Al Qaeda cuts ties with Syrian Islamic group

Al Qaeda’s central leaders said Monday that they had no ties with one of the largest Islamic rebel groups fighting in Syria.

Al Qaeda said in a statement Monday that it had “no connection” with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a group in Syria that has clashed with other Syrian opposition fighters.

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ISIL “is not a branch of the al Qaeda organization,” the al Qaeda statement said, according to the Associated Press. Al Qaeda said that it was “not responsible” for ISIL’s actions and that it had “in fact ordered it to stop.”

“We distance ourselves from the sedition taking place among the mujahedeen factions [in Syria] and of the forbidden blood shed by any faction," said the statement, which could not be independently verified but was posted on websites frequently used by al Qaeda.

The statement from central Al Qaeda on Monday follows unsuccessful attempts from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to disband the merged Syrian-Iraqi affiliate ISIL.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), announced last April he was merging his Iraqi group with Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra to form ISIL.

By June, al-Zawahiri announced that the merger was “cancelled,” and in November the al Qaeda leader said he was disbanding al-Baghdadi’s group.

"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a big mistake in forming the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant without consultation," al-Zawahiri said in a November statement.

But al-Baghdadi has not stopped operating under the ISIL banner, and the group has gained in strength amid the chaos of Syria’s nearly three-year civil war.

ISIL has also clashed with al-Nusra fighters, as opposition groups have fought against one another while also all being pitted against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the conflict.