A powerful jihadist group battling al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria has sharply criticised the global terror network's leader in a statement, rejecting his call for them to leave the war-ravaged country.
The audio recording, purportedly made by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, also urged Ayman al-Zawahiri to remove the leader of Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.
“Sheikh Osama gathered all the mujahedeen (holy warriors) with one word, but you divided them and tore them apart,” Adnani said in the audio statement posted on jihadist forums on Sunday, referring to Zawahiri's predecessor Osama bin Laden.
The authenticity of the recording could not be immediately verified.
Adnani called on Zawahiri to replace Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, warning: “Either you continue with your mistake and remain stubborn, and the division and fighting among the mujahedeen will continue, or you confess to your mistake and correct it.”
“You make the mujahedeen sad, and make the enemy of the mujahedeen gloat because you support the traitor (Jolani), and you make the heart bleed - you are the one who instigated the strife, and you have to extinguish it.
“Review yourself and stand in front of God to correct what you have ruined.”
Adnani also rejected the latest of Zawahiri's multiple calls that ISIL restrict its activities to Iraq, stating that this was “impossible because it is unreasonable, unrealistic and illegitimate.”
Persistent jihadist infighting between ISIL and Al-Nusra, both of whom oppose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has prompted 60 000 people to flee towns in oil-rich Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria.
The latest round of battles come after Islamist and moderate rebels launched an offensive against ISIL earlier this year. They were later joined by Al-Nusra.
While Al-Nusra has been accepted as an ally by many rebels, ISIL has been criticised for its attacks on civilians and rival opposition groups.
The fighting with ISIL has killed about 4 000 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The two jihadist groups have continued to clash despite a call from Zawahiri for an end to the hostilities.
In an audio recording released this month, Zawahiri urged Al-Nusra to stop fighting ISIL and focus on battling the Syrian regime.
He also repeated a call for ISIL to restrict its activities to Iraq. - Sapa-AFP