The leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released an audio statement on 8 May 2016. The speech was entitled, “Hasten to Syria,” “Go Forth to Syria,” or “March Forth to Syria,” depending on translation. An English-language translation has been made available and is reproduced below, with some editions in transliteration and some important sections highlighted in bold.
The speech focused on the need for jihadi unity in Syria as a precursor to creating a caliphate. Al-Zawahiri was unusually stern and mocking in his references to the Islamic State, and particularly their claims to a caliphate. Al-Zawahiri also seemed to sign-off on the idea of al-Qaeda in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, disaffiliating from al-Qaeda if this would achieve al-Qaeda’s outcome—an Islamic state in Syria. Al-Zawahiri also reiterated that other Islamist methods, such as elections, had clearly failed: Islamists tried that in Algeria and Egypt, and both times were thwarted by violent military coups that the West supported to one degree or another.
In the name of Allah. All praise is due to Allah. May prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, his family, and his allies.
To my Muslim brothers everywhere, may peace and the blessings and mercy of Allah be upon you. To proceed.
Syria today is the hope of the umma [Muslim community or nation], because it is the only peoples’ revolution of the revolutions of the “Arab Spring” that took the right path. The path of daw’a [proselytism] and jihad to establish and rule by the shari’a, and striving to establish the caliphate upon the Prophetic methodology and not the caliphate of Ibrahim al-Badri. The caliphate upon the correct methodology and not the caliphate of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf.
As a result of that, the great international criminals united to prevent the mujahideen in Syria, the land of garrisoning and jihad from establishing their mujahid [jihadi] state. Thus, the conspiracies, plots, pressures and seductions began. However, Allah, the Glorified willed for a group of mujahideen from the best muhajirun [“emigrants” (foreign fighters)] and ansar [“partisans” (local jihadists)] to remain steadfast upon the truth without shaking. Thus, the umma gathered around this group in Syria, realizing the difference between its correct ideology and the false ideology of the new extremist, takfiri Khawarij. Those who brought the umma glad tidings of the inheritance of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. Those who shall carry the burden of the Muslim blood they have spilled on the Day of Resurrection.
To my Muslim and jihadist brothers in Syria, the land of garrisoning and jihad and everywhere, it is our obligation today to defend the jihad in Syria against the conspiracies contrived against it. Those enacted by the state of the al-Saud family and its appendages from the other regional nations, under the command of Britain’s stepdaughter, America.
All of these conspiracies aim to wipe Islam from Syria, presenting in its place a false Islam that conforms with the secularists, nationalists, and the regime of the great international criminals. Forsaking the blood of hundreds of thousands, there are those who cried out in accordance with their fitra [natural instincts] during their protests, “Our leader for eternity, our Master Muhammad (PBUH)!”
The greatest problem for the international criminal regime and our apostate governments and their institutions, is that the mujahideen of Syria are standing on the borders of Palestine, threatening what is known as “Israel,” or the 51st state of the USA, or the largest American military base outside of the USA.
Thus, it is essential for them to strike this jihad, to bury it and to deviate its course to that of secularism and nationalism and entering into the regime of the great international criminals.
Thus, they progress from conspiracy to conspiracy, from one scheme to another. From Geneva to Riyadh, to the truce to the decision of the [United Nations] Security Council of the great international criminals. A chain of unending deception, lies, defamations and fraud.
It is our obligation today to support the jihad in Syria with all that we are able, and to march forth, light and heavy!
It is our obligation today to incite the mujahideen in Syria to unite, so that they may free themselves from the secular Nusayri [Alawite] regime and its allies from the Safavid Shi’a [Iran], the Russians and the Western Crusaders, and so that they can establish a rightly-guided, jihadi, Islamic state.
To my brothers the mujahideen in Syria, the land of garrisoning and jihad from all over the world. The issue of unity today is a matter of life and death for you. Either you unite to live as Muslims in honour, or you will differ and be disunited and be eaten one by one.
There remains another matter that many have delved into, in an attempt to deviate the eyes of the jihadi community in Syria away from their real enemy. The issue of the links of the beloved, beneficent, defiant Jabhat al-Nusra—whom we are honored to be linked to, and whom we ask Allah to increase in steadfastness and success—to al-Qaeda.
Thus, I will address the matter clearly and in brief.
We have repeated over and over that if the Muslims of Syria—and at the heart of them the brave mujahideen—formed their Muslim state and chose their Imam, then whoever they decide to choose is their choice.
We, by the grace of Allah, are not striving for authority, rather we are striving for the rule of the shari’a. We do not wish to rule over the Muslims; rather, we want to be ruled as Muslims by Islam.
We have and continue to call for the unification of the mujahideen in Syria and their uniting to establish a rightly-guided, Islamic, jihadi government. That which spreads justice, spreads shura [consultation], restores people’s rights, helps the oppressed, and revives jihad, thus opening the lands, and strives to liberate Jerusalem and restore the caliphate upon the Prophetic methodology.
By the will of Allah, the association to an organization [i.e. al-Qaeda] will never be an obstacle in the face of those great hopes. Those which the Islamic umma longs for, that which we are a part of, and we are not a trustee over, nor have we jumped upon it with a pledge of allegiance to people that no one knows, nor a surprise caliph.
Furthermore, will the great international criminals be pleased with Jabhat al-Nusra if they sever ties with al-Qaeda? Or will they force them to sit at the table with the murderous criminals, then make them submit to concessions of disgrace and appeasement, to submit to the governments of corruption and servitude, then to enter into the dirty game of democracy. Then after all that throw them in jail, like they did with the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Allah, the Magnificent spoke the truth when he said: “Never will the Jews nor the Christians be satisfied with you until you follow their religion. Say, ‘Verily, Allah’s guidance is the only guidance’. If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no supporter or helper” [al-Baqara, 2:121].
Verily, we in al-Qaeda do not accept any pledge of allegiance except that which is made willingly, and we do not force anyone to pledge allegiance to us, nor threaten to decapitate them, nor do we excommunicate those who fight against us, like the blather of the modern Khawarij.
To our Muslim umma in the Heartland of the Believers, and to our noble brothers, the lions of Syria, we are from you. Our efforts are for you and we are a part of you. Even if we are separated by many lands, we are united by our creed and our religion. We are with you, fighting a united battle across many fronts against the great international criminals, the Crusaders and their allies the apostates. Your victory is our victory, your honour is our honour and your consolidation is our consolidation.
Remain steadfast, servants of Allah, against this vicious attack! That in which the Eastern and Western crusaders have aligned with the secular Nusayris and the apostate Shi’a. Be patient, resilient and remain garrisoned. Do not be silenced by the war machines of the crusaders, because they have been defeated previously in Afghanistan and in Iraq! Remember the words of the Emir, Mullah Muhammad Umar, who put his trust in Allah, when he said, “Allah promised me victory and Bush promised me defeat, so we will see which of the two promises is truer”. Remember his words when he said, “The case of Usama [bin Ladin] is not the matter of one man, rather it is a matter of the honour of Islam!” And when he said to his brothers, “If you surrender Usama, then tomorrow you will surrender me”.
That very trust in Allah and dependence upon him—without depending on any others—is what destroyed the war machines of the Eastern and Western crusaders in Afghanistan. Then they were destroyed in Iraq, and they will be destroyed in Syria, by the will of Allah.
Do not be anxious about the apostate, agent, subservient governments, those who do not wish for you freedom or honour, because the one who does not possess something can never give it. Let your actions be true to your words, when you said, “Death before disgrace!”
”If you have patience and fear Allah, their plot will not harm you at all. Verily, Allah encompasses what they do” [Ali Imran, 3:120].
Our final prayer is: all praise is to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May Allah send prayers and peace upon our Master, Muhammad, and upon his family and companions. May peace and the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you.
 The word used for Syria was al-Sham, which is often translated as the Levant. This is technically correct—though al-Sham is also the word for Damascus—and practically misleading. In this context, al-Zawahiri is not referring to the “Greater Syria” are but to the war in Syria.
 Ibrahim al-Badri is the real name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s leader. This is an unusually pointed attack from al-Zawahiri, who has largely eschewed such things. Indeed, part of al-Zawahiri’s criticism of IS has been that these public spats—particularly the ferocious rhetorical volleys aimed at al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri personally by IS’s spokesman, Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani)—are splitting the ranks of the jihadists and damaging the cause overall.
 Note that al-Zawahiri refers to people gathering around those on the correct path, not gathering around a specific group. In Syria, al-Qaeda has worked to hide its hands as much as it can and it has not confined itself to its formal branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, but has infiltrated and fostered the dependency of (at least sections of) other groups. Al-Qaeda seeks to shape the environment in Syria, not exactly to rule it—or not direct. It will cede having its name on the outcome if that is the price of securing the outcome it wants.
 Despite the accusations that Saudi Arabia supports al-Qaeda—something that was not exactly true but had more credibility in, say, Bosnia in the 1990s and which has essentially none after 2004-05—al-Qaeda’s leader has repeatedly attacked the Saudis as the source of all trouble for the jihadists.
 There are ongoing negotiations for a merger of Syrian insurgents, particularly Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, and one key objection from Ahrar is al-Nusra’s affiliation to al-Qaeda. Ahrar is very similar ideologically to al-Qaeda, and parts of the organization are under al-Qaeda’s sway, so a merger of the two should not be too difficult and would be deeply advantageous for al-Qaeda, which then draws closer to the situation where for the West to respond to it in Syria means going to war with the entire Syrian opposition—thus, some large part of the Syrian population. Al-Zawahiri seems to say that, so long as al-Qaeda’s version of a jihadi state is secured, al-Nusra can drop the formal association with al-Qaeda.
 Another shot at the Islamic State.
 Al-Qaeda has gained very significantly from the 2013 Egyptian coup because it vindicated them. The Islamists in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood in that case, tried to install an Islamist government by engaging the system and participating in democracy; they were overthrown, their leaders imprisoned, and their supporters massacred in the streets for protesting about it. The U.S. said the military was “restoring democracy“. In 1992, France particularly and eventually many other Western states supported the military coup that blocked the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS) from taking power in an election and the extraordinarily bloody measures the military used to put down the subsequent revolt. For al-Qaeda, which says that Islamists can only achieve power by violent revolution, their response to these incidents was, “We told you so”.
 Though al-Zawahiri appears to approve al-Nusra breaking links with al-Qaeda to secure a wider jihadi merger, he evidently has reservations. The message here is that the world, the West in particular, could not even accept the Muslim Brotherhood, so they will never accept the jihadists, no matter if they break links with al-Qaeda, and thus trying to appease them is shameful.
 A third attack on the Islamic State, and again unusually confrontational and mocking.
 The speech overall suggested that al-Zawahiri was confident that al-Qaeda’s model was working. As Hassan Hassan put it, “Zawahiri’s remarks indicated that al-Qaeda is settled on its current strategy of acting as a wasati (middle-way) jihadi movement. Although he did not use the term in this recording, the middle-way theme has factored prominently in the discourse of al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, especially since the eruption of the Arab uprisings in 2011. Al-Qaeda seeks to synchronize the work of its franchises ideologically and strategically while working closely with local forces. In other words, it wants its local representatives to act more assertively as al-Qaeda but with closer cooperation with grassroots players.”