November 1, 2015 / 9:38 PM / 2 years ago

Al Qaeda chief urges militant unity against Russia in Syria

File photo of Al Qaeda's then-second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri speaking from an unknown location. This is a still image taken from video uploaded on a social media website June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV

CAIRO (Reuters) - Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslim supporters to band together to confront the threat from the West and Russia in Syria and Iraq, the latest recording suggesting greater unity between al Qaeda and Islamic State.

“The Americans, Russians, Iranians, Alawites, and Hezbollah are coordinating their war against us -- are we not capable of stopping the fighting amongst ourselves so we can direct all our efforts against them?” Zawahri said in an audio recording released on the Internet on Sunday.

It was not clear when the recording was made but references to Russian aggression suggest it was made after Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups and Islamic State in Syria on Sept. 30.

In a recording released in September, Zawahri dismissed Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as illegitimate but said his followers would join them in fighting the Western-led coalition in Iraq and Syria if possible.

“My mujahideen brothers in all places and of all groups ... we face aggression from America, Europe, and Russia ... so it’s up to us to stand together as one from East Turkestan to Morocco,” Zawahri said.

Islamic State, the ultra-hardline group that controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has called for a holy war against both Russia and the United States in response to air strikes on its fighters in Syria.

Any cooperation between al Qaeda and Islamic State would further complicate efforts to stabilize the Middle East, where militant groups have gained influence and escalated attacks since the Arab uprisings of 2011 toppled autocrats who had contained them.

Reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Alison Williams

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