Hassan Hassan writes: In a two-part interview with Al Jazeera in May, Mohammed Al Jolani of Jabhat Al Nusra revealed that Al Qaeda’s central leadership had issued instructions against using Syria as a launch pad for attacks against the West. Although the anti-ISIL air campaign frequently struck his cells in northern Syria, Al Jolani said he was still committed to the strict orders.
Almost a year after the interview, much has changed in Syria and the wider neighbourhood. The organisation’s leadership continues to be pounded by the US-led campaign, which targeted operatives most qualified to plan and launch attacks against the West, loosely dubbed by the Americans as the “Khorassan Cell”. According to Hassan Abu Haniya, an observer of Islamist groups from Jordan, the cell’s commanders in Syria have been all but decapitated after a series of high-level killings. This has caused profound anger among Jabhat Al Nusra and Al Qaeda supporters, who started to question the current live-and-let-live strategy in Syria.
The continuing attacks against both ISIL and Al Qaeda, and their affiliates across the region, have led some sympathisers to wonder why the two jihadist groups do not collaborate. In addition to encouragement by ordinary extremist supporters, prominent jihadist ideologues offered help to narrow differences between the two groups. Abu Qatada Al Filistini from Jordan, for example, called for “management of differences” among warring jihadist and Islamist groups, while Abu Muhammed Al Maqdisi, also from Jordan, recently wrote on Twitter that he was willing to revise his position towards ISIL and join it “to spite the whole world” if it stopped labelling other jihadists as apostates. [Continue reading…]