Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of Al Qaeda franchise in Iraq, dropped a bombshell Monday by announcing that Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusrah and the Islamic State of Iraq were to be united under a new name “Islamic State in Iraq and Sham [Levant] (ISIS)” – which can also be called Al Qaeda in Iraq and Sham/Syria (AQIS).
The announcement upset many Syrians who rightly think that would reflect badly on the outside world’s support for the Syrian uprising. As if! But what about Jihadists themselves, who were also surprised by the announcement? Al Baghdadi’s statement was treated with caution by almost the majority of visitors to Jihadi web forums. Some share the fears of Syrians that the announcement would reflect badly on jihadists and create friction between Salafi, Jihadi and FSA fighters on the ground. Instead of continuing to work together against the regime for practical reasons, being associated with Al Qaeda would cause inconvenience and divisions for non-extremists. Paradoxically, others welcomed the move for these exact reasons saying that openness would help the Jihadists to know who is genuinely working with them and who is just taking them for a ride.
This is a sample of the variations of the voices I came across online:
Abol Fadel Madhi:
The [move] causes deeper questions and challenges than changing the name, and is more dangerous than revealing the links between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq; for the name is nothing but a reflection of the group’s activities, and the link has become clear to all intelligence services. Here are the questions and challenges:
Does the announcement indicate that we have learned from the lesson of the Islamic State of Iraq or does it repeat the same approach, that is making an announcement in the middle of the battle? It creates unnecessary disagreement with other Islamic Jihadist groups and other non-Islamist armed groups.
The presence of Jabhat al-Nusra among the Syrian rebels had made the West and the East conspire against the Syrian revolution, which added to the burdens and risks. What is the impact of this announcement in this context? Will it add to the series of conspiracies? Will that strengthen the mujahedeen and weaken their enemy or the other way around?
Will the Mujahedeen on the ground unite under this State or will they use their own discretion. Will that then be at the expense of our dedication to topple the regime as soon as possible to avoid more Muslim bloodshed?
The West has not intervened in Syria for several reasons including for the security of Israel, by weakening Syria so that it no longer threatens its neighbours. Will the West now intervene because of the announcement or the West is too weak to do that"
Abu Jihad Al Shami:
"[He expresses frustration] Isn’t time that our jihadist organisations learned from their mistakes? Don’t you remember the announcement of Islamic State in Iraq and the subsequent Sahwa [Awakening] Councils? Was the mistake not clear to you? Even the name had caused friction. And now, the disaster is repeated, no, it’s now even worse, for the Islamic State in Iraq was announced from Iraq but the new State was announced from Iraq by the emir of Iraq, not Syria.
I’m personally not against this but I know things that most of you don’t know about, because I fought with many groups and on more than one front in the Levant. This will create friction and will even throw some of the groups into our enemies’ camps.
How is it that the rest of jihadist groups were not informed of such a dangerous decision? I am certain that the announcement is premature and the situation is not suitable for it. The announcement is shocking; the defenders of Jabhat al-Nusra in media will not be in a position to defend it anymore."
Nour Eddin Al Zinki:
"[He quotes a Quranic verse about alliance with the weak-hearted and double-faced]. This announcement will throw off the masks of the hypocrites Inshallah. The first positive result of this announcement is that the borders between Syria and Iraq have started to crumble.
"[He addresses Abol Fadl]. The announcement and the announcer are not a divine revelation, nor is it part of Sharia to obey them. Not everyone who goes against a certain ruling should be deemed collaborator or rebellious against Sharia.
"The mujahideen have become experienced in this field and they know more than us of the implications of this blessed announcement. I think they had studied the plan well before they made the announcement. It will also show the true Jihadist groups in the Levant and encourage them to unite. The announcement will increase Syrians’ love towards Al Qaeda Jihadists and expose the clerics who have been speaking well of Jabhat al-Nusra but ill of Al Qaeda.
For dynamics of how Jabhat al-Nusrah operates and how weakening role of tribal leaders is empowering Jihadist groups in eastern Syria, see the three previous posts. Example here