Al Qaeda has been “ripped apart” by the rise of the Islamic State group, which has drained the terrorist organization of money and recruits, and left its leadership increasingly isolated, according to a report from the Guardian, citing interviews with two of al Qaeda's spiritual leaders.
Abu Qatada, a Jordanian preacher who has long been associated with al Qaeda, and jihadi scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who was the spiritual mentor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda leader in Iraq, both told the paper that the group had been seriously affected by ISIS' rise.
“There is no organizational structure,” Maqdisi said, adding that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was cut off from his commanders, and that “loyalty” was the only thing keeping the group together.
Qatada reportedly backed these assertions, saying that Zawahiri is “isolated,” and adding that ISIS members are winning both the ground war and propaganda battle against al Qaeda.
Intelligence officials were divided on the extent of the rift between the two groups. One former intelligence analyst the Guardian spoke to described a faction of junior and mid-level analysts seeing al Qaeda as being pushed to the margins of global jihad, while most senior officers reportedly viewed the rift as a "squabble."
The fractious relationship between the two groups was laid bare Wednesday, after al Qaeda-linked militants in eastern Libya declared holy war on the local ISIS affiliate, after one of their senior leaders was killed Wednesday by masked gunmen, which set off clashes between the rival groups that left 11 people dead on both sides, according to an Associated Press report.
In recent months, al Qaeda has been unable to compete with gains made by ISIS, which has declared its own state, controls significant amounts of territory in Syria and Iraq, and has attracted the allegiance of groups from around the world.
The U.S. also appears increasingly focused on combating ISIS, with the White House announcing Wednesday that up to 450 additional U.S. troops would be deployed to Iraq, to assist local forces battling the group.