The ethnic Circassian group Katibat Ahrar al-Sharkas has issued an audio statement announcing that it was joining the Junud al-Qawqaz faction. The move raises some interesting questions about Circassian nationalism, the Caucasus Emirate, networks of jihadis in Syria, and their extension into the North Caucasus. Continue reading
On Tuesday, a strange thing happened: a video appeared on Facebook and Russian social network VKontakte claiming that the Emir of the Aukhovsky Jamaat in “Vilayat Dagestan” (the Caucasus Emirate’s name for Dagestan) had sworn allegiance to Islamic State (IS). There were a number of fishy things about this video, however. Continue reading
The stories and rumors around Islamic State’s Syria military Emir (commander) Umar Shishani continue apace, with the recent claim by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov providing a convenient springboard for new myths and hype, in both Russia and among Umar’s associates in Syria. Let’s take a look at some of them. Continue reading
In November 2013, a scandal broke in Chechnya surrounding the head of the Republic’s Federal Migration Service, Asu Dudurkaev. The scandal has since become stranger and has widened to involve Umar Shishani, Austria, the Pankisi Gorge, and all kinds of odd claims. Let’s try to get to the bottom of it. Continue reading
Analysis over at RFE/RL soon.
Khalid Shishani, a Chechen jihadi from Sayfullakh Shishani’s Jamaat (part of Jabhat Al-Nusra) has given a “Clarification About Umar Shishani” in response to recent media reports about Islamic State (IS)’s military emir for northern Syria.
A translation is below.
Khalid starts with the traditional greeting to Allah.
I write this article as a caution for all Muslims with intellect. That they may be informed and that I may have justification before Allah Almighty on Judgement Day.
This caution and explanation will be about one Emir from “Dawla” [a term for IS]. But first I will introduce myself, so that there will be no doubt among the brothers and sisters about the author of this article: I am Khalid Shishani and I have been in Sham for nearly 2 years.
I was with Umar Shishani for half a year I was in “Dawla” with Sayfullakh Shishani and today as I write these lines I am in Jabhat Al-Nusra, that is the branch of Al Qaeda in Sham. Many people from Dawla know me personally not for the first year [i.e. they’ve known him some time], we previously fought side by side against the Kuffar, before they raised their weapons against the Mujahideen. Of course, I won’t write my biography here, I will conceal it for reasons of the security of my family, my relatives and nearest and dearest. You can watch my videos, brothers and sisters, on my YouTube channel and you can also write me on Facebook.
Now: I have to explain to the Muslims about individuals who today are deceiving the Muslims, and misleading them and these individuals are just using the Muslims for their own ends, whether that’s for glory or power or for more awful reasons. And one of these persons is Umar Shishani. I won’t go into his life before the jihad in Syria. Suffice it to say that he participated in the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 on the side of Georgia. And brothers who crossed the border with him say that he fought with the intention of jihad against Russia.
Then, in Syria, at first he was in the jamaat of Abu Hamza Shishani. Because of some sort of disagreement he left that jamaat with a group of his supporters. Then his jamaat grew, and gained influence and fame. I won’t write any more about the history of Umar in Syria, i.e. I don’t see any point in this article, but I will stick to Umar Shishani’s personality. At first glance, Umar is a nice, smiling person. But appearances don’t tell you anything. Let me tell you about the actions and qualities of Umar Shishani.
This person did not divide trophies according to Sharia Law. He left all trophies entirely in Bayit ul-Mal and did not give out the legal share to the Mujahideen, even though many Mujahideen needed some sort of material support. He only started to distribute trophies after (when he was already in IS) his Emir, Abu Bakr Baghdadi ordered him to distribute them. No one has any right under Sharia not to distribute trophies among the Mujahideen. What Umar did was injustice and oppression of the Mujahideen.
Umar Shishani is a person who is absolutely useless in military terms.
He lacks knowledge of military tactics — and that’s if we put it in good terms. Take note that only the infidel [i.e. the Western] mass media has written about Umar Shishani’s military genius. They have greatly inflated his identity and presented him as a genius military specialist, which is completely the opposite of the real picture. This person only knows how to send Mujahideen as cannon fodder, that is all.
What are the operations at Menagh Airbase worth. There were about 100 infidels [Assad’s forces] there surrounding us. There were buildings that the infidels had entrenched themselves in and there was a fence with holes around it through which we got into the offensive, and between the infidels and these fences was half a kilometer of open field through which groups of Mujahideen with assault rifles, several machine guns and grenades, without enough ammo and without first aid kits were sent against the Assadites’ fortified positions, tanks, Zushkas, etc. Brothers said repeatedly to the command of his operation that we needed to use military tactics, that it was impossible this way, that on Judgement Day all the Emirs would answer for it. But they were ignored. That airbase did not operate after it had been surrounded and no airplanes took off from there. But the aim of taking the airbase was the trophies that were there, the weapons.
When the Free Syrian Army lent Umar Shishani tanks for the operation on the condition that he would give them part of the trophies after the airbase was liberated, Umar refused them out of is greed and indifference to the lives of the Mujahideen. Trophies are more important to him than the lives of the Mujahideen. And the brothers were sent as cannon fodder, considering that they had to obey their Emir absolutely in everything, halal or not, which is incorrect according to Sharia Law. These operations, like all the operations of Umar Shishani that I know of, are in fact the murder of Mujahideen. The result of that operation at Menagh was more than 300 deaths, and the infidels had just 100. The infidels were surrounded for more than a year. Moreover, the significant part of these infidels had left the area, taking with them an enormous part of the weapons that were in that airbase they took the weapons on trailers and in the end Umar Shishani was left with a few weapons as trophies.
Before Menagh there was the operation at the Khan Tuman airbase. There the Mujahideen on Umar’s orders ran toward the fortified positions of the infidels across a field of 700 meters. They say that Umar was among those storming [the base]. Around 40 brothers died. That is a catastrophic loss for one operation regardless of the outcome. And similar disasters for the Mujahideen are the norm for Umar Shishani.
When I went to him for a talk and I told him that it’s impossible this way, that this is a mistaken tactic, he replied that this is a great tactic and the problem is that several people don’t obey their Emir. And this is one example of “disobedience” that he talked about, in one operation at Menagh, two groups were ordered to enter the airbase through a hole in the fence. That hole was in the open sight of one of the infidels’ tanks, i.e. two groups of Mujahideen had to get through one hole in the fence in full view of the infidels — that is simply suicide.
And the Emir of one of the groups refused to carry out this idiotic order and said that his group would not enter that way. And the second group went through, and the tank immediately hit them and smashed them into little bits. They collected the bodies in a pickup truck — torsos, legs, heads, bits of meat, and no one even apologized to the brothers for this crime. For Umar Shishani it’s nothing, for him the Mujahideen are just cannon fodder, foot soldiers, who he uses for his own ends, and the life of a Muslim for him has no value.
I also wanted to talk about the villainy that Umar Shishani did in relation to Sayfullakh Shishani. Umar somehow decided to get rid of Sayfullakh Shishani. I don’t know if it was at his instigation or in agreement with his circle. Umar decided to kick Sayfullakh out but there was no reason for it. But for Umar, a lack of any reason isn’t a problem, and he thought up some reasons, and accused Sayfullakh — who brought a million dollars into the jamaat — of squandering for no reason (stealing) money from the Baitul-Mal (the jamaat’s fund). And he accused Sayfullakh of being a takfiri. At first Umar went to Sayfullakh’s group at the base, and told him that he was no longer part of the jamaat. And before he arrived, Umar placed snipers and gunners on the roofs of the houses around his base, and put a Dushka at the entry to the base, a Dushka directed at the entry/exit of the base. Umar told his brothers, “maybe today you’ll have to kill those who you’ve known for a long time”, meaning Sayfullakh and his circle. One brother, a gunner, said, “I won’t fire at brothers”, and he took his gun and then there appeared a crowd of those willing to take the gun and kill brothers and fulfill any order from the Emir. Then Sayfullakh came. One brother from Sayfullakh’s group said in front of everyone, that Umar had kicked them out and Umar replied, “Wallah, I’ve not kicked you out!”. Then Umar accused Sayfullakh of theft and takfir, Sayfullakh was far away from him. Sayfullakh was in shock from these lying accusations. Then Umar and his circle started to goad Sayfullakh into a fight. Umar reached for his pistol.
One of them jumped up and started shouting: “Do you want to deal in the jahili [ignorant, pre-Islamic] way? Let’s do it in the jahili way! You wanna shoot?! Let’s shoot!” And a Sharia judge, an Arab, was silently watching the scene, not realizing what was happening. In response to all this Sayfullakh got up, gave a salam to everyone, and left. Then Umar’s cesspool-site “fisyria” wrote a lying article about the Sayfullakh, under the byline of Umar Shishani. Yes, and it added that out of those who left with Sayfullakh from Umar’s Jamaat allegedly half of them “repented and returned to the Jamaat”, which is a shameless lie, and not a single brother went back to Umar. After this article Sayfullakh asked Umar why he wrote it, to which he replied that he did not write it. I am a witness to how Umar Shishani said his propagandist wrote this article, brought it for approval, Umar read it and approved. Thus, for this man there is no problem with lying under oath. And it is a sign of hypocrisy.
And this is the man who today is fighting against the Mujahideen, spilling the blood, honor and property of Muslims. He is one of the leaders of wickedness, a criminal, a liar, one of those who renounce the Shariah court, one of those who deceive with their success, one of the Kharijites.
There has been a lot of media attention recently on the threat posed, specifically to Russia, by “Chechens” in the Islamic State. (I wrote about that here.)
Here is some new information that I obtained recently from some sources close to Islamic State:
— About a week ago I noticed that some Russian speaking IS-associated individuals were using the term Abu Kamil Jamaat in connection with the offensive on Kobani, specifically regarding the units approaching from the south and then later with respect to deaths of jihadis inside Kobani.
— After doing some digging I learned that:
— The Abu Kamil Jamaat is not a purely Chechen jamaat but contains various ethnic groups, but appears to be comprised predominantly of North Caucasians and possibly others from the former USSR, including Azerbaijanis.
So that’s something worth watching in terms of figuring out who is fighting at Kobani… I still don’t know how large this group is or who its leader is, but I am working on finding out.
Outside of the Kobani offensive, there are a number of jamaats of fighters from the former USSR. These jamaats are roughly but not completely based along ethnic/kinship ties.
Jamaats do usually have a majority ethnicity e.g.
Jamaat Sabri is “a more Dagestani jamaat” (I had previously thought it to be more Uzbek, but it seems its composition has changed).
Jamaat Adama and Jamaat Akhmada – Chechen jamaats.
Jamaat Daoud – Kazakh jamaat.
Jamaat Khattaba – Azerbaijani
Abu Hanif – Uzbek
There are barely any jamaats that have only one ethnicity, even if they have a majority of a single ethnicity. For example, the Daoud faction in IS is referred to as a Kazakh Jamaat but as well as Kazakhs it contains Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Nogais, Karachaevs, Russians, Ossetians, Dagestanis, Chechens, Tajiks, Arabs, and a German.
“WE ARE A GATHERING OF NATIONS, A MELTING POT”
IS fighters insist that there is no division by ethnicity in jamaats. In fact, the line given by IS fighters from these jamaats is that IS is a melting pot of Muslims, and ethnicity is not only not important, but a negative trait, a sign of “nationalism”. They say that the reason the West cannot defeat IS is because it is comprised of Muslims from all over the world.
It is interesting to note that I have heard this same line from fighters in non-IS factions including from those in Latakia factions who were previously fighting for the Caucasus Emirate and who one might expect to express a sense of national or ethnic pride toward Chechens. However, these Chechen fighters tend to express the following ideas:
— “Chechen” or “Shishani” has been turned into a “brand” in Syria. Jihadis think that having the name “Shishani” will make people think they are better fighters. E.g. Umar Shishani gives himself that name but he is really a Georgian (non-IS Chechens tend to be very negative towards Umar and one way of insulting him is to call him Umar Gruzinetz – Umar the Georgian, an ironic insult when the speaker is trying to assert that nationality is not important!). Abu Jihad, Umar’s second in command, has also dubbed himself “Abu Jihad Shishani”, though he is apparently a Karachai.
— Fighters won’t talk about being Chechen “in case you think we are being nationalistic”, which is against jihad.
A SMALL DIGRESSION ABOUT RESEARCH METHODS
The media coverage of “Chechens” made me realize (again) that (a) “Chechens” is often used as something of a catch-all term for “Russian-speaking foreign fighters and/or foreign fighters from the former USSR”, and (b) actually very little is known about WHO these fighters are, where they are fighting, their groups and so on.
That is hardly surprising. There is not an awful lot of readily-accessible information out there about these fighters, even less so since what I have dubbed the Great VK Banning of Jihadi Accounts. Even then, these accounts are often not opaque in terms of the information they present (they are mostly in-group discussions, they definitely don’t talk to Western journalists); they are in (bad) Russian so that means non-Russian speakers can’t find or access them anyway; and they are mostly private accounts.
Sometimes, when one reads a news report that states, unequivocally, that one fighter or another (usually Umar Shishani) is in a certain place or is responsible for a certain strategy or has made a certain threat, digging back to the source of those stories is frustrating, leading either to a dead end, an unconfirmed quote, or a very dubious Iraqi or Kurdish news source that cites “unnamed security sources” who just so happen to have thorough knowledge of Umar’s plans to attack, say, Kirkuk from a particular direction at a particular time.
Nevertheless, it is possible to get information: one has to dig for it, figure out where people talk, access networks (time consuming and not easy), talk to people, piece things together, translate lengthy video addresses, ask other researchers, share information with them, and so on. And I’m sure other researchers do far more painstaking work than my humble efforts.
So none of the information I find is a 100% total picture of what is it like on the ground in Syria. Loyalties shift, jamaats come and go, battles happen, jihadis are killed, some disappear or change their screen names, there is a moral outrage on Twitter from people who never cared about jihadis previously and VK bans accounts, you name it.
This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for RFE/RL’s Islamic State blog, Under The Black Flag, discussing recent media reports warning that the Islamic State is “grooming” Chechen fighters against Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
How credible are these threats, and rumors of threats, from Islamic State? Does Islamic State have plans to mobilize its North Caucasian and other fighters from the former Soviet Union against Russia?
At least until recently, any direct threat of “blowback” — jihadis returning from Syria and committing terrorist acts in their home countries — to Russia would more likely have come from North Caucasian fighters in factions other than Islamic State, particularly those linked to the Caucasus Emirate, the North Caucasian jihadi organization considered a terror group in Russia.