DOHA (Reuters) - Two al Qaeda branches urged warring militant factions in Iraq and Syria to stop fighting each other and unite against a U.S.-led alliance preparing to attack the ultra hardline Islamic State armed group, according to a joint statement posted online.
“Stop the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America’s campaign and that of its satanic alliance that lies in wait for all of us, to break us stick by stick,” al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said in a rare joint statement.
Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda, has fought several rival Islamist groups in Syria including Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official wing in Syria, that have sought to resist its expansion over the past year.
It has also waged a propaganda war with al Qaeda’s central leadership in a thinly-veiled attempt to wrest leadership of global militancy from the group founded by Osama bin Laden, killed by U.S. forces in 2011.
Islamic State fighters set off alarms across the Middle East since June when they swept through northern Iraq, seizing cities, slaughtering prisoners, proclaiming a caliphate to rule over all Muslims and ordering non-Sunnis to convert or die.
President Barack Obama declared his plans to establish a broad coalition against Islamic State last week, and world powers meeting in Paris on Monday gave public backing to military action to fight the group in Iraq.
The groups appealed to militant fighters and their supporters to “stop the campaigns of mutual slander, and direct the honest pens and swords against the head of infidelity, America, and its unjust aggressive alliance.”
“In the face of this unjust crusaders’ campaign, we have no choice but to stand in front of the hater of Islam and Muslims, the U.S. and its allies, who are the real enemies of the Muslim world,” said the statement by the al Qaeda groups.
The statement was dated 11 September, the 13th anniversary of al Qaeda attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York’s World Trade Center, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The statement said the U.S.-led alliance’s true aim was to fight Muslims, “under the excuse of attacking the Islamic State and destroying it, as they claim”.
The group, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself “Caliph” or Muslim leader, fell out with al Qaeda in 2013 over its expansion into Syria, where his followers have carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.
The group also appealed to Arabs in the Gulf and any Muslim whose government was a part of the alliance to prevent them “by all legitimate means from going to war against Islam under the excuse of fighting terrorism”.
Reporting by Amena Bakr, Editing by William Maclean and Dominic Evans