Media and national leaders say that al-Qaeda disowned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic Caliphate (aka: the Islamic State, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham) because Baghdadi and the Islamic Caliphate are too extreme for al-Qaeda. For instance, The Hill published, “ISIS too extreme for bin Laden?” on August 11 and wrote:
A 21-page letter from a top adviser cautioning about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was found at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in May 2011, said a report published Sunday by the Daily Mail.
One of bin Laden’s senior officials wrote the letter warning ISIS was too extreme even for al Qaeda and advised that it should break its ties with the group, the report said.
ISIS’s disregard for civilians could damage al Qaeda’s reputation, he said.
The report neither identified the adviser nor provided any direct quotes from the letter.
The adviser described ISIS’s techniques as barbaric, including its bombing of mosques, its use of chlorine gas as a weapon and a massacre in a Catholic church in Baghdad.
But that’s not a precise analysis of what really happened. Baghdadi and the Islamic Caliphate split from al-Qaeda because the Islamic Caliphate and al-Qaeda have long had differences in strategic beliefs and those differences led to a power struggle—one that ultimately led to them splitting.
Back in the 2011-2013 timeframe, the Saudis, along with the Qataris and Turks, had been among the early supporters of what was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), when the hard-core Salafi militia was seen as the best chance for ousting the Iranian-backed regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. But after al-Qa’eda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri officially broke ties with the group in February 2013 because its Iraqi leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, refused to confine his activities to Iraq, ISIS began a savage rampage across Syria that eventually in June 2014 drove southward into Iraq as well.
The Hill article also fails to understand what letter the Daily Mail article is referencing. The Daily Mail article indeed does not identify the adviser or any direct quotes from the letter, but that letter and the adviser are both identifiable and available to the general public.
In fact, all the declassified documents captured during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden are available at the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point website. (That these are the only declassified documents from the Bin Laden raid is a separate story. And as others have noted, this means there are huge intelligence gaps that might drastically change analyses once they become available.) The specific letter the Daily Mail article references is labeled, “SOCOM-2012-0000004.” The Adobe document is 28-pages long but it notes the original Arabic letter is 21-pages long. American-born al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn wrote the letter.
Adobe pages 7-8 of “SOCOM-2012-0000004” documents some of the issues that led to the al-Qaeda-Islamic Caliphate split:
Also I was thinking of preparing an Arabic message to the Christians of the Arab region, calling them to Islam, and to caution them from cooperating with invader enemies of Islam who oppose the Islamic State. They should welcome the Islamic advance, as did their forefathers when the Muslims liberated Jerusalem during the time of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab – May God be satisfied with him.
Then the attack on the Catholic Church in Baghdad took place, launched by the organization of the Islamic State of Iraq that we support, which is – if we like it or not– known to people as (al-Qa’ida in Iraq). This attack halted me, and I thought twice about my two project messages. As actions are more effective than words, their act and the contacts they carried during the attack, and the statement they issued later, do not help to gain people’s sympathy. This attack came days after the declaration by the Catholics of the Middle East, of their disagreement with Israel in a way that made the Jews and their allies angry, the Catholics refusing to utilize the Bible to justify the occupation and seizing of Palestine.
Also the Catholics were historically the prominent enemies of the Jews, amongst the other Christians. They were also the original enemies to the Evangelist Protestant who were the vanguard of the Crusades. Their public in general, these days, is more sympathetic and understanding of the Muslims, than other Protestant and Orthodox Christians. I do not eliminate the animosity, and do not say that if they had the chance they would not fight Muslims as did the Anglo-Saxon Protestants. I also do not deny the animosity of the Pope and other church heads to Islam and Muslims – why not, Islam is the biggest threat for the continuity of their power, particularly in Europe. I do not deny that they send missionaries here and there, asking Muslims to apostasy. But I am talking about the public and present situation, and the size of animosity, and the size of the missionary activities. We cannot compare their efforts against Islam to the efforts of the Evangelist Protestants or the efforts of the Coptic Church and other spiteful Orthodox.
Even in Bosnia, we saw the Catholic Croats standing next to the Muslims against the Orthodox Serb. I have seen lately, in a report about Venezuela, a picture of a wall, with (Islam is the heritage of all) written on it.
The conclusion is that, in general, the Catholics are a fertile ground for call of God and to persuade them about the just case of the Mujahidin, particularly after the rage expanding against the mother church (Vatican) as a result of its scandals and policies refused by many of its public.
But the attacks on the Christians in Iraq, like the Baghdad attack and what took place earlier in Mosul and others, does not help us to convey the message. Even if the ones we are talking to have some grudge against the mother church, they will not grasp in general the targeting of their public, women, children and men in their church during Mass. . . .
In other words, Gadahn was saying (rightly or wrongly) that it was a mistake for the Islamic Caliphate to attack Catholic churches in Iraq because he thought al-Qaeda could either convert the Iraqi Catholics or cause them to be sympathetic to al-Qaeda. Gadahn wasn’t worried about Catholics being killed; he only worried the attacks didn’t advance the al-Qaeda cause. Gadahn reinforces this when he writes on Adobe pages 9-10:
How beautiful what Shaykh Usama mentioned lately – when talking about a media speech – that the strong statements that were mentioned by the ancestors were said during days of dignity and control, and therefore it is not fitting to the era of vulnerability. And I say: so are some of the rulings of the scholars concerning Jihad, as they were released when Islam was strong, mighty and defensible. So it cannot be implemented on the days of weakness like our present days. (I mean here what was mentioned by some – for example – favoring or stating the necessity of demolishing churches and burning the devious religious books and things like that that may not fit our today’s Jihad. Because the nature of our fight differs from theirs, and we have different priorities, defending against the assailant for example, while the scholars were talking about the demanding Jihad, etc…)
So at the time of that letter, Gadahn and Bin Laden believed that Islam shouldn’t wage an all-out war on Christianity simply because Islam is not yet powerful enough to do so.
But what really angered al-Qaeda about the Islamic Caliphate were two things. First, the Islamic Caliphate wouldn’t follow al-Qaeda orders. Secondly, the Islamic Caliphate was attacking other Muslims. From Adobe pages 9-10 of Gadahn’s letter:
I do not see any obstacle or bad act if al-Qa’ida organization declares its discontent with this behavior and other behaviors being carried out by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, without an order from al-Qa’ida and without consultation. I see that this is done immediately or lately, favorably sooner. I see that the organization should declare the cutoff of its organizational ties with that organization (TN: Islamic State of Iraq). The relations between al-Qa’ida organization and (the state) have been practically cut off for a number of years. The decision to declare the State was taken without consultation from al-Qa’ida leadership. Their improvised decision has caused a split in the Mujahidin ranks and their supporters inside and outside Iraq. What is left between al-Qa’ida organization and (the State), but the link of faith and Islam, which urges us to submit advise and apply the rule of propagating virtue and preventing vice, and the support of good deeds.
And then on Adobe page 14:
The series of targeting the mosques and public places, by some who were referred to as the Mujahidin, is continuing and at its highest strength those days. So that the claims are not vacant, I will review some of the terrible events that I know, and what I did not know was graver.
And finally on Adobe pages 19-20:
You may say: (but we have denied those who have committed these trespasses, and are still denying it and we guided them to the right path at every instance and in all occasions). I would say to them: yes, I know that, and you have done well, as some of the information that I have mentioned about the detonations at the mosques came to me originally from some scholars who conveyed to me some of their experiences in advice and counseling (which had faced failure, unfortunately, in most cases, because of the narrowness of the visions of those spoken to, their small minds, and the inclination of their hearts to brutality, ruthlessness, excess and intolerance to the statements of men and their banners).
I would say: You have done well, in what you have done in efforts in this matter, but allow me to state my humble opinion in the style that you are following in your denial. It seems to me that this style does not rise to the level of the repudiated acts and does not suit its type. You are sticking to secrecy in your denial and advice, and see in that a prevailing interest, and that pronouncing the denial is harmful, as it causes a break in the ranks, or an exposure of our weak spots to the enemy to exploit it, and other arguments that may have some consideration chances.
As for the possibility of breaking ranks, it is that: just a possibility, and the fact that those conducting those acts, maybe it is better for them not to be in the ranks of the Mujahidin, as they are just like a polluted spot that should be removed and sanitized and cleared from the ranks.
As for exposing our weak spots in front of our enemies to exploit it, these attacks are –I swear– a greater shame and more horrible weak points, and it has been exploited by the enemies to a great extent. It has been exploited to distort the picture of the pious and loyal Mujahidin. Now many regular people are looking at the Mujahidin as a group that does not hesitate to take people’s money by falsehood, detonating mosques, spilling the bloods of scores of people in the way to kill one or two who were labeled as enemies. While they shy away from listening to music or looking at a foreign woman – while those issues means very little to the common public, who see it as trivial issues. They are not, but no comparison to the sins that we are talking about. From that juncture, the Shaykhs and sermon speakers described the Mujahidin on their forums and life on the air that they are free people of the era-or the (Qaramitah of the time). They were able to persuade many Muslims of what they are claiming. The blame –or most of it– is laid on our shoulders. We contributed to that by not clarifying our stand on those forbidden acts in a sufficient way. We also contributed to the continuation of the perpetrators in their acts, by deferring the accusation from the contributors and blaming Blackwater Company instead.
What is particularly interesting about these revelations is they show how those in the Western world who attempt to win favor with Muslims by saying that, “Islamic terrorists have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims,” are merely parroting the concerns of al-Qaeda. (Furthermore, the last sentence of the above excerpt shows how effective al-Qaeda information operations to demonize the former Blackwater have been. While Gadahn admits the former Blackwater has been nothing but a scapegoat, the U.S. government continues demonizing and prosecuting former Blackwater employees. This is a complete victory for al-Qaeda and shows how subverted the U.S. government is.)
Do not expect the media, politicians, and pundits to stop saying that al-Qaeda disowned the Islamic Caliphate because the Islamic Caliphate is too extreme for al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, the precise reason the groups split was because they had differing ideas on strategy which eventually led to a struggle over power—which group would be the leader of the worldwide Islamic jihad.
Now the Islamic Caliphate and al-Qaeda will compete with each other for the loyalty of the jihadists of the world.