Almost three hours of video footage from 2014 featuring Umar Shishani, IS’s military commander, and his close confidante Abu Jihad has come to light, in which Umar addresses the then-emir of the Caucasus Emirate, Kebekov, and says he did not have a bay’ah to Dokku Umarov when he came to Syria in the autumn of 2012.
This post deals with the first segment of the footage, which is a video address from Umar to the then newly appointed leader of the CE Kebekov in which Umar gives some personal information about his background and loyalties and the relationship between his group in Syria and the CE in the Caucasus and its representatives in Turkey.
I will examine the remaining segments of the video in later posts.
Umar’s address sheds some more light onto why he decided to move over to IS rather than remaining with a CE aligned group. It is interesting that Umar does not talk about jihadi ideology but about infighting within the CE groups in Syria at the start of the emergence of Chechen militants in that country.
The first segment of the video in which Umar’s address appears looks like it was shot on the banks of the Euphrates river in Deir al-Zor in Syria. There are sounds of fighting in the background..
Umar and Abu Jihad appear in the first two segments of the video with two unidentified militants, one of whom is wearing a yellow “Imarat Kavkaz” t-shirt of the type worn by North Caucasian militants in several groups in Syria, including Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar and Anjad al-Kavkaz (formerly Khalifat Jamaat).
The second segment of the video is shot in what appears to be the same location, but at night.
Date of the first segment
The date on which the first segment of video footage was shot is unclear.
It was uploaded to archive.org in August 2014 but appears to have been shot before that date.
There a couple of clues in the content of the video as to the timeframe of when it was shot.
The first segment contains an address by Umar to Ali Abu Mukhammad (Aliashkhab Kebekov) congratulating him on his appointment as Emir of the Caucasus Emirate (CE); Kebekov accepted his appointment as Emir in March 2014, suggesting that this video was made sometime after that. That Umar and his three companions are able to sit outside in full daylight, three wearing jackets, suggests that the video address was not made in summer. Umar also made a video address that was released in March 2014 in which he gave his condolences on the death of former CE emir Dokku Umarov.
Address to Abu Ali Mukhammad
The footage contained in this three hour video were never released as formal video addresses by FiSyria, the website that had effectively served as the media outlet for Umar and his faction within JMA and later IS. The footage in the first and second segments is long and unedited.
Umar did release a video in March 2014 in which he expressed condolences for the death of Umarov, but that video was shot in a very different style to the footage contained here. This footage is in the style that Umar and Abu Jihad had used previously, i.e. sitting on the floor and speaking to camera without editing. The condolences video is more professionally done and has been edited (and Umar’s beard had been groomed).
In this unreleased footage, Umar addresses Kebekov directly, saying that the video was made for him and that he is pleased that Kebekov has been appointed CE Emir and expresses the wish that God give the CE victories useful for the Muslims living in the Caucasus. He says that the reason for waging jihad there is to establish the laws of Allah.
Umar talks about what is happening in Syria and the relationship between the CE and IS.
Here are some notes about what Umar covers in the address:
— “When I came to Syria about a year ago I did not have a bay’ah to Dokku, I am from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia.”
— Umar says is an ordinary Muslim and tried to help his “brothers” in the Caucasus when he was in Pankisi.
— He ended up in prison because of that. [Umar was arrested and charged after weapons were found in his family home in Pankisi. This is an interesting comment because it would appear to negate suggestions that Umar was framed.]
— When he came to Syria, after 4 months, he found a group that included representatives of the CE, they said that there was a need to help the CE and set up some sort of Muaskar (training camp) for “brothers” who were sent from there to here. But Umar criticizes this group.
— He talks about an incident in the Caucasus where around 11 militants were killed and those who were not killed came to Syria. They started to have a “razborka” or conflict with the CE representative, “and where they were living, the landlord of that house kicked them out.” Umar says it was hard for him that the CE rep kicked people out of their house and criticizes the rep for behaving in this way to “such a level that they were kicked out of some house.”
— Umar says that he talked to “one brother” [presumably a CE rep] and told him that the militants who were kicked out were “our brothers” and they could not be treated like “refugees” who were made to wander from place to place being kicked out from one place after another.
— Umar says he let the group stay close to their base and offered them his help.
— At that time the group was called Katibat Muhajireen (i.e. before the creation of JMA).
— “At that time I had around 400 brothers or a little more in our jamaat…there were around 40 from the CE reps.”
— “Abdul Aziz came at that time, he sat and talked” [presumably the representative of CE in Turkey].
— Umar says he sent money to Istanbul “for the security of those brothers” and that “you don’t need this money, I don’t need it, sent it home, we know that the brothers there are in a very difficult situation.” Umar goes on about this a bit, about how his jamaat will not just feed itself but will “feed our brothers in the Caucasus.”
— Abdul Aziz “was very very glad when he heard this… and to this day I remember how he changed greatly towards us and in his attitude to us.”
— Umar talks about a discussion of an arrangement whereby his jamaat would have accepted militants from the CE, trained them and even sent some back to the Caucasus. Umar said he could also help with money [the implication seems to be that Umar’s jamaat was earning a lot of from the spoils of their activities in Syria and had enough to send home to the Caucasus].
— Umar says that he told Abdul Aziz and Salakhuddin (he must be referring to the current JMA emir Salakhuddin Shishani) that when they went home he would also give them monetary support.
— Umar says they not only did that but did “more than we agreed.”
— When IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi explained that in the future he would lead a caliphate Umar and the brothers talked about what to do and then they swore allegiance to Baghdadi.
— We didn’t come here to have our own jamaat but we came here to wage jihad such that it would have the maximum use for our ummah and our religion.
In the next segment of the video, which appears to have been shot on the same day but after sundown, Umar talks about Jabhat al Nusra and IS, and their respective leaders. I will look at that next time!