Turkish pro-jihadi website Ummet-i Islam has published an interview with the Emir of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), Salakhuddin Shishani.
JMA presents itself as the Caucasus Emirate’s affiliate in Syria.
Ömer Özdemir (@omer_behram) has kindly translated two of the questions put to Salakhuddin and the answers he gave.
The questions that Ömer translated relate to two interesting points.
The first is Salakhuddin’s reaction to the U.S. move to designate JMA as a terrorist group. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that Salakhuddin or anyone in JMA has reacted to the move to blacklist the group.
The second question and answer relates to Salakhuddin’s relationship with the Caucasus Emirate and his attitude to the Islamist insurgency/militancy in the North Caucasus. This is of particular interest to me, as I am looking at the motivations of North Caucasian militants in Syria. One of the most interesting phenomena I have seen is the way that, including for some of the veteran militants who have a history of participation in the militancy in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the fighting in Syria is experienced as a “displaced conflict.” Militants like Muslim Shishani (and now, as we will see Salakhuddin Shishani) are in Syria because they cannot fight in the North Caucasus. One interesting element of this sense of “displaced conflict” is reflected in issues that led to the continued and deepening split between JMA/CE and Umar Shishani’s faction in the Islamic State group — the IS North Caucasians accuse JMA/CE of “nationalism” and argue that there is no ideological justification for waging jihad in the North Caucasus when one can wage “five star jihad” in a “caliphate.”
I hope to write more on this in detail soon, but for now let’s look at Salakhuddin’s comments.
JMA was listed as a terrorist organization by United States. What do you think about it?
I don’t know what I’d say. Actually I don’t care about news like these.
But anyway I asked other mujahideen about this. And I saw that they are much more disinterested about this issue than me.
A jihad is ongoing in your homeland — the North Caucasus — for many years. What is the reason for Caucasian mujahideen to come to Syria?
Here,every one of us has different reasons. For example, I wanted to cross into Daghestan and Chechnya through Georgia [Salakhuddin is from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia — JP]. There’s a different story than mine on some Islamic news sites. In fact we wanted to go to Chechnya but we found ourselves in Syria. It was our fate.
In those days, I had pledged allegiance to Amir Dokku Abu Osman and now I have bay’ah to Ali Abu Muhammad..[the current Emir of the Caucasus Emirate — JP]
And if Emir of Imarat Kavkaz calls me back then I’ll leave my position of Emir in JMA and I’ll go wherever he wants me to go.
Not a great deal is known (so far — I am working on it!) about Salakhuddin Shishani’s background prior to being in Syria. It is known that he is named Feyzullah Margoshvili (he is no relation to Muslim Shishani, whose name is Murad Margoshvili, as far as I have been able to ascertain), and that he is from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. Salakhuddin was believed to be involved with the militancy in the North Caucasus before going to Syria, and this interview strengthens that belief: Salakhuddin talks about having an oath of allegiance to the Caucasus Emirate before going to Syria and retaining that after he got there, even after the death of Dokku Umarov.
Muslim Shishani also came to Syria after trying (and failing) to cross into Dagestan and then Chechnya at the time of the Lopota Gorge incident. Unable to fight in the North Caucasus, he went to Syria.
A younger and wounded Salakhuddin Shishani, presumably in the North Caucasus or Pankisi: