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Al Qaeda leader to Syria rebels: Stop the infighting and establish 'just Muslim government'

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Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaks in a video filmed in Oct. 2012.

Al Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri has urged jihadist rebel groups in Syria to stop their infighting and focus on the battle to overthrow Bashar Assad's regime so they can set up a "just Muslim government."

Clashes between Sunni militants, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda, have claimed more than 1,000 lives this month, according to a monitoring group.

"We invite them all to seek to stop this fighting between the brothers of jihad and Islam immediately," al-Zawahiri said in an audio message released on Thursday by al-Qaeda's media arm As-Sahab.

"We call upon the gracious ones... who seek to bring down the Assadi secular, sectarian, criminal ruling and establish [in its place] a just Muslim government, to seek to halt this [infighting], which only Allah knows where it will lead."

Al-Zawahiri took over as al Qaeda's leader following the death of Osama bin Laden in a raid by Navy SEALs in Pakistan in 2011.

According to a report by U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Jan. 16, fighting and executions between the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and rival rebel forces in Syria have resulted in more than 1,000 deaths in 2014 alone.

These rival groups include an alliance known as the Islamic Front and together they have been trying to push out ISIL.

Al-Zawahiri's message was released on day two of the first face-to-face peace talks between delegates from Assad's regime and the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, mediated by the U.N. and other world leaders in Switzerland.

NBC News terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann and Reuters contributed to this report.

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