Extremist group criticizes Syria's al-Qaida branch
BEIRUT (AP) -- An al-Qaida-breakaway group said Friday that it faces a war with rival Islamic factions who want to destroy it, describing Syria's al-Qaida-linked branch as the "front of betrayal and treason" in a message that could lead to more bloodshed.
The statement by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant came a week after the leader of the powerful al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front gave the breakaway faction a five-day ultimatum to accept mediation by leading clerics to end infighting or be "expelled" from the region.
Battles between the rival groups that began in early January have killed more than 3,000 people, activists say. The fighting, in which the Nusra Front is backed by other Islamic groups, has concentrated in northern Syria and has been the deadliest between opposition fighters since the country's crisis began three years ago.
The Islamic State's spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in a 22-minute audio clip posted on jihadi websites that his group's rivals tried to defeat it "when they saw it was getting more powerful."
"They resorted to force and thought that they would be able to wipe it with few days or hours. They prepared for a military campaign all over Syria and accompanied it with a propaganda campaign to harm the image of the (Islamic) State and turn the people against it," al-Adnani said. "They then launched the campaign of betrayal and treason but they were surprised that the (Islamic) State was more solid than they expected and they failed in breaking it."
Last week, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the Nusra Front's leader, suggested arbitration by clerics to stop the infighting. He warned the Islamic State that it would be driven from Syria and "even from Iraq" if it rejected the results of arbitration. He did not elaborate on how his group might do that.
Al-Adnani responded that his group did not reject offers to resort to arbitration by Islamic clerics and criticized the Nusra Front's top Islamic cleric and a member of its Shura Council.
Meanwhile Friday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting between the Islamic State and the Nusra Front in the northeastern town of Markada, saying 23 fighters were killed on both sides. It said the Islamic State fighters advanced in the town and captured wheat silos in the area.