Umar Shishani’s confidante Abu Jihad has appeared in a new video from the Russian-language Furat Media, which shows a group of Russian-speaking militants being “trained” (or hyped up) to become an elite “death squad” in Iraq’s Anbar province. A few notes about the video, which is entitled “Iraq: Yearning For Paradise.”
There are a several rather interesting things about this video:
— The video has a twist! At the end, we learn that the militants featured in the video carried out a “successful operation, as a result of which an Iraqi military base on Lake Tharthar was captured. 180 soldiers of the Iraqi army were taken prisoner, and afterward were executed. Among the dead was one general and several high ranking officers.” As I note below, the operation seems to be the April 25 attack on a dam at Lake Tharthar.
— Most if not all of these are Russian-speaking militants (given that the speeches shown in this training day are all in Russian, it would be rather dull for those who did not understand the language.) But not all of them are North Caucasians, some seem to be Central Asians.
— Abu Jihad and his group, including the Dagestani preacher Akhmad Medinsky who recently pledged allegiance to IS, identify themselves as being in Iraq, not in Syria.
— Abu Jihad and Medinsky are involved with a North Caucasian training exercise for elite militants (at least, that is what they want to portray in the video, though in reality the “training camp” looks like an indoor display of gymnastics where the militants are just showing off skills rather than learning new ones).
— The video is labeled Furat Media not ShamToday, suggesting that either Abu Jihad has his own media group now, or that ShamToday has started to brand itself as Furat.
As I noted above, the end title of the video is a text explaining that the militants shown in the video had been used in a “successful operation” at Lake Tharthar in Iraq’s Anbar province.
The timing of the video and the information in the text suggests that it is referring to the April 25 attack on a dam on Lake Tharthar in Anbar, when IS militants used three suicide attacks as part of an assault to capture the dam and overrun an Iraqi army base.
News reports about the attack said that IS had killed over 120 soldiers and a senior general.
This is the first evidence that Russian speaking militants have been deployed to Anbar province.
The video, as I note below, refers to the militants being trained as a special squad of those who have “pledged allegiance to death,” suggesting that they are being prepped to be suicide bombers.
The April 25 attacks on the Tharthar dam involved three suicide truck bombings, though according to Bloomberg the suicide bombers were not Russian speakers but militants from France, Belgium and Senegal.
Why call the militants “those who have pledged allegiance to death” if they are not suicide bombers? Perhaps because they are signing up to be on the front lines of very tough offensives, where they are almost certain to be killed. The terminology used in the video and the intense emotions displayed by the militants strongly suggests that they are about to do more than just fight in an ordinary offensive.
More about the video
Anyway, here is the opening credit, which shows the title in Russian:
The video features footage of a group of militants undergoing training exercises, with the caption, “Training camp for the special squad who have pledged allegiance to death.” It is unclear if this is a euphemism for suicide bombers (in which case it is hard to understand the gymnastic and going upstairs holding a gun drills shown in the video) or if it implies elite fighters who are all dying (forgive the pun) to become martyrs.
Abu Jihad appears, dressed in a cowl rather than a military uniform, where a split screen effect gives the impression that he is preaching to the audience of militants. Abu Jihad has worn this get up in his most recent video.
At 4:19, one of the militants gives an impassioned address in accented Russian to “those Muslims who used to say that they wanted a caliphate” but who have not come to Syria to fight “in the path of Allah.” The militant breaks down in tears during his speech, something I have not seen before on an IS Russian-language video.
This militant has been named on Russian language pro-IS social media as Abu Daoud. He says, “Абу Бакр Аль Багдадий да богаславит тебя Аллах и в этой жизни и на том жизни , что бы Аллах тебе 200 Гурий дал! Он Дар от Аллаха, Он Лев От Аллаха, Он милость Аллаха для миров Ин ша Аллах! БиизниЛлях ! Мы будем за него , Ин ша Аллах он слова скажет, Мы Дунья БиизниЛлях отрежем как кусок Торта оставляем!”
Which translates as, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may Allah bless you in this life and in that life, let Allah give you 200 Houris. He is a gift from Allah, He is a Lion from Allah, He is the blessing of Allah for the worlds, inshallah. We will be for him, inshallah, he says a word and we will slice the world like a piece of cake.”
One of the most interesting things about this video is the appearance in it of Akhmad Medinsky, a Dagestani preacher who alongside two other Dagestanis recently pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and moved to Iraq.
I wrote about Medinsky here, in a piece exploring Abu Jihad’s new push to “empire build” particularly by trying to take advantage of the vacuum caused by the death of the Caucasus Emirate leader Ali Abu Mukhammad. Medinsky is a Dagestani Salafi preacher whose addresses are widely shared on pro-jihad social media. He pledged allegiance to Baghdadi recently with two others, Abdullakh Abu Mukhammad and Abbas Abu Aisha, both of whom appear in this video, seated to the left of Medinsky.
In his loud address, which takes place in the same large, carpeted hall as the training drills, Medinsky says (among many other things) that neither IS leader Baghdadi nor Umar Shishani created “Dawlah” (i.e. IS) but that Allah did so. That Medinsky should mention Umar Shishani is no coincidence: Abu Jihad is close to Umar, who as a North Caucasian is linked to the North Caucasian jihadi world.
This militant asks Allah to bless Baghdadi: