Five days of heavy rebel infighting has shaken the al Qaeda-linked
faction, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which lost
its main base in the northern city of Aleppo to rival rebels on
Wednesday, according to a monitoring group.
The audio statement from the ISIL spokesman was issued late on
Tuesday, hours after the head of the al Qaeda branch in Syria, the
Nusra Front, called for a truce to halt the fighting.
The clashes have pitted many rebel groups in Syria, including
Islamist forces, against ISIL and have been the bloodiest
rebel-on-rebel violence since the civil war in Syria began in the
first half of 2011.
"Crush them completely and kill the conspiracy in its cradle," said
the group's spokesman, known as Abu Mohammed al-Adnani.
While both the Nusra Front and ISIL have roots in the global al
Qaeda network and welcome foreign militants, the Nusra Front has
focused its goals on toppling Assad instead of creating an Islamic
state, which has been the main aim of ISIL.
Nusra forces have also cooperated more with other rebel groups and
largely avoided the power struggles that ISIL has faced since
wresting control of many opposition-held areas from other groups.
ISIL is the restructured al Qaeda branch of Iraq, but its spread
into Syria is opposed by al Qaeda's central leadership, which has
recognized the Nusra Front instead.
Adnani said fellow Islamists from the Sunni Muslim sect had been
dragged into a conspiracy against it.
"Those who are from battalions raising the flags of Islam, who
tricked you? Who implicated you and made you sign to fight against
the mujahideen (holy warriors)?"
"PLUCK THE HEADS"
Rebel groups last week launched what appeared to be a series of
coordinated strikes against ISIL in northern and eastern Syria after
months of increasing tensions with the group, which has alienated
many Syrians in rebel-held regions. The fighting was endorsed by the
opposition's mainstream National Coalition, which is backed by
Western and Gulf states.
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Islamist rebels on Wednesday took control of ISIL's main base in
Aleppo, a northern city that was once Syria's largest and is now
divided between government and rebel forces, the Britain-based
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The ISIL base was located in a children's hospital, the opposition
monitoring group said, adding it was unclear what happened to the
hundreds of fighters based there but dozens of prisoners were
reported to have been freed.
In Adnani's audio message, he also told ISIL fighters to "pluck the
heads" of any National Coalition leaders or rebel groups tied to
"Kill them wherever you find them and without dignity," he said.
"They launched this war against us and started it ... Therefore
anyone who is a member of this entity is a legitimate target for us
wherever he may be, unless he declares his innocence from this sect
in public and renounces his fight against the mujahideen."
It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the statement, but
it was widely cited on Islamist social networks on the Internet.
More than 274 people have been killed in the rebel infighting since
Friday, according to the Observatory.
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz;
editing by Will Waterman)
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