May 1, 2016
[I was recently interviewed by Javier Méndez about Al-Qaeda and ISIS for an article in Santiago’s El Mercurio newspaper. Here are my answers to his questions.]
Q. What is the difference between Al Qaeda and ISIS?
A. Al-Qaeda is a network of militants seeking to violently overthrow the rulers in the Muslim world and has declared war on the Western powers they see as sustaining those rulers, while ISIS has declared itself to be a restoration of the Islamic “caliphate” currently operating as a state in Iraq and Syria but intent on eventual world conquest. Al-Qaeda has not sought to impose immediately its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in order to cultivate support among Muslims living in the areas it seeks to affect, while ISIS seeks to impose its interpretation of the law in full upon taking any territory in the belief that its harshness, like its brutality, is a recruiting tool. Both have tried to inspire terrorist acts against the West, but some analysts believe that al-Qaeda is more hands-on in managing such attacks while ISIS simply promotes them (primarily through social media) and then takes credit when those they inspire act.
Q. Do you think that there is an existent relationship between Al Qaeda and ISIS?
A. The current relationship between al-Qaeda and ISIS is one of rivals. They occasionally clash as when ISIS fights al-Qaeda affiliate Jubhat-al-Nusra. A claim once made by someone in ISIS that at one time Baghdadi was a member of al-Qaeda has been denied by al-Qaeda and appears to be a reference to the fact that Baghdadi was the head of a group allied with its now disaffiliated offshoot al-Qaeda-in-Iraq against the American occupation of Iraq shortly before that group (under Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi) rebelled against its parent group (under Ayman al-Zawahiri).
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute