Al-Qaeda Explains its Split with the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 6, 2016


On 20 November 2016, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria, published its first official account of how JFS, previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, split from its parent organization, the group we now know as the Islamic State (IS). The statement was composed by Abdelraheem Atoun (Abu Abdullah al-Shami), identified as the General Judge of JFS. It is apparently drawn from the book, “Under the Shade of the Tree of Jihad” (p. 177-194), and the post was entitled, “The Establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Events of al-Sham [Syria] from the Beginning of the Disagreement to the Announcement of al-Dawla [the State]”. On 27 November, Bilad al-Sham Media released an English language version of this statement, which is reproduced below with some editions for spelling, grammar, and so on, and some especially notable sections bolded.


Allah has blessed this umma [Muslim community] with the spark of revolutions which progressed from Tunisia to Egypt.

It was the last days in the age of Shaykh Usama [bin Ladin] rahimahullah [“God have mercy upon him”], where he described this major event with his eloquent words.

He [Bin Ladin] explained: “For so long the umma has directed its face, waiting for the tidings of victory which loomed from the east, but the sun of revolution rose from the west. It sparked the revolution in Tunisia, putting the umma at rest and shone the faces of the populations, leaving the throats of the rulers sored and the Jews terrified to the closeness of the promise. By overthrowing the oppressive rulers, the concepts of humiliation, submission, fear, and hesitation have perished, and the concepts of freedom, honour, courage, and action have risen. The signs of change were made apparent with the strong will for freedom when Tunisia became the forerunner, from which the knights of Egypt embraced the flames from the liberated Tunisians all the way to Tahrir Square as fast as the speed of lightning, and hence sparking a great revolution. And what revolution was sparked? A revolution for the entirety of Egypt, for the umma, if they hold onto the rope of their lord.”

As the revolution progressed through Libya to Yemen, subsequently reaching to Syria—not in the slightest forgetting Iraq—it was made paramount that the Syrian revolution had features which distinguished it from the rest of the revolutions, this being a clear matter known by the observers and the masses in general.

This revolution [in Syria] whether we speak of it as being a peaceful or popular one, or one of jihad, or any type [in between] within its progressive stages known by all, verily it is a divine mercy for the Muslims in Syria, importantly, and also the umma generally. A mercy particular concentrated over the weak on the earth by the will of Allah, despite all the inflictions poured over the heads of the Syrian people today.

Yes, the revolution started peacefully, then the most Merciful destined its progression step by step until it became an Islamic Revolutionary Jihad. And indeed he is the best of Planners.

The Syrian revolution was one that started peacefully calling for dignity and freedom and the fall of the criminal Nusayri [Alawite] regime that put Ahl al-Sunnah [people of orthodoxy (Sunnis)] through the worst of torture over forty years. It [the Assad regime] deprived them of the elements of a decent life, [subjugating such concerns] to the mere thought of fighting the Jews, [even though] he is the trustworthy protector of the Jewish border after he sold the Golan, and handed over Qunaytra in a play of a comical war.

The demonstrations were a volcano shaking the feet of the oppressors from the Assad family and those behind them, and here started the divine plot where the oppressor thought that if he released a group of political and Islamist prisoners and removed the emergency state and the notorious national security court; that he would overcome the revolution and smother its sparks lit by Allah …

And that if he, with cruelty, kills, destroys and carries out massacres the revolution would cease …

The flames of battle only intensified and the jihadist factions that had long awaited these days and the opportunities of such events started to appear, and from these groups was “Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl al-Sham” (The Victory Front for the People of Syria).


Allah blessed Shaykh [Abu Muhammad] al-Jolani [real name: Ahmad al-Shara] (may Allah preserve him) with his release from prison before the beginning of the revolution as we mentioned, and he remained in “the north” in Iraq with his friend who was in charge of the north at that time. This man offered the shaykh, after a long talk, one of two choices: for him to be replaced by another, or to be next to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [real name: Ibrahim al-Badri, leader of what was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)], but the shaykh refused such a post and offered to the friend a brief mapping of ideas to start a project in Syria. Upon hearing the project the friend embraced the idea of such project, and requested it to be written by the shaykh so it could be sent to al-Baghdadi and await his response.

Therefore Shaykh Jolani started writing the general features of the project which he titled: “Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl al-Sham”.

For incumbent reason, in the beginning it was announced with its long name “Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl al-Sham min mujahideen al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (The Victory Front for the People of Syria from the Holy Warriors of Syria in the Battlefields of Holy War).

Al-Baghdadi, upon being a witness to the ideal project, wished that he had someone in Iraq who would transform his dream into a project, and project eventually into work. [Taha Falaha, better known as Abu Muhammad] al-Adnani (since he was Syrian) attempted to follow the creation of Shaykh’s narrative, but was unsuccessful.

Before mentioning Al-Baghdadis comments on the project written to him by Shaykh Jolani, which later became “Jabhat al-Nusra,” I will broadly mention some of the ideas of the project, which are partially public and harmless in the current climate if revealed.

Shaykh Jolani made clear his short-term targets and long-term ones, highlighting the necessity of taking advantage of the experience in Iraq, with the mistakes that occurred, and that we must continue from the percentage that the jihad has reached, and not the zero that Shaykh [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi [real name: Ahmad al-Khalayleh] rahimahullah started with. He [al-Jolani] pointed out that between Syria and Iraq there are significant differences that shouldn’t be overlooked, including: the jihad in Iraq started due to occupation, whereas the situation in Syria begun due to a popular revolution; the fact that Iraqi tribes are stronger than the Syrian tribes; and also the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria being weaker than in Iraq. The Nusayris in Syria are only a minority, despite their hold on power, security, and the army, and they have a different mentality to the rafida [bigoted term for Shi’is] in Iraq, who are not a minority; they [Alawis] do not call people to their beliefs. And other differences. This means that the Iraq scenario can undeniably never be applied to Syria, and the parallel fact that we shouldn’t copy such experience which could parallel to the same mistakes.

Shaykh [Jolani] also mentioned that the pace of events was accelerating, which meant the necessity of direct communication between him and the leadership in Iraq, where this communication is daily or almost daily, but he must be given broad powers and a general authority to make decisions according to the developments. All this was within the umbrella of al-Qaeda, but without publicly announcing it, and Jabhat al-Nusra would be al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, through the loop of the Islamic State of Iraq, and from there to al-Qaeda Central [AQC].

Al-Baghdadi’s response to this project was: “I agree to every letter written in this book. … The writer of the project didn’t leave any room for criticism. … Applying the Iraqi experience to Syria is suicide.”

Hence, al-Baghdadi agreed to the transfer of Shaykh Jolani to Syria. He entered with some cash that al-Baghdadi provided, and a few individuals not exceeding the number of fingers on ones hands. Not going into grave detail about the cash and men, despite al-Baghdadi gravely cheated himself and the umma when he mentioned that he supplied the Shaykh with cash, men and his cells in Syria, as mentioned.

The shaykh here began the establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra, starting from the Syrian capital, Damascus, and groups from the Jabhat spread across the provinces after Damascus, like Deraa, Homs, Hama, Idlib, Aleppo, Raqqa, Hasaka, and Deir Ezzor.

After the establishment phase, it [Jabhat al-Nusra] began to target the regimes vital institutions like the “security branches” in several provinces, most importantly in: Damascus, Aleppo, Dera,a, Idlib, Hama, and Deir Ezzor.


The jihad took course in the care of Allah, and the regime started to shrink due to the attacks by the mujahideen, with accumulating victories. The most important matter that occupied the group’s leadership, “the shaykh and his shura council,” was working on uniting the jihadi groups in Syria, chiefly “Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham” ever since they were “Ahrar al-Sham Battalions”.

It therefore sacrificed for this sake of great efforts, may Allah place it in the scales of the sincere and truthful from both sides. Facing huge obstacles in that path, and still today, this topic requires its own book, therefore I do not want to abuse it, but if Allah grants me a lengthy age, there is multitudinous detail within this topic which I will write about it, inshallah [lit. “god willing”; roughly, “hopefully”].

The West has tried every way to contain this revolution, but Allah suppressed them. They tried through International and Arabian delegations, and by giving the regime deadlines, one after the other, so that the regime may advance and make a change in the balance [of power]. The hypocrite West draws red lines for the regime, and when the regime deliberately crosses them, without shyness or shame the West draws new lines, as if they’re tempting and flirting with the regime to cross them. We’d mention in this context the chemical massacre in East Ghuta, but it is not the only case. The West has also turned a blind eye to the regime’s besiegement of many areas, and starved those besieged within, while targeting other areas with internationally banned weapons. …

All the Western attempts, headed by America, failed, so its spite led it to placing Jabhat al-Nusra on the terror list before it had even announced its link to al-Qaeda. This is for everyone to comprehend that the Americans animosity towards us is because we are Sunni fighters, and not because we are al-Qaeda, and here I’m not talking specifically about Jabhat al-Nusra, but the general masses of the mujahideen.


Al-Adnani arrived in Syria before the battle of liberating of the Taftanaz airport [on 11 January 2013], and Shaykh Jolani appointed him as governor over the “north” which consisted of (Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama). He started taking pledges of allegiance in the name of the “Islamic state of Iraq” and not “Jabhat al-Nusra,” therefore huge problems occurred between him and the administrators of Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama due to his incorrect interference in the matters of these provinces.

This resulted in Shaykh Jolani removing him from his position as Emir of the North, and with this removal started another problem.

The Shaykh [al-Jolani] appointed him [al-Adnani] the governor over the borders, muhajireen [lit. “emigrants”; foreign fighters], and the military camp for newly arrived muhajireen. But again this turned out significantly unsuccessful, so the Shaykh removed him again. This made the problem worse with him, so he started to write a report to the leadership of the “Islamic State of Iraq” consisting of 25 pages, which al-Baghdadi allowed Shaykh al-Jolani to view later on.

Before this report was sent al-Adnani tried direct and indirect means with Shaykh al-Jolani in order for him to be returned as governor of the north, so the Shaykh said to him, “I betray Allah, his messenger and the believers if you’re not fit for it and I appoint you over it. And I betray Allah, his messenger and the believers if you were fit for it and I removed you from it.”

Al-Adnani’s spite increased, and then he sent his report, with most of the sections of his report being taken from individuals oppositely faced on the spectrum to those in Jabhat al-Nusra. These individuals were from other extraneous factions, including some who were hostile against various leaders of Jabhat since they were in Sednaya prison.

Once the report reached al-Baghdadi, he sent for Shaykh al-Jolani. So the Shaykh rushed to Iraq, despite there being more than fifty army barriers and checkpoints … obstructing the route.

Despite the severe situation (in Syria) this did not allow the absence of the Shaykh. Subsequently, he placed upon his shura council leaders of the “Islamic State of Iraq” who work with us, this appointee being Haj Ghanim, who was the general administrator of Jabhat al-Nusra.

Avoiding prolongation of what happened with the Shaykh during his journey to Iraq, I say: he spoke to them about the actions of al-Adnani, so al-Baghdadi affirmed the stance of the Shaykh. Frightfully, al-Baghdadi then rewarded him [al-Adnani] by making him the deputy to Shaykh al-Jolani after those mistakes!!

Al-Adnani also whispered in their ears that Jabhat was trying to split from the “Islamic State of Iraq,” which had al-Baghdadi send a personal supervisor over Syria. That individual being [Abdurrahman al-Qaduli, a.k.a. Abu Ali] “al-Anbari”—a supervisor with even more power than Shaykh Jolani!!

To be honest, this supervisor—in that period—didn’t deal with Shaykh al-Jolani according to that power.

The most significant tasks of the supervisor were: search, explore, and investigate the issue and the question: Is there any intention by Jabhat to split [from the Islamic State of Iraq]? Of course, these tasks were all carried out without Jabhat knowing.

The mentioned supervisor wandered for six months through the whole east and north without leaving a base or headquarters un-entered, then he left with a clear conclusion which he conveyed to his leadership: “There is no intention or thought within Jabhat to split from al-Dawla”. [Timing doesn’t fit: al-Baghdadi announced the split in April 2013, when al-Qaduli can only have been in Syria a few months—KO]

Al-Baghdadi and those with him deliberately use an indirect method of removal, by shackling a person; they wouldn’t remove a person directly but they would place a supervisor above him, a deputy beneath him, and an adviser by his side. This wasn’t an issue, and we could cope with it, but it was rather a bad [management] style.


Al-Baghdadi still wasn’t reassured, in spite of all of the above, so he personally travelled from Iraq to Syria and arrived in [January] 2013, at a time when Shaykh al-Jolani gathered all the Jabhat leaders from south to north and from west to east to discuss the plan of starting a military offensive on Damascus. Yes, on the capital, Damascus.

But al-Baghdadi didn’t care about those matters. Some of the problems intensified and he stated: “I’m ready to return Jabhat back to five people, so long as it is acting in the right way”. In reality what he meant: for [as long as] the organizational project in Syria to be under him as he likes, [he is] unconcerned about [taking] Damascus or any other area, which is proved by him removing the one responsible for administrating the battle of Damascus.

Al-Baghdadi removed this Emir and others, and those decisions were purely corrupt because they were not based on understanding the reality, but settling personal accounts. However, the group, “Jabhat al-Nusra,” remained patiently steadfast.

Shaykh al-Jolani and other leaders [of Jabhat] were slandered, gossiped, and lied about to al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi brought such gossip closer to him, and described it as wanting to correct the track of the group!! And when was lying, slander, and gossip considered correcting the tracks of a jihadi group?!

We sat with al-Baghdadi in a long sitting, which lasted three days from 10 to 13 March 2013, throughout which the shura council was reformed and restructured again, resolving some problems which were apparent to us, not that I have space to go into detail.

I asked al-Baghdadi at that time, in the presence of about ten others: Is a direct link to Khorasan [a historical region that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan, a reference in this case to AQC] without consulting you considered splitting from you? He answered: Is there anyone who says that?! I told him: I’m not sure, unconfirmed reports had reached me that al-Anbari says that, and it was confirmed to me later on. So al-Baghdadi answered, with everyone present listening including al-Adnani: “Take it from me, and I am the head of the Islamic State in Iraq, … [a] direct link to Khorasan isn’t considered a departure from us, and I have no problem with my Jabhat and Khorasan linking directly.”

We also asked him before renewing our baya [pledge of allegiance] to him—after the formation of the new shura council on 13 March 2013: Do you have a baya to al-Qaeda on your neck, meaning our baya to you is a baya to the organization [al-Qaeda]? He [al-Baghdadi] answered by the exact wording—pointing to his neck: “I have a baya to Shaykh Usama on my neck, and when he was killed, taqabbalahullah [“may god accept him”], I wrote a letter renewing my baya to Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri, hafidhahullah [“may god protect him”], and we listen to and obey to our leaders in Khorasan, based on the baya we gave to this man.”

After that sitting finished, we thought most problems were solved as we thought good of those people; it’ll be a few days, a sitting or two, and everything will be over. But we were surprised that nothing changed in their behaviour. Instead, the frequency of bad actions increased and they behaved contrary to what al-Baghdadi promised in that sitting—threatening some leaders, especially Iraqis, with assassination.

We were supposed to sit down for another meeting at the beginning of the fourth month—1 April 2013—to complete the preparations, but the events that occurred between 13 March and 1 April were many and enough to cancel that meeting. We will not go into grave detail, but it included threats of assassination.

We had asked al-Baghdadi if he sees any problem in us sending a message to Shaykh al-Zawahiri. He answered: write and I will send it for you. When we saw the escalation of events mentioned above, we decided to write the letter. A majority of the shura council that al-Baghdadi formed, including other leaders in the group, gathered to write a letter of complaint and sign it. They wrote it and the signatures are present in the archives until today.

We didn’t send the letter through the “State of Iraq group and its Furqan Media” because we feared it may be played with and changed as they did with a previous letter Shaykh al-Jolani sent to the shuyukh [religious leaders] in Khorasan, after the shuyukh insisted on it .

The detail of that is that Shaykh Abu Yahya al-Libi [real name:  Mohamed Hassan Qaid, d. 4 June 2012] requested that Shaykh al-Jolani write a detailed report about his project in Syria, and the condition [or reality] of the jihad at that time. So the Shaykh [al-Jolani] sent [the report] to the leadership in Iraq, and, before he got a response from them, he received a second letter from Shaykh Abu Yahya al-Libi, with criticism for the delay in responding to his previous letter.

Then, Allah willed for Shaykh Abu Yahya al-Libi to be martyred in that period, where he was then succeeded by Shaykh Abu Ubaydah al-Adam [d. April 2013] rahimahullah. He [Abu Ubaydah] also repeated the same request once or twice, and the Shaykh [al-Jolani] throughout this whole period was waiting for a reply from “Iraq”. Finally he got a response merely saying: “send it through us, through al-Furqan”.

The Shaykh [al-Jolani] wrote his response requiring cooperation, so they took permission from him to review and edit it, and he gave them permission. They added to it something dangerous by deliberately forging a part of the letter. They removed the long introduction in which the Shaykh spoke of his project in Syria and scandalously attributed it to themselves.

After what’s mentioned, and also them keeping away more than one message sent directly to us from Khorasan, we couldn’t trust in their honesty any further, so we sent the letter through other secure methods.


When al-Baghdadi and al-Anbari found out that we sent “the complaint letter” to Shaykh al-Zawahiri, hafidhahullah, they planned to block the path for both Jabhat and Shaykh al-Zawahiri, at the same time nullifying the “Islamic State of Iraq” and abolishing “Jabhat al-Nusra” with the announcement of the new “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” [ISIS]. [It has been a key claim of al-Nusra/al-Qaeda since the outbreak of the fitna that the real motive for ISI announcing ISIS was to prevent al-Nusra declaring its independence from ISI, something al-Nusra denies they were intending to do. The logic of this argument is, as one senior al-Nusra official put it, that “announcing a state as a reaction to a particular threat that you feel that exists is completely invalid.”—KO]

They did that despite them acknowledging it was a mistake, at an unsuitable time. They tried justifying it by the importance of blocking the path for Jabhat, and in reality it was an attempt to enforce the status quo on Shaykh al-Zawahiri, hafidhahullah. However, this is what they sought from the time of their announcement of al-Dawla until the first letter of Shaykh al-Zawahiri arrived which nullified their announcement. But even then they ignored it. Shaykh al-Zawahiri then sent another letter with the final decision: they [ostensibly] doubted its authenticity, despite them having full knowledge of it was accurate.

Someone from them informed us of the intention of al-Baghdadi to leave [to Iraq] when the letter arrived, but al-Anbari and others convinced him to stay, so he came out announcing that he has “shari’a and manhaj issues” with the letter of Shaykh al-Zawahiri!!

We recall, in this context, that al-Baghdadi had previously said: “If the response of Shaykh al-Zawahiri comes in favour of Jabhat, then I’ll kiss the heads of the people of Syria, carry my luggage, and return to Iraq”. And when the response came, he denied all that and committed against the people of Syria the worst of crimes, which will require volumes to talk about.

Al-Anbari commented on the letter of Shaykh al-Zawahiri, saying: “We have fallen into what we accused Jabhat of,” meaning: disobeying the Emir. But we’re not same; we didn’t disobey al-Baghdadi. Rather, we raised the issue to his Emir and he [al-Baghdadi] considered it a defection. We wish they’d contented themselves with accusations of disobedience only.


The leadership of Dawla relied on [accusations of Jabhat al-Nusra’s disobedience] to activate a number of things, including:

Fatwa al-Dhafar (seizure): considering everything in the hands of Jabhat as ghanima [war spoils], and whoever can seize it by force, dispossession, and looting is allowed to do so.

They also relied on taking the view of killing for a benefit, which al-Anbari rooted in scholarship for them, without them understanding the sayings of the people of knowledge and the correct reasons, using the saying of scholars: “If whoever is evil cannot be repelled except with killing, then he is to be killed,” and applying it to opposing groups, mainly “Jabhat al-Nusra”.

They also lifted the restraints from the extremists despite them using these extremists in the first stages for their personal gains. Except that Allah punished them with the same kind of their crime; as the manhaj of the khawarij spread and prevailed amongst them it became a general feature they were prolifically known for, until they became a group from amongst the groups of the modern day khawarij. Their heads and leaders became from the big heads of the khawarij in this era. …

Shaytan [Satan; the Devil] played with that group [ISIS], so it increased extremism upon extremism, until it almost made takfir [excommunication] on everyone who opposed them, making their blood and wealth permissible [for the taking]. So it caused in the arena a scourge that only Allah knows, and delayed the jihad by many strides.

The greatest calamity was their announcement of their fake “caliphate,” and it is only by Allah, that after the one of the biggest deceptions of iblis [the Devil], their occupancy of it started to reveal their true colours. Al-Adnani shouted with his full mouth: we will separate groups, break the ranks of the organizations, and liberate the liberated. Other calamities cannot be counted; al-Adnani’s description of al-Qaeda and its wise Emir [al-Zawahiri] as a prostitute, pregnant in its ninth month, is only one of those calamities, and Allah is sufficient for us.

I have refuted their claim to the caliphate in a series of lectures titled, “Important Issues in the Imamate [Leadership], the Right of the Umma”.

The reality in essence is that speaking about these people [ISIS] brings only sorrow, and in this summary there is sufficient enough, inshallah.

11 thoughts on “Al-Qaeda Explains its Split with the Islamic State

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      1. william franks

        Sure, I have been a fan of your commentary for some time and have recently missed the previous regularity of your acumen. Hopefully that has now changed with your current position.

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