Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq has defied orders from the group's global chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to break up his claimed union with a jihadist group in Syria, according to an audio message released Saturday.
The purported remarks by Islamic State of Iraq head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the message posted on jihadist forums indicate tensions between ISI and Al-Qaeda's central command.
In April, Baghdadi announced that ISI had merged with Syria's Al-Nusra Front.
Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani acknowledged a relationship between the two groups, but he denied there had been a merger and publicly pledged his allegiance to Zawahiri.
Yet in Saturday's message, the man identified as Baghdadi said "the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant remains, as long as there is blood in our veins and our eyes are blinking."
"It remains, and we will not compromise; we will not give up... until we die."
Earlier this month, Zawahiri ruled that the ISI and Al-Nusra should operate as separate entities, according to a letter posted on Al-Jazeera's website.
Baghdadi had "made a mistake" by announcing a merger "without consulting us," he said.
The merger plan has been "damaging to all jihadists", Zawahiri said, adding that "Al-Nusra Front is an independent branch of Al-Qaeda."
But the message on Saturday said: "Regarding the message which was attributed to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri ... [I] was put in a situation, to choose between God's command and an order against God."
"I chose the order of my God, over the order against it in the message."
The audio message could not immediately be independently verified.
Al-Nusra Front, created in January 2012, joined Al-Qaeda last December on a US list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Among elements fighting to oust the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it is one of the best armed and most successful on the battlefield. It has carried out some of the deadliest attacks in the uprising, claiming responsibility for several suicide bombings.