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Earlier this month a photo was posted on Twitter showing an ISIL car bombing of the al Nusra Front headquarters, killing dozens. Frequent reports are posted online about operations by ISIL against al Nusra Front and that group’s attacks on ISIL.

Outside Syria, jihadists linked to ISIL have called for resuming terrorist attacks inside Saudi Arabia, after Riyadh was viewed as seeking to undermine ISIL.

Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree on Feb. 3 aimed at seeking to limit the flow of Saudis to join Islamist rebels in Syria. The decree said that anyone joining hostilities outside the country would face a prison term of between three and 20 years.

An analysis of the split published last month in the Saudi economic news outlet Al Eqtisadiah Online, said that the divisions pose “a real crisis” for Zawahiri in seeking to maintain control of the group.

The article said that documents obtained by U.S. special operations forces during the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden revealed earlier divisions.

According to reports of the documents, some in al Qaeda favor moderation and asserted that al Qaeda’s terrorism had distorted the image of Islam and produced a widespread impression that all Muslims are potential terrorists.

That prompted arguments for more moderate policies.

Instead, al Qaeda’s third generation of terrorists is emerging from two earlier cohorts—those who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and post-Sept. 11, 2001, fighters.

The latest group is viewed as al Qaeda’s “Internet generation” that recruits suicide bombers and others online and that are among those who currently staff the affiliates in Yemen, North Africa, and more recently in Syria and Iraq.

The Saudi report said a key factor in the split was the 2012 U.S. drone strike that killed Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan.

“He was the link between the central organization and the regional and local organizations through his control of the accredited media machine of al Qaeda,” the report said. “With al-Libi’s absence the important connecting link in al Qaeda’s network was lost.”

Al-Libi is among the many senior al Qaeda leaders that were killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Thomas Joscelyn, a counterterrorism expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said central al Qaeda disavowal of ISIL is very significant but not well understood.

Jihadists and others are backing ISIL but the leading thinkers within al Qaeda and the broader jihadist movement are backing the decision to eject ISIL.

“ISIL was never al Qaeda’s preferred play inside Syria,” Jocelyn said. “Instead, senior al Qaeda operatives were embedded within Ahrar al Sham, another extremist group that is not even formally recognized as a branch of al Qaeda.”

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