Washington, Sept 11: In his first direct attack on the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has accused the terror group's supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of "sedition" and dismissed his claim of being the leader of all Muslims worldwide.
Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who replaced Osama bin Laden as the head of al-Qaeda four years ago, in a new audio message has argued that the so-called "caliphate" is illegitimate.
The al-Qaeda emir's audio address is embedded in a video, which is nearly 45 minutes long. A still image of him is used throughout. It was recorded several months ago, but not released until Wednesday, according to The Long War Journal, a website tracking jihadist groups.
Instead of targeting the US, Zawahiri's ire is directed at Baghdadi whom he accuses of "sedition" and insists the recluse Iraqi terrorist was not the leader of all Muslims and militant jihad as "caliph" of the Islamic State.
In the tape, the al-Qaeda leader apparently confirms that he had not directly addressed infighting among the jihadis of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda's Syrian wing, Jabhat al-Nusra or the al Nusra Front, for fear of legitimising ISIS.
ISIS, formerly the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq, split from the larger group two years ago. In the tape, Zawahiri complained that Baghdadi had ignored Muslims suffering in Gaza and in Pakistan.
"We preferred to respond with as little as possible, out of our concern to extinguish the fire of sedition," Zawahiri is quoted as saying by ABC News.
"But Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his brothers did not leave us a choice, for they have demanded that all the mujahideen reject their confirmed pledges of allegiance, and to pledge allegiance to them for what they claim of a caliphate," he said in the message.
"Everyone was surprised" by Baghdadi's declaration anointing himself the fourth caliph in Islamic history, Zawahiri remarks, saying Baghdadi had done this "without consulting the Muslims".
Zawahiri's message came just two days before the fourteenth anniversary of al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on the US. Former US National Counter-terrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen, was quoted as saying, "Zawahiri until now has not been willing to openly condemn Baghdadi and ISIS.
It highlights how deep the division is between al-Qaeda leadership and ISIS. It suggests that the differences are irreconcilable." The Islamic State had announced the formation of a worldwide caliphate and named Baghdadi as its head in June last year.