Khalid Shishani: IS is Winning the Propaganda War in Chechnya

Khalid Shishani, an ethnic Chechen militant fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, has written a letter warning that the IS group is winning the propaganda war among Russian-speaking Muslims and calling on his fellow non-IS jihadis to step up their game to reach Muslims (by which he means pro-jihadi Muslims of course) in Russia and particularly in the North Caucasus.

Khalid Shishani was previously a member of Seyfullakh Shishani’s jamaat, which joined Nusra in 2014 but which retained its structure as a predominantly Russian-speaking brigade. Khalid has written a series of letters about the state of jihad in Syria as far as this relates to Russian-speaking and in particular North Caucasian militants. I have previously written about his letters (there are more than one) in which he criticizes Umar Shishani’s military style of sending young fighters to their deaths as “cannon fodder,” for example.

The letters are part of the growing and ongoing struggle between IS and non-IS militant groups for North Caucasian hearts and minds.

In this letter, shared on social media and via Kavkaz Center’s Telegram account, Khalid is concerned with Dawah or proselytizing and in particular IS’s propaganda war.

He writes:

At all times, information work, da’wah, is an integral and essential part of jihad. And today we are witnessing a catastrophic situation in our Ummah: because of our inaction in the information field, the Ummah has fallen into the deep dark pit of fitna of the pseudo-caliphate of Baghdadi. And lately you often see comments from brothers, that, apparently, about “Dawla” [one of the terms used by non-IS Russian militants to refer to IS], everything is already clear, and that it’s not worth more effort to expose the sect and to explain their position.

But how surprised would you be if I told you that the vast majority of Caucasian youth are simply not even aware of the existence of these explanations, (or) of the existence of the website “Al-Isnad,” and that they only get information from Dawla sources, and they do not even know (about) scholars of jihad such as Abu Qatada Al-Filistini, Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, Abu Basir Al-Tartus, except for information from Dawla sources who pour mud on these scholars?

Khalid complains that this situation is affecting recruitment, because new recruits go to IS not Nusra or other groups (a similar cry has been heard from the Caucasus Emirate in Syria):

And it turns out that the brothers write and translate these works for a limited and very small circle of readers, while the false writings of the Kharijites climb out of every crack, and therefore young people are traveling in droves to the pseudo-caliphate. If anyone thinks otherwise, he is deeply mistaken.

Khalid goes on to suggest how Nusra (and I suppose other non-IS groups) can step up their own propaganda in the North Caucasus to counter IS’s propaganda (and its recruitment drive):

First: we must actively operate where these young people spend their time- – in social networks and instant messengers: “Instagram”, “WhatsApp”, “VKontakte, and so on in terms of popularity. It is necessary to spread clarifications and news and our works and translations of works of scholars through these means so that people can read them there as well.

An additional obstacle in this work is the fact that in Russia, our sites are blocked, but the publication of texts on social networks and messengers relieves us of this obstacle. Naturally, our accounts will be removed regularly, and you have to be prepared and work hard, without quitting after a banning.

A second aspect of informational work where we are failing to act, is the work in our peoples’ languages. For example, many Chechen youth do not know the Russian language at a level sufficient for understanding our explanations, while “Dawla” is actively pursuing work in the Chechen language, and even 12-13 year old kids are listening to this propaganda and following the pseudo-caliphate. And today, the situation in Chechnya is such that almost all or even all of the Islamic youth are supporters of “IS”, and for that you and I, and especially the emirs who completely abandoned the informational work, are to blame, who have discarded our youth, leaving them without assistance and instruction.

Khalid also points out that Russia’s tendency to conflate all militant groups in Syria with IS complicates propaganda messenging for these other groups (!):

Propaganda about IS floods out of televisions, the infidels bombed the Mujahideen of Al-Qaeda and other Jamaats and on the news it says that IS got bombed; on the news they show videos of the military operations of the Mujahideen, and the announcer comments on the footage, falsely saying that it is IS. And IS propaganda is flying into the minds of our brothers and sisters from everywhere, and sometimes they don’t even know about our existence, because we are not working….

The featured image is of Khalid Shishani (who has never revealed his identity and always appears in a mask).