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Were Paris Attacks Coordinated Between ISIS And Al-Qaida?

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

As brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi left the scene of their brutal killings last week, they made clear that al-Qaida had guided their mission. For Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who attacked a kosher supermarket the next day, loyalty rested with another Islamist militant group, ISIS, the Islamic State. But behind the veneer of these apparently joint attacks is a bitter rivalry between two extremist groups vying for power, prestige and influence. For more, we reached Fawaz Gerges. He is chair of Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics, whose forthcoming book is "ISIS: A Short History."

Good morning.

FAWAZ GERGES: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, the only group that has taken credit so far for the Paris attacks is al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen. And intriguingly, it made it very clear that it was behind only the massacre at the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Give us a sense of tone on that one.

GERGES: I think the claim was very clear - it was us, al-Qaida, not ISIS that was responsible. It was us. We are back. We have the ability to target the Western world. ISIS does not have the same ability against the foreign enemy, meaning the United States and its European allies.

MONTAGNE: So when al-Qaida is saying, as you say, we are back, is that in light of the Islamic State getting so much publicity in these recent months?

GERGES: Yes. But there's more to the story than just the rise of ISIS. It's not just about the political rivalry. The rivalry's about supremacy, about power, about leadership. And at this particular stage, ISIS has won the first round. So the Paris operation gives al-Qaida momentum and also I think gives al-Qaida propaganda to say we have avenged the prophet. This tells you a great deal about the strategy behind al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. It would like to convince Muslim public opinion that al-Qaida is the vanguard of the Muslim community. Anyone who insults or anyone who attacks the Muslim community, basically al-Qaida will try to counterattack.

MONTAGNE: Although from the outside, one would think their goals were the same - these two militant Islamist groups.

GERGES: The goals are the same, basically to establish a caliphate, destroy the existing secular pro-Western order, expel decadent Western influence from the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. But this is easier said than done. What we have learned in the last two years as a result of the rivalry between ISIS and the parent organization Al-Qaida is that the fight, the struggle between Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the leader of al-Qaida, and Abu al-Baghdadi, the chief ISIS, is personal, is instinctive. This is all-out war. In fact, I would say that the fight between them is more brutal and more fierce than the fight between al-Qaida as a whole and the Western powers. And this tells you about the cleavages and the rift that has emerged within al-Qaida.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

GERGES: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Fawaz Gerges is the author of "The New Middle East: Protest And Revolution In The Arab World" and the forthcoming book "ISIS: A Short History." This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.