The race to the top of the international terrorism charts is heating up, with Al Qaeda openly snubbing the increasingly-powerful Islamic State, which has taken control of swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria.
In a newly released video, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri indirectly snubbed the IS and pledged loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The IS is, in fact, a faction of Al Qaeda itself, and both groups share Sunni extremist ideologies; but the former has grown apart since 2013 due to its brutal expansionist policy in Syria and Iraq.
In the video, Zawahiri has apparently taunted the IS' claims of statehood, saying, "If you say that by your jihad you do not want but the pleasure of Allah, then you must not race for governance and leadership at the first opportunity."
He also seemed to criticize the Islamic State's policy of oppression of locals in forcing them to adhere to their radical views. "If you said that you are doing jihad to defend the sanctities of the Muslims, then you must not transgress against them or their money or honour, and not even transgress your mujahideen brothers by word and action,"
Going by the Islamic State's blitzkrieg capture of several towns in Iraq and Syria and the declaration of a caliphate that has the United States calling it the "biggest threat", it is not unfounded for Al Qaeda to feel eclipsed in the lucrative business of terrorism.
Zawahiri and his predecessor Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US forces in 2011, have repeatedly pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who in turn has promised them a safe haven in Afghanistan.
The increasing global attention to the ruthless Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, may not have gone down too well with Al Qaeda, and its public support to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar indicates heated 'politics' and 'competition' among transnational terror groups for dominance.
Who is USA's Number 1 Enemy?
The United States virtually awarded Islamic State the top honour, when the Pentagon issued a statement last month, which said that the terror group was 'beyond anything we have seen".
"They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of...military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had said.
Given that the Al Qaeda has been the biggest enemy for the US ever since the dastardly 9/11 attacks, losing the top honour could hurt sentiments within the outfit.
Who is Getting More Recruits?
Secondly, counter-terrorism experts believe that Al Qaeda's ageing leaders are struggling to compete for recruits with the recently formed Islamic State, which has been famously able to attract youth from across the world, including the United States, Canada, and India.
One of the main reasosn could be the Islamic State's tech-savvy propaganda. The outfit is reaching out to the youth across the world like never before by harnessing the Internet.
The IS has also been able to score being among Western youths in an unprecedented manner. According to SITE, which monitors jihadist activities online, online recruiters from the Islamic State (IS), are honing in on that demographic by promising that fighters can "tailor their experience in jihad should they join with IS", indicating that jihadists could take up any 'role' – that of a sniper or a technician, as per his preference.
The Islamic state's use of the social media is also earning it points in the race. The hashtag #AmessagefromISIStoUS has surpassed 60,000 tweets, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Finally, Who is Richer?
At the end of the day, for any terror outfit, it all comes down to funds to aid better equipment and sophistication. On this front too, the IS seems to be leaving its parent organization behind, largely due to its control of rich oil reserves in the most oil-rich countries in the world.
The Islamic State may well be raising more than $2 million dollars a day in revenue from oil sales, extortion, taxes and smuggling, according to Bloomberg that cited U.S. intelligence officials and anti-terrorism finance experts. This apart from alleged funding from Gulf nations. The report suggests that the revenue that the Islamic State gets from its vast oil-rich territory and access to local taxes 'dwarfs the income of other groups'.
"The Islamic State is probably the wealthiest terrorist group we've ever known," Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury terrorism and financial intelligence official and current director of the counterterrorism and intelligence program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.