DUBAI: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on Thursday pledged his group's allegiance to new Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor who is facing a bitter struggle over his leadership.
"As emir of al Qaeda, I pledge to you our allegiance, following the path of Sheikh (Osama) bin Laden and his martyred brothers in their allegiance to Mullah Omar," Zawahiri said in a recording, referring to the former al Qaeda leader and to the longtime Taliban chief, whose death was confirmed last month.
Mansoor, a longtime trusted deputy of Omar, is taking charge as the movement faces growing internal divisions and is threatened by the rise of the Islamic State group, which is making inroads in Afghanistan.
Zawahiri's pledge comes as al Qaeda also faces a growing rivalry for preeminence in the global militant movement with IS, which has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.
Read: Mullah Omar’s family rejects new Taliban supremo
The recording was featured in a video that opens with images of bin Laden -- who was killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011 -- pledging allegiance to Omar.
The recording then plays over a picture of Zawahiri, who is believed to be in hiding in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
He says that the "Islamic emirate" established by the Taliban in Afghanistan was the "first legitimate emirate after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and there is no legitimate emirate in the world apart from it."
He pledged to Mansoor to "implement sharia law" and to continue "jihad until every part of occupied Muslim land is free."
Read: Mullah Omar’s successor casts doubts on talks
Mansoor was announced as the new Taliban chief on July 31, after the movement confirmed the death of Omar, who led the militant insurgency for some 20 years.
But splits have emerged in the Taliban following the appointment, with some top leaders, including Omar's son and brother, refusing to pledge allegiance to Mansour.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid acknowledged the news of Zawahiri's pledge of allegiance, but told AFP: "We will react about it later.... We don't want to comment on it now."
Pakistani analyst Imtiaz Gul, an expert on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, said "Zawahiri's announcement is logical and true to the Islamic tradition of governance and succession, which is to say that whoever commands the majority of the Taliban should rightfully be the successor.
"This is in keeping with their political ideology. These organisations contest the idea of hereditary succession," he added.
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