Earlier today, a spokesperson for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), the Yemen-based terrorist group best known for its expert bomb-makers, released a short statement on the subject of Syria and Iraq. In it, he confirmed his group’s support for Islamic State (Isis) and reaffirmed the need for all jihadists in Syria and Iraq to “forget their differences, bring an end to their infighting” and tackle the “Crusader campaign together”.
He also called on “all those who can” to renew their attacks upon “the Americans, militarily and economically […] because they are the leaders of the war and the foundation of this campaign.”
Until now, we have not seen anything from an al-Qaeda affiliate officially stating its support for Isis. Certainly, some figures have expressed ambivalence towards the so-called caliphate, but that Aqap has released a message openly referring to members of the group as “its brothers” is very significant. Until today, the official al-Qaeda line on Isis was that they were renegade extremists and the cause of great discord within Islam. This, it seems, is no longer the case.
That said, it's important not to misinterpret this as an Aqap pledge of allegiance to Isis. The statement is careful to circumnavigate around giving such a pledge, which would mean Aqap’s total subordination to Isis’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Instead, it points towards a move from rhetorical enmity to co-existence and, perhaps one day, cooperation in a common cause.
Today’s statement is symptomatic of a wider trend in global jihadism that has been galvanised by the anti-Isis coalitions intervention. Because of it, jihadists that were once at each other’s throats are being pushed back together, old differences are being forgotten and rivalries ignored. Isis, it seems, is becoming less ostracised by the day.
Certainly, there is still a long way to go before jihadist groups like Ahrar al-Sham can forgive Isis for decapitating one of its leaders and killing another in a suicide operation, but the possibility of reconciliation one day is back on the cards.
Anti-Isis demonstrations across Europe
Anti-Isis demonstrations across Europe
1/10 Anti-Isis protests in Ankara, Turkey
A person holds a flag as police uses tear gas and water cannon in Ankara against demonstrators who protest against attacks launched by Islamic State insurgents targeting the Syrian city of Kobani and lack of action by the government
2/10 Anti-Isis protests in Diyarbaki, Turkey
Protesters clashing with riot police during a demonstration against Isis in Diyarbakir, southeast of Turkey
3/10 Anti-Isis protests in Diyarbaki, Turkey
Kurdish protesters in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir
4/10 Anti-Isis protests in Diyarbaki, Turkey
Kurdish protesters clash with Turkish riot policemen in the city of Diyarbakir
5/10 Anti-Isis protests in Brussels, Belgium
Riot police block Kurdish protesters as they gather in front of the entrance of the European Parliament in Brussels
6/10 Anti-Isis protests in Berlin, Germany
Demonstrators, including one holding a sign that reads: "Save the Kurds of Kobane from IS," and many of them members of Berlin's large Kurdish community, march to protest against the ongoing violence by militias of the Isis in Iraq and Syria in Berlin
7/10 Anti-Isis protests in Hamburg, Germany
Kurds protest against Isis militants advancing through the Syrian border city of Kobani, in Hamburg, Germany
8/10 Anti-Isis protests in London, UK
Kurdish protesters gather at Heathrow Airport as anti-Isis demonstrations take place across Europe
9/10 Anti-Isis protests in Paris, France
Kurds living in France demonstrate in Paris
10/10 Anti-Isis protests in Marseille, France
Kurdish people hold flag in Marseille during a protest against the threat of a "Syrian Kurdish population's genocide" by Isis militants and to support the population of the Syrian Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani
Before the air-strikes in Iraq and Syria, this was not the case. In fact, the ideological, military and political gulf between Isis and other jihadists was only seeming to widen. Now, though, the opposite seems to be happening – with jihadists all over the world slowly pulling back together after Isis’ shock caliphate announcement.
Now, I am not trying to argue that military intervention against Isis is wrong. On the contrary, it is an absolute necessity in the short-term if we have any hope of rolling the group back. However, as I said in June, this intervention must not be led by Western, predominantly Christian, states.
The perception that it is part of a modern-day “Crusade”, as it has predictably been spun by jihadist propagandists, is an immensely effective ideological weapon for Isis – it gives them perceived legitimacy, where they had none before.
As the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam has consistently said, since intervention against Isis became inevitable, Western nations must not be the ones at the helm of the anti-Isis coalition. It is imperative that Sunni Muslim-majority states take up this responsibility instead, for then and only then, will the jihadists’ principal narrative - the Crusader paradigm - be cleaved in two.