Al-Qaeda has issued a stunning rebuke of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, calling on Muslims everywhere to rise up and destroy the group.
The statement, which was published by al-Qaeda's Bayan Foundation for Media Production on December 29th, focuses on the demise of ISIS and how the time is ripe to once and for all destroy the group.
"And today, after their influence waned and the danger they posed in the Levant lapsed, they sprout new branches in many arenas to which they brought scourges and calamities on the mujahideen and more corruption and criminality against the lands and their people," the statement begins.
"This group is emerging once again [in other parts of the world] to write another chapter of treason, treachery and servitude to dubious foreign agendas, demonstrating signs of being agents for and employed by international intelligence services."
"They set out to sow sedition, hurl accusations and undermine the ranks," the statement said.
"The battle is nearing its end."
The hypocrisy of al-Qaeda
The continued attempts by al-Qaeda to distinguish itself from ISIS by occupying a purported higher moral ground are deeply hypocritical.
Since al-Qaeda's inception, the organisation has been wrapping itself in a misinterpretation of Islam, as does ISIS, to justify killing innocents around the world.
From the hundreds of civilians killed when al-Qaeda bombed embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, to the thousands it killed on September 11th, 2001, in the US, al-Qaeda's main goal throughout the years has been bloodshed.
In the Middle East, al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for countless suicide bombings and murders. Particularly in Iraq and Yemen, al-Qaeda has been the root cause of sectarian strife and instability, bombing schools, mosques and government facilities. At times it has deliberately targeted women and children.
Today, al-Qaeda's branch in Syria Tahrir al-Sham continues this bloody legacy, as stories abound of the group's use of torture, suicide bombings and summary executions.
ISIS 'caliphate' crumbling
ISIS has lost 99% of the cross-border territory of its so-called "caliphate", which al-Baghdadi declared in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The terrorist group's dreams of establishing a statehood crumbled when ISIS was eliminated from Iraq's Mosul in July 2017 and then from its self-proclaimed capital of al-Raqa in Syria last October.
Following those major defeats, ISIS fighters have been relegated to the desert regions of Syria and are on the verge of having no territorial claims.
While a few branches of ISIS-affiliated groups have cropped up in Africa, most notably Somalia and Nigeria, al-Baghdadi himself acknowledged in a 55-minute message broadcast August 22nd by ISIS's media operations that ISIS is reeling from its military setbacks in the Middle East.
In what appears to be an indication of the group's defeat on the ground, al-Baghdadi declared that "the scale of victory or defeat for the mujahideen is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to those who have aerial superiority".
He also touched upon the lack of discipline bubbling up among the group's remnants and warned his deputies to watch for signs of rebellion among their men. He urged ISIS members of different nationalities, regions and ethnicities to refrain from infighting and feuding.
He called on his followers not to abandon their "religion, patience or jihad".
ISIS atrocities against Muslims
ISIS "and their rogue deviant caliph" al-Baghdadi are "clearly and deliberately distorting" Islam, the al-Qaeda statement said.
"Those rogue al-Baghdadi group members have closed hearts and are unable to understand the texts the correct way, as their minds were shrouded with arrogance and their souls were enwrapped with vanity and obstinacy," it said.
"Therefore, the only thing that can be done with these rogues is to carry out God’s will against them, by stopping their tyranny and uprooting them. And you are justified in doing that to them."
ISIS has routinely slaughtered worshippers at prayer and bombed mosques, killed women and children, burned down civilians' houses and attacked schools.
Al-Qaeda's harsh words against those who remain loyal to ISIS come amid an increased awareness of ISIS's atrocities committed in the name of Islam, which has led to infighting within the group and purging of its ranks.
A former ISIS member who recently surrendered in Nangarhar Province summed up some of the inner workings of the group in Afghanistan.
"We thought this was an Islamic caliphate, but we later realised that they were all foreigners and it was a different game," said Herat Khan, 55, who fought with ISIS for over two years.
"They used to kill our elderly and slaughter our children," he told Salaam Times. "We saw everything with our own eyes but we could not tell them anything because if we did, they would kill us too. This kept us silent."
"In addition to killing children, ISIS militants were involved in stealing civilians' belongings, committing sexual assault, harassing civilians and setting school buildings on fire," said Baz Mohammad Dawar, a tribal elder from Darzab, Jawzjan Province.
"Four ISIS fighters seized a 19-year-old girl who was engaged, from her home to an ISIS base where she was raped by the entire ISIS group for four weeks," he said.
A struggle for survival
The ongoing war between al-Qaeda and ISIS is "a natural product of the ideologies held by these extremist religious movements", political analyst Adnan al-Humairi previously told Al-Mashareq.
Each side seeks to impose its control over the entire territory in which it is present and to eliminate any "competitor that might want to share in the power", he said.
Al-Qaeda, in particular, is struggling for relevance in the public eye, especially as it is now aware that ISIS's demise is near.
The smear campaign the group has been conducting against ISIS serves to return many of the fighters who had pledged allegiance to ISIS to al-Qaeda's fold.
The battle between ISIS and al-Qaeda will undoubtedly accelerate ISIS's demise, said Iman Ragab of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
But "ISIS will not easily give in to al-Qaeda’s attacks, and therefore the war between them will weaken both as they suffer losses in men, weapons and money", Ragab told Al-Mashareq last year.