A strange thing happened regarding Muslim Shishani, the Emir of the Junud a-Sham (JAS) faction in Latakia: his “media mujahideen” announced that JAS was merging with Ahrar a-Sham, then deleted all references to that announcement after Ahrar a-Sham denied it. Since then — silence. So what happened? One explanation has emerged…and it has to do with Umar Shishani and the cousin of Caucasus Emirate propagandist Movladi Udugov.
Abu Huraira, an associate of Muslim Shishani, tweeted about the rumors, and said that the only official accounts belonging to Junud a-Sham were on Twitter:
в последнее время вышло много пользователей, выдающих себя за Муслима Шишани. Однако, кроме Твиттара в данный момент нас нигде нету.
— AbyHyraira (@AbyHyraira) November 26, 2014
Apart from that — nothing.
A commenter on the Chechen Adamalla forum reported that Muslim Shishani is involved in a dispute in the Sharia court regarding an address he made some months ago on the “fitna” in Syria between the Islamic State group and other factions.
While this information has not been verified, it is worth posting and exploring, not least because it relates to the very complex and ongoing rift between various groups of Chechen jihadis in Syria and the Caucasus. The information also adds to our knowledge of who was allegedly influencing Umar Shishani before his move to Islamic State. Apparently, this was Isa Umarov, the cousin of Caucasus Emirate propagandist Movladi Udugov.
Let’s look at what Adamalla is saying, then examine some previous reports about Isa Umarov.
This is what he says:
Currently in Syria, a trial is ongoing. The son of Isa Umarov, Ali Umarov filed a lawsuit in Sharia Court against Muslim Abu Walid (Shishani), who wrote in his explanation about fitna in Syria about a professional psychologist (i.e. about Isa Umarov) [saying] that he made fitna between the Mujahideen in Chechnya which weakened the jihad in Chechnya. The judge selected is a neutral person from Jabhat al-Nusra.
The commenter says the offending parts of Muslim Shishani’s address include the following, relating to Umar Shishani’s decision to pledge allegiance to ISIS:
Back then, the largest foreign fighter group was Umar Shishani’s, and I heard that he himself hosted Abu Bakr for several days. I did not want him to get into this fitna, because we had a very close friendship and did not see any good in it
In any case, until Dr. Zawahiri said something, I did not want him to hurry [i.e. to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi and IS], since both Jolani and Abu Bakr were subordinate to him and he had to have the final word. But when I visited him it was too late, he said that he had sworn. It was for their PR, Umar had at the time about one thousand Muhajireen and it was a serious force. They consolidated their position. After all, it was mostly Caucasians who were with Umar, and they were known as good warriors and everyone tried to get more of them in their group.
We talked with him about many things, I explained as best I could to him that he should not go into this fitna, and that he should wait until everything was settled. And he was not sure of his choice and said, if the situation developed further for the worse, he would leave them. Everything depended on the decision of Dr. Zawahiri. But around him were people who influenced him greatly and I noticed these people didn’t miss a chance to strengthen him.
And when Dr Zawahiri’s address came out, where he told both to each remain in place and work as they worked before, and Abu Bakr refused to submit to him again, I went to see him [Umar]. But I saw that he finally became firm in his choice. Beside him was a professional psychologist who is known from Chechnya, where because of him there was no little fitna among the Mujahideen, and it was not without his participation that the jihad in Chechnya was weakened, but it’s a long topic and I will not dwell on this. He always appears in the right place at the right time and having done his business he walks away wiping his hands and enjoying the result of his work from a distance, taking a neutral stance.
So, the allegation is that Muslim Shishani accused Isa Umarov of causing fitna among Chechen jihadis. But beyond that, we learn that Isa Umarov had a role in influencing (or advising!) Umar Shishani.
Reports about Isa Umarov in Syria
This development — if true, and it does seem an unlikely rumor — would seem to confirm reports in the Russian media that Isa Umarov, Movladi Udugov’s cousin, is playing a role in recruiting Chechen jihadis to fight in Syria.
Kommersant reported this in July 2013:
According to Kommersant’s source… Isa Umarov, a cousin of Caucasus Emirate propagandist Udugov is engaged in the recruitment of Chechens to fight on the side of the Syrian opposition. Both took part in the story of the self-proclaimed Republic of Ichkeria as organizers of the jihadist coup against then-President Aslan Maskhadov in 1999.
“He [Isa Umarov] is in Syria, and sends out messages for Udugov’s Internet resources, and when it is necessary he crosses the Russian border, no problem, to recruit new fighters,” – said Usman Ferzauli.
(Not apropos, but interesting — Kommersant goes on to report that the British journalist John Cantlie, currently an IS hostage, reported in 2012 that he had been kidnapped in Syria by “Chechens”.)
More to come on the issue of Isa Umarov.