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Al-Qaida Disavows Syria Militant Group

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FILE - Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

FILE - Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

Al-Qaida has announced it is severing ties with a militant group fighting in Syria.

Al-Qaida said in a statement Monday that it is cutting off the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

The authenticity of the statement could not be verified independently, but it was posted on websites frequently used by al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered ISIL last year to operate independently from the Nusra Front, another al-Qaida-linked jihadist group in Syria.

The ISIL ignored Zawahiri's directive and continued operations in Syria.

The switch is seen as an attempt to redirect the Islamist effort towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad rather than waste resources in fighting other rebels, and could be intended to shift the strategic balance at a time when government forces are increasingly active on the battlefield. It could also embolden Nusra in its dispute with ISIL.

ISIL has fought battles with other Islamist insurgents and secular rebel groups, often triggered by disputes over authority and territory. Several secular and Islamist groups announced a campaign last month against ISIL.

The internecine fighting - some of the bloodiest in the war so far - has undermined the uprising against Assad and dismayed Western powers pushing for peace talks between the government and opposition.

Rebel-on-rebel violence in Syria has killed at least 2,300 this year alone, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

ISIL follows al-Qaida's hard-line ideology and, until now, the two groups were officially linked. Many foreign fighters and ISIL observers, however, say that al-Qaida central and ISIL had in fact been effectively separated since before the group, which was originally the al-Qaida branch in Iraq, spread into Syria.

Hard-line Islamist rebels, including Nusra, have come to dominate the largely Sunni Muslim insurgency against Assad, who is supported by his minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam - as well as Shi'ite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Some rebel groups in Syria accuse the ISIL of trying to consolidate power rather than fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. ISIL jihadists have often clashed with Syrian rebel groups.

The ISIL has also been known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.