The Emir of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar has given an interview (his longest yet) in which he says he fought in Chechnya under Ruslan “Hamzat” Gelayev including in Abkhazia.
Before we get to the interview (which amazingly enough has been translated into English, saving me the trouble), let’s look at what Salakhuddin’s admission that he fought in Abkhazia.
There is some excellent background on Gelayev here, which notes that:
Gelayev was one of dozens of North Caucasians who travelled to the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, where he fought alongside Shamil Basayev in the Chechen battalion in the 1992-93 separatist war – something he later appears to have regretted and termed a Russian GRU operation
This is not the Abkhazia battle in which Salakhuddin fought, given that he would have been just 13 at the time. it is more likely that Salakhuddin fought there in 2002, when:
Gelayev’s units then fought their way into the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia, retreating shortly afterwards, having taken casualties. The unit then attempted to break into Ingushetia, engaging in fierce fighting in the village of Galashki
Gelayev would later become linked to groups in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, which is where Salakhuddin is from:
Then, in mid-2001, reports indicate that Gelayev and the remaining men under his command retreated through Dagestan, regrouping en route to the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. There, Gelayev became hosted by Vephija Margoshvili and continued to move between Chechnya, Dagestan and the Pankisi Gorge.
Read the original article from which I took these quotes here.
Another interesting point is that Salakhuddin reveals that Umar Shishani was present in Raqqa in November when he went to that town on behalf of a number of Syrian Islamist groups to try to reconcile with IS. I wrote about that here and suggested that Umar must have been present.
More on this later, but let’s get to the interview. I have bolded parts that I think are the most important/ interesting. The translation is not mine, so bear that in mind…
Salahuddin Shishani, commander of the brigade “Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar”, who reportedly came to Syria in 2012 after fighting for many years in Chechnya, gave an interview to “Al Jazeera Turk” on the battlefield. The 36-year old commander says his targets are only Bashar al Assad and the Shia militias. According to the commander, ISIS harmed mostly the foreign fighters with their attitude. Georgian-born Salahuddin Shishani, Umar Shishani (ISIS commander in Syria) and Muslim Shishani (leader of Junud ash Sham, who is fighting against the Assad regime in Latakia) are from the same village.
In which battlefields you have fought prior to Syria?
I started fighting in Chechnya in the group of the legendary commander Hamza Gelayev. For some time I was at the battlefront in Abkhazia. After the Georgian army blocked the way to Chechnya with 12,000 men, I came to Syria by the order of the Caucasus Emirate.
What influence do the Chechen fighters who were fighting for many years against Russia, have in Syria?
I can say that due to their experience in war and their own methods, our Chechen fighers had a great influence in these four years of war. And this influence still does exist.
We are proud to fight alongside our Syrian Ansar brothers and for the same goal.
There was a notable joining of Caucasian fighters to ISIS. How did the events that occured after that, affected your reputation among the Syrian people?
At the beginning the Syrian people welcomed us warmly. What happened afterwards is literally a Fitnah. ISIS declared war against all Mujahideen groups and created a new front.
Also many of our (Caucasian) youth believed in the deceptive propaganda of ISIS and joined them.
Unfortunatly, there are still young people who join them firstly because of their name and then because of the attraction of their propaganda.
ISIS has a strong propaganda which they use very well and which needs to be taken seriously.
Actually our youth came to this place to fight against Assad. But since ISIS declared war on the nation, those who joined them killed and are still killing innocent people.
Of course because of that we are suffering great harm although we don’t share their (ISIS) thinking or methods. At the moment, the Syrians are thinking about us the same what Chechens would think if people from Syria or Turkey were to go to our country with the claim to free them but in reality they would kill the people. Unfortunatly, here our Syrian Mujahideen brothers and their families are being unjustly killed by ISIS.
Some months ago you went to Raqqa as mediator to end the conflicts. What was discussed there and why it didn’t come to an agreement?
I went to Raqqa and met with high-ranking commanders of ISIS and Umar Shishani was among them.
Actually, the meeting ended before it really started because it didn’t come to a basis for any dialogue. Just when we started talking about the issue, they began to insult the Ameer of Jabhat an-Nusra and so I interfered. They didn’t stop with that. It was an hopeless attempt and while I knew that this would be the result, I wasn’t able to reject the requests of the fighting groups.
What were the expectations and requests of the resistance groups which chose you as mediator?
First of all, one of the most active battlefront in Aleppo, Handarat is a great threat and there was the risk that Aleppo could get surrounded at any time. The Mujahideen here requested me to make them (ISIS) the offer to stop the fighting between us for at least 3 to 6 months, so that we first could expel the regime from that area.
On both sides were youth who didn’t want to fight each other as long as Assad was present.
Their wish was to build a foundation for peace (“Sulh“) and to fight with their determination together against the army of Assad. But this suggest was ignored by ISIS.
ISIS carried out many attacks on important people of resistance groups and killed them. Which precautions you took when you went there?
Without going into details, but we also didn’t go there unprepared.
They would have paid a high price, if they dared to do something like that.
At the end, we went back to our area without being physically attacked – except verbal abuses.
After that an assassination attempt against you happened. Who was behind this?
Although not certain yet, this was an attack of ISIS.
One of our brothers became Shaheed in this attack. They intimidate us to give Bayah (pledge) to them.
Me and my group gave Bayah to the Ameer of the Caucasus (Abu Osman) and even though we said many times that we won’t break our pledge, they didn’t give up.
They try to eliminate those who are not on their side by killing them.
In this issue they don’t hesitate to spill Muslim blood.
The regime of Sham and Iran are using the presence of non-Syrian groups like you alongside the resistance groups as a justification for Shia groups in Syria.
Doesn’t your presence in Syria give the other side the same right?
In the past the Romans used to have a Praetorian Guard.
This was a special army of the imperator. Bashar Assad believes that the Shias came to Syria to support him. But all these groups are special forces of Tehran, just like the Praetorian Guard.
Some of the Baathist leaders see this but due their lack of strength to withstand the resistance fighters, they are forced to accept this option.
Iran sends their mercenaries just for its own benefit to the battlefield, they don’t care about the Nusayri regime.
However we don’t receive any direct or indirect support from anyone.
What brought us here and leads us to fight is that a calamity like Assad imposed himself on this nation.
Without any benefit for ourselves, we sacrifice our lives and our blood for the freedom of the Syrian nation. And we are proud to die so a government will be established with which Allah is pleased. But the Shia militas waste their lives here for the dark calculations of Iran. This is the difference between us.
How you are able to continue your battle without getting help?
We trust in our warfare and we use the war booty we capture to resist the injustice.
Currently we are in the possession of tanks and countless Ghanima which we captured from the Assad regime. Our Lord granted us the blessing of Jihad and supports us.
Only in our operation to the mountain in Maara we received financial support from a Arab Shaykh.
Also there we were successful and our Lord didn’t let us down.
In which battlefronts do you fight?
We are one of the first groups who entered the strategic province Jisr al-Shughur, which fell into the hands of the resistance fighters short while ago.
We took part in the operation of the resistance fighters who created “Jaish al-Fath“ to take over Idlib from the regime. We are also present in the military base in Mastuma, in the south of Idlib.
And we fight in the surrounding areas of Aleppo in the battlefronts Mallah, Layramon, Abu Duhur, Jabali Azzam and Kantuman.
How is the relationship between you and other Syrian groups?
We don’t have conflicts with any group. “Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar” continues their fight as an good example for the merging of Ansar and Muhajireen. Moreover, we and our brothers from the Ansar, established a joint group called “Ansar ud-Deen”. We are in the Muhajireen wing of this umbrella organization and the other wing consists of our our Syrian Ansar brothers like “Shaam al-Islam” or “Fajr ush-Shaam”.