SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's al-Qaida branch on Friday denounced the Islamic State group for declaring a caliphate on territory it seized in Syria and Iraq and for aggressively seeking to expand its area of influence.
The al-Qaida Yemeni offshoot's purported spiritual guide, Sheikh Harith al-Nadhari, said such expansionist intentions are "driving a wedge" among jihadi groups. He was referring to Islamic State's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's recent call for followers to "explode volcanos of jihad everywhere."
Al-Nadhari said the IS "forced the nation, all the nation, to pledge allegiance" in absence of "consultation" with other Jihadi leaders. His message was posted on one of Yemeni Al-Qaida's official Twitter pages.
"They revoked the legitimacy of all the Islamic groups across the Islamic world .... and drove a wedge among Mujahedeen ranks by collecting allegiances from within the Jihadi groups," he said. "They announced the expansion of their caliphate in a number of countries in which they have no mandate."
The Islamic State extremists initially fought to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. But other groups, including al-Qaida central command, disavowed them. A summer IS blitz captured nearly a third of Syria and Iraq.
Smaller groups across the region have pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi while the larger al-Qaida affiliates remain silent regarding al-Baghdadi's outreach. Among the more significant loyalty pledges came from Egypt's Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.
The U.S. considers al-Qaida in Yemen to be one of the most dangerous local branches of the global terror organization because it has been linked to several failed attacks on the U.S. homeland. Washington has frequently launched drone strikes against the group — which captured large parts of Yemen in the security vacuum following the country's 2011 uprising. A Yemeni government offensive, back and supported by the U.S., has driven the militants from much of the territory they seized.
The group is led by Nasser al-Wahishi, a onetime close associate to Osama bin Laden. In the video message, al-Nadhari reiterated the group's allegiance to bin Laden's successor Ayman al-Zawahri, in defiance of al-Baghdadi's outreach initiative.