WASHINGTON – All is not paradise in the al-Qaida family of jihadist groups as they watch the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, conquer predominantly Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq with plans to create a caliphate.
That would include further plans for conquests throughout the Levant, including the Gulf Arab countries.
The latest to go against IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is Sheikh Abu Mohammed Al-Caucasian, emir or leader of the Chechens in the Caucasus Emirate, which includes the southern Russian provinces of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Mohammad was chosen head of the Caucasus Emirate earlier this year following the death of its previous leader, Dokku Umarov.
In a video recording in Arabic, Mohammad voiced opposition to IS, which is a group that has broken away from al-Qaida and has been criticized for its extreme violence and brutality.
He made an appeal, asking that al-Baghdadi come back into the al-Qaida fold and support al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Baghdadi and al-Zawahiri split last year over differences that emerged after the IS leader sought to bring the al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, under his command while fighting in Syria last year.
In addition, al-Zawahiri was concerned with the brutality al-Baghdadi’s jihadist group displayed with beheadings, amputations and crucifixions not only against Shiites and Christians but also Sunnis whom al-Baghdadi’s fighters didn’t believe were devout enough.
At the time, al-Baghdadi headed al-Qaida in Iraq which, following the schism with al-Zawahiri, morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and then the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Greater Syria).
Following al-Baghdadi’s successful military thrust into Iraq last month in which much of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province of Iraq was captured, he renamed ISIS to be just the Islamic State, or IS after he announced the creating of an Islamic caliphate over captured territory and its inhabitants.
Mohammad, in a video recording in Arabic, also outlined a strategy of fighters in the Caucasus against the Russians and said there would be no more suicide bombers, especially among women, known as the Black Widows.
He also said there would be no more attacks on civilians.
These views reflect a policy change from his predecessor who had advocated such attacks inside Russia, including its international airport and Moscow subway.
In his open appeal to al-Baghdadi, Mohammad said Chechens and other Sunni jihadist fighters from the Caucasus had gone to Syria, which he refers to the Levant, to fight against the government of the Shiite-Alawite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is allied with Shiite Iran.
“We told them (Caucasus fighters): When you come to Levant, we do not want you to form any kind of military detachment called ‘Caucasus Emirate.’ We told them: ‘Look for the very first group that follows the Shariah (law) wholeheartedly and that is fighting under the banner of monotheism and then join them and do obey their emir in good and do not obey in disobedience to Allah, the glorified and the exalted,’” Mohammad said. “And all this for the sake of unification of ranks of mujahedeen and for fear of getting into discord, because we have faced this discord and suffered greatly from it.”
“The mujahedeen have to fight under one banner and under the single command to accomplish the same goal – and this goal is the elevation the word of Allah, the glorified and the exalted,” he said.
To show a continued desire for al-Baghdadi to rejoin al-Qaida, Mohammad made an appeal for unity.
“Oh, our brother Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, oh, our brother Abu Mohammed Al-Jolani (head of al-Nusra), swear by Allah, we love you for the sake of Allah, and we are proud of you, so do not let down our hope in you,” Mohammad said. “Know that this discord will not end until each of you makes concessions to another and until you sit down at the negotiating table and listen and obey the supreme command or the Shariah court.”
When their differences first spilled into the open, al-Zawahiri asked al-Baghdadi to submit differences to the Shariah court.
Mohammad’s comment suggests that the offer of settling their differences before the Shariah court remains open for al-Baghdadi.
For al-Qaida, al-Baghdadi’s rise is being viewed as a threat to its existence, sources say, suggesting that it will have to undertake an operation at least as spectacular as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, to regain the initiative from al-Baghdadi’s surging successes in a matter of a year and a half.
If al-Baghdadi and al-Zawahiri don’t reach some kind of accommodation, analysts say it could mean that the two violent jihadist groups – one more extreme than the other – will be vying for the hearts and minds of jihadists everywhere, suggesting greater violence from both groups in the months to come.
As of now, an increasing number of fighters affiliated with al-Qaida are jumping ship to join al-Baghdadi’s IS. Even among those groups that choose to stay with al-Qaida, fighters have shown begrudging praise for IS, a development which is becoming increasingly apparent in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.