BY PETER DERGACHEV & JOANNA PARASZCZUK
In the light of the current media storm over the rumors that Chechen IS militant Akhmad Chatayev was behind the recent terrorist bombings in Istanbul, we are sharing some more information about him and his activities in Syria here. This is not to confirm the rumors in any way, but simply to add some facts to an increasingly speculative conversation.
According to some IS militants who say that they fought under Chatayev in Syria, Chatayev initially went to Syria as early as late 2013 or early-2014. At some point after that, he was appointed the leader (amir) of one of the first predominantly Chechen katibas (battalions). Initially, according to comments on IS social media connected with a video that emerged with Chatayev and IS’s Russian-speaking contingent’s chief propagandist Abu Jihad (Islam Seit-Umarovich Atabiyev), the name of Chatayev’s katiba was referred to as Katibat Yarmouk. However, subsequent information — including from informed sources — suggest that he became the amir of the Badr katiba, another predominantly Chechen unit in IS, which still exists.
Among the militants in Chatayev’s katiba in early 2015 was an ethnic Chechen fighter who came to Syria likely from Austria, Abu AbdulWahhab Shishani, who according to information we have obtained certainly fought alongside the Badr katiba and who died fighting in its ranks in April 2015. A group photo of the Badr katiba taken in or around January 2015 shows both Chatayev and Abu AbdulWahhab Shishani together, suggesting that Chatayev was indeed the leader of this group.
Finally, according to informed sources, Chatayev led his katiba during heavy fighting in Kobani where it lost around 200 men. In the photo of the Badr katiba above there are fewer than 50 fighters, while at that time IS Russian-speaking/North Caucasian battalions usually consisted of upwards of around 150 militants — the depleted numbers in this photo is likely an indication of the heavy losses incurred by this group in fighting including at Kobani. (Another of the militants in the photo bears a striking resemblance to Ilyas Deniev, a Chechen from Grozny who was killed in April 2015 in Baiji. Deniev’s primary function was a media activist — he is circled in the image below):
Since the Kobani losses, Chatayev has been conspicuous by his absence in any official Russian-language IS social media or from any chatter on unofficial social media. It is significant, given his value as a propaganda figure for IS’s Russian-speaking contingent, that there have been no official Furat video addresses featuring him. It is a reasonable assumption, therefore, that Chatayev left the much-depleted Badr katiba after the disaster of Kobani. It is unclear where the he has been since this time, however. It is possible that he was switched to a secret IS division or — again, after the very heavy losses under his command — that he was switched to a different role. It is also possible that he is no longer in Syria. These assumptions are supported by the fact that fighters from the Badr katiba do not know where Chatayev is now.