CAIRO (AP) — Al-Qaida broke off ties with one of its purported branches in Syria and distanced itself from the rebel infighting in that country's civil war, according to a statement Monday.
The announcement appeared to be an attempt by al-Qaida to put its house in order and reassert influence among rival Islamic groups that have turned against one another in Syria.
Signed by the al-Qaida "general command," the statement said the leadership has cut off the affiliate known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after it disobeyed orders from the terror network's leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Al-Zawahri last May ordered the Islamic State to operate independently from a rival al-Qaida branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, led by Abu Mohammed al-Golani. Al-Baghdadi rejected al-Zawahri's orders and unsuccessfully sought to merge the two branches.
In Monday's statement, al-Qaida said it "did not approve of the creation of nor did it control" the Islamic State, and therefore has "no organizational ties with it."
"We distance ourselves from the sedition taking place among the mujahedeen factions (in Syria) and of the forbidden blood shed by any faction," the statement said of the infighting among Islamic extremists.
The jihadis, or holy warriors, it said, should realize the "enormity of the catastrophe" and the implications "this sedition" can have on the holy war in Syria. The authenticity of the statement could not independently be verified but it was posted on websites commonly used by al-Qaida.
The rebel-on-rebel fighting has added another bloody dimension to the Syrian crisis, which erupted in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule but later evolved into an armed insurgency and civil war.
The war provided fertile ground for militant Islamic groups and over time, the Islamic State and the Nusra Front emerged as the two main al-Qaida-linked groups until their falling out last spring. The Islamic State, meanwhile, largely eclipsed the Nusra Front in many parts of northern Syria.
Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center said the al-Qaida statement reflected its "attempt to definitively re-assert some level of authority over the jihad in Syria."
It also showed al-Qaida leadership's failure to take a genuinely commanding line in the rivalry between the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, and made it inevitable that al-Zawahri had to issue a decisive ruling with permanent consequences, said Lister.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.