Syria: Who is Muslim Abu Walid Shishani? Part One

With video footage showing that Chechen jihadi Muslim Abu Walid Shishani and his small jamaat, Junud al-Sham, is participating in the Latakia offensive, it is a good time to take a look at this fighter’s biography and personal beliefs.

A recent image of Muslim Shishani in Aleppo:

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This first section looks at Muslim’s biography before he came to Syria, and his reasons for choosing to fight in Syria rather than Chechnya. We also examine the early signs of the split and infighting between Umar Shishani and the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham, and how this split and “fitna” was the fissure that would widen and deepen into the bigger battles between ISIS and the major Syrian insurgent brigades.

INDEPENDENT FACTION

Muslim (who has been named as Muslim Margoshvili) has been in Syria since 2012 and has always remained independent of any other Chechen faction, preferring to lead his own group, and fight alongside Syrian Islamic brigades. He has refused to join ISIS, and has criticized that group and the attitudes of some foreign fighters, as we shall see below.

Muslim Shishani has until recently enjoyed a rather professional public relations service by a group of German-speaking “media mujahideen”, who created a website (shamcenter.info) and various other social media pages for the jihadi.

Here is the group’s promotional still for Muslim’s biopic:

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BIOGRAPHY

This video biography of Muslim Shishani was published last winter and offers a detailed account of how AM came to be fighting in Syria.:

According to the video, Muslim served in the air defense forces in Mongolia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he returned to Chechnya. In 1995 he joined the militia of al-Khattab, which consisted of foreign (mostly Arab) Mujahideen.

The video claims he has worked with many of the leaders of the Arab- Chechen divisions, including Abu Jafar and Abu al- Walid, the successor to Ibn Khattab.

Eventually, Muslim was promoted to a command position– Emir of Vedeno.

In 2002, Abu Walid sent Muslim to organize a new front in the Sunzha district, where the video claims he had a lot of fighters under his command.

In 2003, Muslim was captured by Russian forces, and held in a Russian prison for two and a half years.

After his release he went to Georgia for treatment. In 2008, after he recovered, Muslim organized a new group of militants in Dagestan.

Photos: Muslim Shishani in Dagestan:

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In 2012, Muslim went to Syria to help the insurgents.

IN SYRIA

LATAKIA OFFENSIVE

In Syria, Muslim gathered a group of mostly Chechen fighters and was a close companion of Sayfullakh Shishani.

In August 2013, he and his faction took part in the Latakia offensive and claimed credit for capturing a number of hilltop villages, notably Durin. Muslim gained the nickname “Sopka Durin” (“Durin hilltop” in Russian) for his feats.

In this video, from August 2013, Muslim explains what is happening in Latakia and that his group have taken hilltop villages:

CREATION OF NEW GROUP

In October 2013, Muslim created a group together with Sayfullakh Shishani and Abu Musa. The move marked what was to become a serious split among Chechen fighters. It came after Sayfullakh (Ruslan Machaliashvili) was ousted from what was previously the largest group of jihadists from the North Caucasus, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA), by Umar al-Shishani.

Muslim claimed that his new group contained 1,500 fighters though this is likely an exaggeration.

In a video from October 31 2013, in which Sayfullakh, Muslim, and Abu Musa explain why they have joined ranks, Muslim says that “brothers” in Syria would progressively join their ranks, because they realized that victory is impossible without unity.

He also says that, not only had his jamaat and those of Abu Musa and Sayfullakh united, but that other groups had as well, he and expressed the hope that the fruits of this unity will be felt very soon. He called on the “brothers” not to spread fitna.

“I WENT TO SYRIA, BECAUSE I COULDN’T GET TO CHECHNYA”

Muslim also talks about his relationship with Dokku Umarov, then Amir of the Caucasus Emirate. He says he originally planned to fight in Chechnya, and took an oath of loyalty to Umarov.

However, he was unable to get to Chechnya, and he went to Syria instead. Upon arrival in Syria , he consulted with Sayfullakh and prominent Chechen commander Umar Shishani, and Islamic scholars connected with the faction. They told him that the oath of allegiance to Umarov was valid only if a fighter was located on the territory controlled by this commander.

Accordingly, due to the fact that Umarov’s control does not extend to Syria, Muslim decided to operate independently.

Muslim emphasizes that he and his followers fled from the Caucasus because of the difficulties encountered there. They could not get there, so they are willing to help the Syrian brothers, but are hoping to fight in the Caucasus in the future. Returning to the theme of unity, Muslim encourages other brothers to join his group, and stresses that it welcomes Mujahideen of any nationality. He says he is willing to help his fellow jihadists in any part of Syria, and expects them to do the same.