Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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ISIS and al-Qaeda: Enemy brothers (Part 1)

Tuesday 01/June/2021 - 10:05 PM
The Reference
Mahmoud al-Batakoushi

There is an ongoing struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda over who controls global terrorism, as they are “enemy brothers” that emerged from the womb of the terrorist Brotherhood organization to fill the land with killing and bloodshed. In reality, they are two ideological adversaries that shed each other's blood with the aim of extending influence and expansion. The biggest evidence of this is that ISIS in West Africa published a video clip showing men slaughtering fighters who were presented as members of Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), a branch of al-Qaeda, announcing the killing of 52 of them.

Trivial reasons

The causes of the battles between ISIS and al-Qaeda are usually not important, such as the difference, for example, over control in a certain area or traffic control, and the redistribution of positions after the death of two leaders who agreed with each other.

The conflict between ISIS and al-Qaeda has moved in recent years from one place to another. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have turned into areas of bloody conflict between the enemy brothers due to their vital location. In 2014, al-Qaeda established a new branch called al-Qaeda of Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, due to the good relations that brought the terrorist organization together with a number of jihadist Islamist movements and currents within India with strong ties.

Khorasan conflict

In 2015, ISIS developed a topic that was presented in the Indian subcontinent through the gate of the Khorasan State, whose activities were concentrated at that time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the geographies surrounding them, until in 2019 it announced the inauguration of the State of India, which was considered an important and serious shift in the organization’s penetration in this region. In order to curtail the activity of al-Qaeda, it sought to activate and employ social media to attract Indian Muslims in the beginning to move to the land of the alleged caliphate in Raqqa and Mosul, at a time when India is living in a difficult reality due to the rise of the Hindu nationalist and anti-Muslim discourse.


It is also important to mention the conflict in Yemen between ISIS and al-Qaeda, with the first focused on creating splits within the latter, as 500 al-Qaeda members joined ISIS, and Yemeni jihadists who defected from al-Qaeda declared their allegiance to late ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in November 2014, to the point of fierce battles between the two terrorist organizations in June 2018 as a result of friction between their fighters and conflict over sources of funding. Containers transporting weapons to al-Qaeda in Marib led to ISIS feeling an imbalance with al-Qaeda, so ISIS attacked the base through suicide operations. In 2018/2019, two-thirds of ISIS operations in Yemen were directed against al-Qaeda.


Somalia was also a witness to a bloody conflict between ISIS and al-Qaeda, which were competing to attract fighters and sources of funding. The Al-Shabaab movement, affiliated with the ideology of al-Qaeda, and the local branch of ISIS in the eastern regions of the Galgala Mountains in Puntland, northeastern Somalia, threaten to transform the capital Mogadishu into battleground between the two terrorist sides who use assassinations and reciprocal attacks.

Since the emergence of ISIS, the number of terrorist operations in Africa reached 100 operations, most of them assassinations and bombings targeting government employees and businessmen, as well as commercial headquarters, with the aim of sending a strong message inside and outside the country to prove its presence as a force to be reckoned with in the tripartite conflict in the country.

The war was not limited to assassinations, as ISIS announced that its members had killed 14 Al-Shabaab fighters in an armed confrontation that took place between them in the heights of Beri, Puntland in northeastern Somalia, which reveals the strength of the organization that began to emerge in October 2015 through the use of sophisticated recruitment methods. Evolvingly, a large part of it has targeted Al-Shabaab members disaffected with the movement in southern Somalia.

In North Africa, limited battles took place between ISIS and al-Qaeda terrorists due to the struggle for control of roads and crossings, especially the salt and gold route and its use in the drug trade, arms smuggling and illegal migration, taking advantage of the instability in Libya.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, ISIS seeks to exploit the state of weakness of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in order to inherit their areas of influence. The largest evidence of that is a media campaign launched by ISIS last year aimed at “uncovering al-Qaeda's deviation” following the Arab Spring revolutions. However, since the jihadist split in 2013 between it and al-Qaeda, ISIS has not stopped attacking its leadership and in the end condemned al-Qaeda with takfir.