adnani said in a translated statement obtained by the Long War Journal. “This is why the ISIS has not attacked the Rawafid in Iran since its establishment.”
“Rawafid,” or rejectionists, is a term Sunni radicals use to describe Shiite Muslims.
“It has left the Rawafid safe in Iran, held back the outrage of its soldiers, despite its ability, then, to turn Iran into bloodbaths,” Adnani said. “It has kept its anger all these years and endured accusations of collaboration with its worst enemy, Iran, for refraining from targeting it, leaving the Rawafid there to live in safety, acting upon the orders of al-Qaida to safeguard its interests and supply lines in Iran.”
Adnani’s statement is a further confirmation of a relationship between al-Qaida and Iran that many analysts didn’t believe existed.
“Yes, ISIS has held back the outrage of its soldiers and its own anger for years to maintain the unity of the mujahideen in opinion and action,” Adnani said. “Let history record that Iran owes al-Qaida invaluably.”
The ISIS statement said that its policy of not attacking Shiite Muslims and Iranian interests extends “outside Iraq, in Iran and elsewhere.”
In a July 2011 statement, the U.S. government indicated it had evidence of a relationship between al-Qaida and the Iranian government – a “secret deal with al-Qaida allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory.”
At the time, the government had designated six al-Qaida operatives who were based in Iran.
They included Mustafa Hamid, father-in-law of top al-Qaida operative Saif al-Adel; Saad bin Laden, a son of Osama bin Laden; Yasin al-Suri, said to have been the head of al-Qaida’s operations in Iran; and Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, head of al-Qaida in Iran.
The July 2011 designation also stated that Iran was “a critical transit point for funding to support al-Qaida’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
U.S. officials have told WND that Iran for years has helped finance separate Sunni groups, some of which later comprised the umbrella group al-Qaida, Arabic for “the base.”
Adnani’s admission of ISIS respecting al-Qaida networks in Iran comes as the more radical group and al-Qaida chief Zawahiri remain at odds over tactics and strategy in Syria and Iraq, although some analysts interpret Adnani’s statement as a reconciliation initiative.
At the same time as he exposed the ISIS agreement not to attack al-Qaida interests in Iran, Adnani continued to blame Zawahiri for the infighting between them.
In February, Zawahiri formally disavowed ISIS as a part of al-Qaida, siding with its affiliate in Syria, the Jabhat al-Nusra.
Zawahiri’s statement came about following months of effort on his part to keep ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in line and not attempt to subsume al-Nusra under ISIS and claim it was al-Qaida’s representative in Syria.
The dispute between ISIS and al-Nusra revolves around a personal animosity between al-Nusra head Abu Muhammad al-Julani and Baghdadi
Julani, who at one time served as a lieutenant to Baghdadi, refused an order from Baghdadi to roll in al-Nusra under ISIS, reaffirming his allegiance to al-Qaida chief Zawahiri.
Before the dispute, ISIS was affiliated with al-Qaida, but some of its supporters claimed that the group had not sworn allegiance to the al-Qaida leadership.
Instead, it only pledged to support al-Qaida, although Zawahiri said that ISIS’ predecessors were loyal to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida leadership.
Analysts say that while ISIS is more regional, including Syria and Iraq for now, it could begin to spread out in its dispute with al-Qaida. Given ISIS’ known brutality, its threat to U.S. interests in addition to that of al-Qaida could increase as its influence spreads.
According to regional analysts, the rivalry between ISIS and al-Nusra has begun to extend itself from the battlefield in Syria to Saudi Arabia, which helps finance al-Nusra.
Even though the Saudi kingdom financially backs the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra, Saudi authorities in recent days have made their first arrest of an ISIS cell of some 62 fighters, more than half of whom are Saudi nationals. ISIS still is considered to be an al-Qaida splinter group.
Because al-Nusra believes al-Qaida hasn’t pushed jihad as much as it should, there is concern their dispute could spread throughout the Middle East and into all of North Africa.