Al-Qaeda has issued a stunning rebuke of the "Islamic State" (IS) and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, calling on Muslims everywhere to rise up and destroy the group.
The statement, which was published by al-Qaeda's Bayan Foundation for Media Production on December 29, focuses on the the demise of IS and how the time is ripe to once and for all destroy the group.
"And today, after their influence waned and the danger they posed in the Levant lapsed, they sprout new branches in many arenas to which they brought scourges and calamities on the mujahideen and more corruption and criminality against the lands and their people," the statement begins.
"This group is emerging once again [in other parts of the world] to write another chapter of treason, treachery and servitude to dubious foreign agendas, demonstrating signs of being agents for and employed by international intelligence services."
"They set out to sow sedition, hurl accusations and undermine the ranks," the statement said.
"The battle is nearing its end."
The hypocrisy of al-Qaeda
The continued attempts by al-Qaeda to distinguish itself from IS by occupying a purported higher moral ground are deeply hypocritical.
Since al-Qaeda's inception, the organisation has been wrapping itself in a misinterpretation of Islam, as does IS, to justify killing innocents around the world.
From the hundreds of civilians killed when al-Qaeda bombed embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, to the thousands it killed on September 11, 2001, in the United States, al-Qaeda's main goal throughout the years has been bloodshed.
In the Middle East, al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for countless suicide bombings and murders. Particularly in Iraq and Yemen, al-Qaeda has been the root cause of sectarian strife and instability, bombing schools, mosques and government facilities. At times it has deliberately targeted women and children.
Today, al-Qaeda's branch in Syria Tahrir al-Sham continues this bloody legacy, as stories abound of the organisation's use of torture, suicide bombings and summary executions.
IS 'caliphate' crumbling
IS has lost 99% of the cross-border territory of its so-called "caliphate", which al-Baghdadi declared in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The terrorist group's dreams of establishing a statehood crumbled when IS was eliminated from Mosul, Iraq, in July 2017 and then from its self-proclaimed capital of al-Raqa in Syria last October.
Following those major defeats, IS fighters have been relegated to the desert regions of Syria and are on the verge of having no territorial claims.
While a few branches of IS-affiliated groups have cropped up in Africa, most notably Somalia and Nigeria, al-Baghdadi himself acknowledged, in a 55-minute message broadcast August 22 by IS's media operations, that IS is reeling from its military setbacks in the Middle East.
In what appears to be an indication of the group's defeat on the ground, al-Baghdadi declared that "the scale of victory or defeat for the mujahideen is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to those who have aerial superiority".
He also touched upon the lack of discipline bubbling up among the group's remnants and warned his deputies to watch for signs of rebellion among their men. He urged IS members of different nationalities, regions and ethnicities to refrain from infighting and feuding.
He called on his followers not to abandon their "religion, patience or jihad".
'Unable to understand the texts'
IS "and their rogue deviant caliph", al-Baghdadi, are "clearly and deliberately distorting" Islam, the al-Qaeda statement said.
"Those rogue al-Baghdadi group members have closed hearts and are unable to understand the texts the correct way, as their minds were shrouded with arrogance and their souls were enwrapped with vanity and obstinacy," it said.
"Therefore, the only thing that can be done with these rogues is to carry out God’s will against them, by stopping their tyranny and uprooting them. And you are justified in doing that to them."
"Stand up to this rogue group; have no pity or mercy on them," the statement urged. "We have come to know that they have no religion or morals and that they have all that is ethically wrong in their character."
With the end of IS nearing, "they resorted to hatching conspiracies to undermine the ranks and have succeeded in doing so".
One conspiracy theory holds that IS and extremist groups like it are the creations of Western countries, and in particular of the United States.
While this theory has considerable support in the Muslim world, a host of academics, other analysts and religious figures say these sorts of theories are lies disseminated to distort the facts on the ground.
IS atrocities against Muslims
Al-Qaeda's harsh words against those who remain loyal to IS come amid an increased awareness of IS's atrocities committed in the name of Islam, which has led to infighting within the group and purging of its ranks, notably in Afghanistan.
A former IS member who recently surrendered in Nangarhar Province summed up some of the inner workings of the group in Afghanistan.
"We thought this was an Islamic caliphate, but we later realised that they were all foreigners and it was a different game," said Herat Khan, 55, who fought with IS for over two years.
"They used to kill our elderly and slaughter our children," he told Salaam Times. "We saw everything with our own eyes, but we could not tell them anything because if we did, they would kill us too. This kept us silent."
"In addition to killing children, IS militants were involved in stealing civilians' belongings, committing sexual assault, harassing civilians and setting school buildings on fire," said Baz Mohammad Dawar, a tribal elder from Darzab, Jawzjan Province.
"Four IS fighters seized a 19-year-old girl, who was engaged, from her home to an IS base, where she was raped by the entire IS group for four weeks," he said.
Final call for Muslims to destroy IS
IS has consistently trampled on Islamic teachings, basic morality and the local culture of the peoples it claims to represent.
"What the al-Baghdadi group represents is a poisoned dagger to stop you from achieving your goals and to serve as a barrier to keep you from achieving what you want," the al-Qaeda statement said.
"So, beware of the stalling, waiting for answers and formalities, and rise up against them as one man, chase their bands, besiege their remnants, tear their ranks apart and lie in wait for them."
"The rogue al-Baghdadi group bears black hatred in their hearts against jihad and the mujahideen and always thinks they only own the truth," it said. "However, all their slogans are lies and untruths; they haven’t spread their religion (Islam), established their caliphate, preserved the blood [of Muslims], or preserved honour."
"No Muslim has been spared their evil," it said. "They draw their swords against the mujahideen quickly and rarely do so against the kuffar. They have neither spread Islam nor defeated the enemy."
"So, hurry up and take action, O brothers in monotheism and jihad!"