Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar has released a new video, the first since the ouster of its former Emir, Salakhuddin Shishani.
The video was released on August 10 under the Jabhat Ansar a-Din name and logo.
The professionally produced video is really a promotional film for the “new,” post-Salakhuddin JMA, and features — for the first time — the group’s new Emir, the ethnic Tajik Abu Ibrakhim Khorasani. Those who were looking for their first sighting of Abu Ibrakhim will be disappointed, however — he does not show his face in the video, though he does speak.
A group shot of militants in front of a tank — one of whom is wearing a yellow “Imarat Kavkaz” t-shirt! — suggests that the jamaat has lost a lot of its Russian-speaking fighters (sources also indicate this, though others say that the group still has its local Syrian Ansars and some Saudi fighters — this would mean, of course, that JMA is no longer a primarily Russian-speaking group).
Abu Ibrakhim says that he and his fellow militants came to Syria to help, that there is “one Ummah, one religion, one war, one blood.”
The second part of the video is in Arabic with Russian subtitles. The speaker is Sheikh Muhammad Qadyr Belkesh, the “imam of a large mosque in Haritan.”
He says that, “JMA is a military group in Syria and was formed at the start of the jihad in 1433 hijra year. It includes Muhajireen and Ansars who are excellent in battle.”
His next comment is really amazing.
He says, “It also consists of fighters from the Caucasus.”
Also consists of.
JMA has always presented itself as North Caucasian formed and led, even as it has also striven to show that it has fitted into the local landscape of the “jihad” in Syria, fighting alongside Syrian Islamist brigades and forging alliances with Arabic foreign fighter groups. Now it is just a foreign fighter battalion that also has fighters from the Caucasus. That is significant.
Sheikh Muhammad goes on to list the offensives that JMA has been involved in and we get some footage from old videos including of fighting in Layramoun, which I have documented extensively on this site.
What is important about this video is that Sheikh Muhammad — a local Syrian religious leader — says that JMA are “like brothers” and that they have fitted into the local community. This is a very important point, because IS has been criticized for not doing that.
The release of the video comes at the same time as an announcement by JMA that the coalition of which they are a part, Jabhat Ansar Al Din, has created a new military formation, Jaish Ansar Al Din. Given that JMA has just released a video in which it shows of its “brand,” it is less likely that the group will abandon the JMA name and move completely to JAAD, but the creation of JAAD to me suggests that JMA needs a solution to the fact that it lost manpower and weapons when Salakhuddin and his Caucasus Emirate fighters left the jamaat last month.
It is worth noting that over the past week or so, JMA has boasted on social media that it has managed to recruit new Russian speaking fighters. But beyond this it has provided no details of the “battalions” it claims to have attracted. Pro-Caucasus Emirate commenters have questioned — and ridiculed even — these claims, while other sources suggest that the Russian-speaking battalions are a very small group of Russian-speaking fighters — again, these claims have not been confirmed, and I am raising them here as an insight into the conversations and struggles that are ongoing between rival groups.