A new development in the ongoing and increasingly bitter infighting among North Caucasian militants aligned to the Islamic State group and Caucasus Emirate in Syria, and those in the North Caucasus has unfolded over the past week. Key events have centered on a recent audio/video address by Abu Jihad, the close confidante of the Islamic State group’s military Emir in Syria, Umar Shishani, which the Caucasus Emirate’s Sharia judge Abdulla Kostekskiy has criticized, as have pro-CE accounts on social media.
Abu Jihad aka Islam Atabiyev (read more about him and his past in Karachay-Cherkessia here) made his audio address on December 10. Called “The Dogs Bark and the Caravan Moves On” (an Arabic proverb that is hugely popular among Russian-speaking militants, it seems!), the hour-long address criticizes the Caucasus Emirate, its emir Ali Abu Mukhammad and discusses the recent meeting between Salakhuddin Shishani, the emir of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (the CE’s affiliate in Syria) and IS leaders in Raqqa. (More on that meeting here.)
This post deals with the first half of Abu Jihad’s address and includes a short note about Kostekskiy’s critical response. I have dealt with the various parts of the address as they come up, and included them all here because of time constraints, even though each one really merits its own deeper discussion.
Opening of the address
Abu Jihad opens his hour-long lecture by saying he wants to respond to the address by “our brothers in the Caucasus, from the Rabbanikalinsky Jamaat.”
Abu Jihad is referring to a short audio address that was shared on YouTube in November including on the Vilayat Dagestan channel and which purports to be from the Caucasus Emirate’s Rabbanikalinsky Jamaat in Dagestan.
The address is entitled, “Address To The Brothers In The Caliphate” and the speaker says that he wants to give regards to “Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Kurayshi” and to Umar Shishani and (of course) Abu Jihad. The speaker says the jamaat supports the jihad of the Caliphate (a reference to the Islamic State group — Russian-speakers who support or belong to the group refer to now as “Khalifat” as well as “Dawla”).
Who is the Rabbanikalinsky Jamaat?
Before we go any further, let’s make a short digression and have a look at the Rabbanikalinsky Jamaat.
The Rabbanikalinsky Sector is the Caucasus Emirate’s name for what it used to call the Kizilyurtovsky Sector in Dagestan, presumably roughly contigious with the Kizilyurtovsky district:
Apart from the claimed address by the jamaat, I can find very little relating to the jamaat for the last year.
There is this report from January that talks about various clashes with Russian security services in the area. http://ummanews.com/news/last-news/11927–1434-.html
Pro-CE accounts on social media talk about the death of two militants in the region on December 9.
@ExtremistRussia writes that the group’s previous Emir was named Abu Dujana but says he has not heard much from the group for a while.
— Extremist Russia (@ExtremistRussia) December 14, 2014
Chechen analyst Mairbek Vatchagaev says that although the tone of video address is in favor of IS, the fact that the speakers cover their faces indicates they are “pawns”
— mairbek (@Mairbek_France) December 14, 2014
Read here about IS’s attempt to show that another Dagestan jamaat belonging to the CE had sworn allegiance to IS, and the CE’s rebuttal.
It is clear that Abu Jihad is trying to make a case for the fact that some in the Caucasus Emirate are supportive of IS, even though he appears to say otherwise in his speech.
Abu Jihad: We Say Salam Back, Including The Sabri Jamaat
Abu Jihad goes on to quote from the Quran, a section that refers to the concept of ansars (“helpers”) and giving assistance. He says that he and his brothers in IS return the greetings and that the Uzbek/Dagestani Sabri jamaat also give their own individual greeting.
“Your salam seemed all the more warm because it came to us after a long and cold silence from the mujahideen and the Muslims of the Caucasus,” Abu Jihad said, adding that the oaths of allegiance of some of the “brothers who supported us from the beginning” had been received.
“Regarding the rest, we do not understand their silence. A silence at a time when the infidels of the entire world are attacking us in order to extinguish the light of Allah.”
Abu Jihad also criticizes scholars who he says have slammed IS, saying that they have joined the Taghut. “The infidels are ready to pay any money for this propaganda.”
Pictured: Abu Baseer al Tartousi whom Abu Jihad accuses of criticizing IS.
Abu Jihad says it is a great shame that the emir of the CE, Ali Abu Mukhammad, has also gone over to that side. Abu Jihad refers to Ali Abu Mukhammad’s “famous speech” which he said was full of lies and untruths about IS. (It is worth noting that in his speech, Ali Abu Mukhammad said he had never heard of Abu Jihad — an obvious insult, as well as implying that Abu Jihad was considered a nobody who had never been part of the CE.)
Abu Jihad notes that Ali Abu Mukhammad says IS had “removed its mask” and had named a group of jihadi scholars who opposed IS. According to Abu Jihad, the silence of the mujahideen of the Caucasus was a “sign of agreement” with the CE Emir.
Abu Jihad goes on to say that “jamaats from around the entire world gave bayat to the Caliph [IS leader Baghdadi] but the mujahideen of the Caucasus kept silent” and that IS hoped that they would come to their senses and turn to the “path of truth” including by talking to them but they refused to listen.
Abu Jihad slams Salahuddin Shishani
Abu Jihad says that the “biggest Satan” of them all is the emir of the Caucasus Emirate’s affiliate in Syria, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar. In this part of the address, Abu Jihad discusses the recent meeting in Raqqa between Salakhuddin and “IS leaders”. I covered that meeting here, and speculated that the IS leaders in question were likely Umar Shishani. Abu Jihad says he was present at the meeting, making it almost certain that Umar was as well.
Abu Jihad makes several interesting (and incorrect) claims about the factions asking for a truce, and also (bizarrely) suggests that the United States is collaborating with JMA in Aleppo. Although these claims and suggestions seem wrong and bizarre, it is worth noting that it is likely Umar Shishani believes them to be true.)
Abu Jihad says:
— in his last address, Salakhuddin talks about his trip to Rakka, an attempt to make a truce between the Muslims.
— He said he met with the leaders of IS who refused a truce.
— I was at that meeting myself so I will talk about it
— First we will say from whom exactly Salakhuddin came to ask for a truce.
— despite the fact that when he asked for permission for a meeting, he was told that a conversation could happen only about him and his jamaat, he came on behalf of others.
— During the whole meeting he only mentioned one official, Abdulaziz Salama (of Liwa al-Tawhid). He didn’t mention any other name.
— He just gave the names of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Muhajideen.
— Anyone who has been in Sham knows that Liwa al-Tawhid is part of the Free Syrian Army, which America supported from the start of the war.
Abu Jihad goes on to talk about the Geneva II conference and said that Liwa al-Tawhid wanted to represent the interests of the West at the conference.
Abu Jihad says that Jaish al-Muhajireen are “enemies of Allah that consists of several FSA groups.”
— Regarding the Islamic Front, Abu Jihad says they are funded by Qatar.
— Regarding Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate: Abu Jihad says they tried to make alliances with everyone including the FSA and the Kurdish PKK. He criticizes them for “freeing an American journalist who went to Tel Aviv.” (He is referring to Peter Theo Curtis, who was released in August.) “They are trying to show that they are not terrorists like us and that you can talk to them.”
— He complains that Salakhuddin’s truce did not specify a time limit so maybe his side would break the agreement and attack IS.
— Abu J says the US openly announced they are opening a training camp for rebels in NW Aleppo where JMA are located. This is part of his argument that JAN etc were trying to gain points with the West.
— “He presented himself as a guarantor of security, creating a buffer zone between IS and his brothers, i.e. we have to remove our ribats and send them to fight the Assadites [Syrian government forces].”
To illustrate his point, Abu Jihad uses footage from previous videos uploaded by Russian-speaking IS militants, who claimed to have defected to IS from JMA.
Caucasus Emirate reaction
There has been a very strong reaction to Abu Jihad’s address on social media.
(Here Abu Jihad is referred to as Abu Kazzab [“liar”].)
Abdulla Kostekskiy, described as a Sharia judge of the CE, has also made an address criticizing Abu Jihad, in which he accuses Umar Shishani’s sidekick of spreading propaganda among Russian-speaking Muslims.
Kostekskiy says that Abu Jihad wants to divide the mujahideen of the Caucasus and get them to join IS so that the Caucasus Emirate would be destroyed.