Just ahead of the fourteenth anniversary of al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the U.S., the leader of the terrorist group took aim in an angry speech at a mortal enemy — but not American “crusaders” this time. Rather, the object of his tirade was the leader of ISIS in a declaration of war that will “irreconcilably” divide the two terror groups in a way the U.S. may be able to exploit, experts say.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who replaced Osama bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda four years ago, in a new audio message accused ISIS top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of “sedition” and insisted the Iraqi terrorist recluse was not the leader of all Muslims and militant jihad as “caliph” of the Islamic State, as al-Baghdadi had claimed 14 months ago in a Mosul mosque.
“It’s pretty interesting,” said former National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen. “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.”
Had ISIS and al Qaeda realigned by joining forces, it “would be terrible,” said Olsen, an ABC News contributor.
That division — now formally declared by the highest ranking official of the group that slaughtered almost 3,000 Americans 14 years ago in multi-pronged aviation attacks — could provide an opening that American counter-terrorism operatives could find a way to exploit, he added.
Olsen said the U.S. could use misinformation to further pit the two jihadi menaces against each other and encourage the series of gunfights and assassinations each has waged against the other — like when ISIS reportedly killed a top Zawahiri emissary trying to broker a ceasefire between the fighters in Syria in February 2014.
The fledgling franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as IS Khorasan Province, “has been fighting non-stop” with the Taliban and al Qaeda there, a counter-terrorism official told ABC News. “Fighting each other makes our job easier,” said the official in Afghanistan.
In the new audio tape, which was released online Wednesday and accompanied by a still image or al-Zawahiri and text of his speech, the al Qaeda leader appeared to confirm that he had not directly addressed infighting among the jihadis of ISIS and al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Jabhat al-Nusra or the al Nusra Front, for fear of legitimizing ISIS.
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SOURCE: ABC News, James Gordon Meek