Islamic State And Al-Qaida Now A Staunch Rival

Islamic State of Iraq And Syria (ISIS) the most deadliest and ferocious Islamic militant group of recent days should not only be considered as some local insurgent group they have a global jihad aspiration like Al-Qaida. The “new caliphate” being declared by jihadist organization as its steamrolls over Syria and Iraq harks back Islam’s golden days. At its head is the self-proclaimed successor to the Prophet Mohammed i.e. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And he has big ambitions he stated his “eyes were on Rome”. IS spokesman put a voice to the vision of the organization just days ago stating “The time has come for those generations that were drowning in oceans of disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation, and being ruled by the vilest of all people, after their long slumber in the darkness of neglect — the time has come for them to rise,” reads the statement in which IS declares its “new caliphate. We should all remember, these are the guys Al Qaida cut ties with because they were “too extreme”. Now ISIS wants to be known simply as the Islamic State. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is also rebranding himself he now insists on being called Caliph Ibrahim. They want to be seen as leader of all Jihadist militants groups across the globe which position Al-Qaida used to hold undisputedly. So now Islamic State and Al-Qaida has become the staunch rival to each other.

Islamic State has no intention of stopping their expansion any time soon even after US airstrikes against them. IS has already declared its five-year plan (it’s is, in fact, a year old): Between now and 2019, it hopes to seize an empire rivalling that of ancient Rome  ranging from Spain in the west, Nigeria in the south and Pakistan to the east. IS hopes to capitalize upon its fresh aura of power and victory. There’s little doubt there are those in Egypt, Palestine, Libya and even Nigeria who are now “caliphate-wannabes”, eager to hitch a ride with IS success whom previously inspired by Al-Qaida. Its mystical medieval aura is also likely to draw the attention of those who have been radicalized in the West. As a recruitment move, it’s likely to be a success among those who will see it as their holy grail finally taking shape. Security and Intelligence agencies around the world are regarding the caliphate to be a “rallying cry”, potentially motivating a fresh wave of terror attacks on a larger scale than seen in recent years which once was only expected from global terrorist organization like-Al-Qaida.

In February, Al-Qaida a statement that said the Islamic State “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group,” adding that al-Qaeda does not “have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaida] is not the group responsible for their actions.” In the Syrian civil war, al-Qaida backs its own proxy, Jabhat al-Nusra, widely seen as less extreme than the Islamic State. While the Islamic State was once linked to al-Qaida it is more accurate to now think of the two groups as rivals. In a recent paper for the Washington Institute for near east policy, Aaron Y. Zelin outlined some of the key issues on which the groups differ, including the use of violence, the role of Islamic government and the strategic value of alliances. But it’s clearly visible that these two groups are now in an open war for supremacy of the global jihadist movement.  The announcement of a new Al-Qaida wing in South Asia seems to be prompted as much by the terror network’s rivalry with the Islamic State as anything else. Right now, the Islamic State clearly has a momentum that Al-Qaida lacks. Its dramatic gains in Syria and Iraq have led to vast infusions of cash and equipment, and its violent tactics (which Al-Qaida condemns) seem to be a potent recruiting tool. Might U.S. strikes against the Islamic State cause it to reunite with al-Qaida and other extremist groups it opposes.

The current list of official affiliates — over which Zawahiri acknowledges his authority — includes al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP, mostly in Yemen), al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, mostly in North Africa), al-Shabab (mainly in Somalia), and al-Nusra Front (in Syria). The Islamic State has now emerged as the world’s second jihadi superpower and possibly the dominant one. And it wants what al Qaida has — global terrorist credibility and the respect, support, and loyalty of the world’s jihadi organizations. Bigger coups could lie ahead. Another old-school jihadi group with ancient al Qaida ties telegraphed its possible support for the Islamic State this weekend, with reports that the venerable Afghan militant group Hezb-e-Islami might join the Islamic State. Splintering among its affiliated groups because of shifting of loyalty to Islamic State is a growing concern for al Qaida. Last week, the Pakistani Taliban experienced a very significant split, one that the New York Times described as being “galvanized” by the recent successes of the Islamic State. However, the leader of the breakaway group is believed to have strong links to al Qaida. A spokesman for the group told the New York Times that though it holds the Islamic State in high regard, it has no plans to officially pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.

Al Qaida could arguably seek to re-establish its credibility through major terrorist attack on the West, though between the command-and-control problem and the complicated politics of all this jihadi infighting, such a move may not be foregone conclusion. The Islamic State group, so far, has shown little desire, let alone the capability, to launch major terrorist attacks in the West. But that could change because of gaining supremacy over Al-Qaida so, the international community should keep an eye on both these deadly terrorist organizations simultaneously and keep a constant pressure on these two groups so, that operational capabilities of them are eroded.

(Author is freelance columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region and Editor of a geo-political news agency Viewsaround can be reached at

About the Author
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region; Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around (VA)