The Russian-language broadly pro-HTS (actually it is officially independent) media group Golos Shama (“Voice of Sham”) published an interview on 29 January with the amir of the Uzbek (with some ethnic Uighur) HTS jamaat Tawhid wal Jihad, Abu Saloh. The interviewer, Faruq Shami, speaks in Russian and Abu Saloh’s answers in Uzbek are dubbed into Russian. It’s an interesting interview for that reason and because of Abu Saloh’s reaction to the situation in Idlib and Hama, and because of his background. I wrote an analysis for Jane’s and my translation of the interview has been sitting on my desk for two days, as events overtook me and I didn’t get a chance to post it. So here it is.
Some context: the interview takes place near the front as TwJ are preparing to go and fight — you can see a group of them in the background.
The interviewer asks Abu Saloh to comment on the “panic” by activists on the internet etc regarding the recent loss of territory in Idlib and elsewhere by HTS/other rebel groups (in particular he is referring to the loss of Abu Duhur air base on 21 January).
The main reason for the abandonment of certain lands and for the tactical withdrawal from certain areas by the Mujahideen of Sham are those [people] who have been considered throughout the history of Islam as a “cancerous tumor” for this Ummah and who have always been a dagger in the back of this Ummah – these are the Kharijites [he is of course referring to Islamic State — ed]. The Kharijites waited for such a moment when the Mujahideen were fighting on many fronts against the infidels. Using this situation, they despicably attacked the Mujahideen. This became a heavy burden for the Mujahideen and a heavy load. During the hostilities against the Kharijites, hundreds of Mujahideen were martyred. And praise be to Allah as many of the Kharijites were also killed. Having seized the moment, the infidels and kharijites jointly attacked the Mujahideen at the same time. As a result, the Mujahideen retreated from some settlements. One of the main reasons for the retreat of the Mujahideen, as I have said, is the advance of the Kharijites. And the second reason is that those areas from which the Mujahideen retreated are open areas. Because the heavy weapons of the infidels work well in open areas, the Mujahideen were compelled to withdraw from some settlements. But praise be to Allah, for the moment, the Mujahideen have realigned their ranks. And this is what Allah has ordained. As Allah said: “We alternate days of happiness and misfortune for people.” Sometimes the hand of infidels will prevail, and sometimes the hand of Muslims will defeat the infidels. And thus will continue the trial from Allah.
The interviewer asks Abu Saloh about the spirits of the fighters given the current situation.
Praise be to Allah, the military spirit of the Mujahideen is at a very high level i.e. how can it be otherwise, if the Mujahideen go to the battlefield, seeking only the contentment of Allah and seeking to attain His Paradise? It can not be otherwise. The fighting spirit of the Mujahideen is at a very high level, praise Allah. The ruler of Oman accepted Islam because of Amr ibn al-Asa […] and explaining the reasons for coming to Islam said: “I followed such a messenger who follows all that he himself calls.” He avoids all that he warns against. If he prevails then he will not be proud, that is, he will not consider people as lower than himself, and if he is stricken, he will not lose heart.” We are also those Mujahideen who followed this man. If we win, we will not consider people lower than ourselves. If we lose and lose some land, well, we will not lose morale. Because the Almighty said: “Tell me, do you really expect that you will lose anything but one of two good things?” One of these benefits is that we will achieve shahada. And the second, that Allah will, with our hands, destroy the infidels and this too is good. Therefore, in the minds of the Mujahideen, there is no such thing as a fall in spirit.
He then talks about the Astana talks etc.
All these words are a lie. And this is one of the sort of lies that is being thrown up against the Mujahideen. The fighting in the east of the province of Hama has been going on for 3 months already. During these 3 months, about 1,350 Assadite soldiers have been killed and this is confirmed even by the infidel media. But in reality, these figures are much higher than they say. If the Mujahideen gave away these lands, then so many infidel soldiers there would not have been destroyed. And among the Mujahideen there were martyrs too. And the fighting continues. But the words saying that the Mujahideen have given away – it’s true. They gave away, they will give away and they are giving away today. But not the land of Muslims, but their lives to their Lord, insha Allah.