Ethnic Kist Muslim Shishani (Murad Margoshvili), commander of the Junud al-Sham faction based in Latakia, has been conspicuous by his absence in recent months. On 22 April, he reappeared in a new video released by members of his media team.
Muslim Shishani and his military emir, Abu Bakr Shishani. The video shows Muslim and Abu Bakr on a hilltop overlooking the offensive against Syrian government forces in the government held town of Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib province.
The video says that the footage shows the opening stages of the offensive in Jisr al-Shughur, and that Junud al-Sham are participating alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the foreign fighter battalion Katiba Turkistan, whose name refers to an area covering Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang.
Muslim speaks in Chechen in the video, although in previous videos he has made showing his group in battle, he has spoken in Russian. This to me suggests there may be a different audience for this video.
Abu Bakr Shishani speaks about the offensive and makes a common mistake, saying that the foreign fighter battalion fighting alongside Junud al-Sham is from Turkmenistan, not the wider area of Turkistan.
There are several messages that the video is keen to point out. First, that Muslim Shishani is involved in the offensive (though we do not see him in battle in this footage); and second that his group is fighting with two major Syrian Islamist battalions. The wider message is of course that Muslim Shishani is still alive and still in Syria, both questions that have arisen during his unusual disappearance from the public eye.
There are still questions that arise from this video, however: we still do not know why Muslim was quiet for so long.
In previous videos, we have seen Muslim Shishani fighting at the heart of key battles, commanding his men, or talking (in Russian) in detail about offensives and gains.
Another thing that is very obvious from the video is that Muslim’s media team has changed. Previously, Muslim’s media efforts have also been in German and in Russian, suggesting that the team has been replaced with English speakers.