ISIL is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Sham), or ISIS.
The open rivalry between ISIL and al-Qaida pits jihadists against jihadists in Syria and Iraq, possibly spreading to other Middle East countries, as recently seen in Saudi Arabia itself.
The ISIL challenge also casts doubt in the minds of other jihadists on the effectiveness of Zawahiri’s leadership.
ISIL has threatened to take its war with al-Qaida’s designated group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The development comes after infighting between ISIL and al-Nusra in Syria flared into the open following a June 2013 statement by Zawahiri that ISIL had no affiliation with al-Nusra.
ISIL had sought to incorporate al-Nusra as part of its group, but even Zawahiri found ISIL to be too brutal in its tactics, killing members of rival Islamist jihadi groups as well as indiscriminately killing other Muslims.
Now, ISIL is threatening to go into Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and assassinate clerics who back al-Nusra.
The fighting between the two has intensified despite a recent order by Zawahiri to stop the bloodshed. Thousands of Islamic militants on both sides of the dispute in Syria have been killed.
In a recently released video, a group of arrested ISIL militants confessed to having direct links with Saudi Arabian authorities and claimed they had a role in a number of recent terrorist attacks in Iraqi provinces and in the cities of Karbala and Najaf.
This has prompted the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to declare war on ISIL and the other al-Qaida groups – all Sunni – due to the wave of new violence there.
The ISIL at one time had been a branch of al-Qaida in Iraq, under the name of the Islamic State of Iraq, led then by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who later was killed by the U.S.
Before his death, however, even Zarqawi didn’t believe that al-Qaida was violent enough and often ignored orders from bin Laden. That led some observers to believe that the U.S. was tipped off on Zarqawi’s whereabouts, which led to his house being bombed in June 2006 by a U.S. F-16.
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