DAMASCUS/BEIRUT – Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri has ordered the Iraqi faction of his network to stop meddling in Syria and anointed Jabhat al-Nusra jihadists to carry the network’s banner in the civil war.
The demand for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)to shut down in the civil war-hit nation was included in an audiotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera on Friday that confirms a written order issued in June that has so far gone unheeded.
Western hesitation to back mainstream rebels in the uprising against President Bashar Assad that erupted in March 2011 has strengthened the position of radical Islamist fighters, including those from ISIS and al-Nusra.
Al-Nusra, created in January 2012, joined al-Qaida in December of that year and is on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. It has carried out some of the deadliest attacks against the Syrian regime, including several suicide bombings.
Al-Zawahri said al-Nusra was the jihadist group’s only branch in Syria, tasked with reporting “to the general command,” and will no longer operate under the banner of al-Qaida’s Iraq affiliate.
“The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is to be abolished, while the Islamic State of Iraq remains functioning,” he said.
Elsewhere, Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group has refused to participate in talks in Moscow with Syrian government organizations on resolving the country’s humanitarian crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry and opposition figures said Friday.
Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the Syrian National Coalition is “blocking and refusing to participate” in the talks. Russian officials had hoped the talks would bolster prospects for a proposed peace summit the U.S. and Russia are trying to convene in Geneva.