Al-Qaeda's Syria chief says IS caliphate 'illegitimate'

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Beirut, Jun 4: The chief of Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate has described the rival Islamic State group's self-proclaimed caliphate as "illegitimate", in a wide-ranging television interview.

In the second part of his appearance on the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera news channel yesterday, Al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani criticised IS at length and said he did not foresee a reconciliation between the two jihadist groups soon.

Islamic State

"They announced a caliphate, but the scholars rejected it as illegitimate. It is not based on Islamic law," Jolani said, his face hidden from view by a black scarf. The rivalry between the two groups deepened after IS declared a caliphate spanning across Syria and Iraq in June 2014.

This conflict, Jolani said, had seen IS kill more than 700 members of Al-Nusra in a single battle, as well as women and children. "There is no indication of a solution between us and them at this time.

We hope that they repent and return to the Sunni people," Jolani said, adding that the rivalry had allowed the Syrian regime "to flourish." He refused to call IS fighters "infidels" -- a term usually referring to non-Muslims -- but instead said they had strayed from the path of Islam.

"They did not commit to the orders we had... including not blowing up markets or killing people in mosques," he said. Jolani also criticised IS for not "being serious in fighting the regime" of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

When asked by Al-Jazeera interviewer Ahmad Mansur about Al-Nusra's ties to Al-Qaeda and whether a split was possible, the jihadist leader refrained from answering directly.

"The issue is not about leaving Al-Qaeda. It is about who rises up against hegemony," said Jolani, who said he had fought in Iraq against American forces. As with the first installment of the interview aired last week, an "Al-Qaeda in the Levant" flag featured prominently on the table in front of Jolani.

He said as many as 30 percent of Al-Nusra's members were foreigners, including "a small number of Americans." His television interview comes on the heels of several major victories for Al-Nusra against regime forces in Syria's northwest Idlib province. 

AFP

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