Seyfullakh Shishani Urges Turks, “Don’t Stay Silent Against Muslim Bloodshed”

Chechen Emir Seyfullakh Shishani, whose faction has recently joined Jabhat al-Nusra, has given an interview in Turkish.

Until August, Seyfullakh was the second-in-command of prominent Chechen insurgent leader Abu Umar al-Shishani, leading mostly Chechen and North Caucasian fighters in Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA). Umar expelled Seyfullakh from JMA in August, accusing him of takfir, but the dispute between the two men appears to be a power struggle and an ideological dispute. Seyfullakh formed his own jamaat, Khilafatul Islamia, which recently pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra and fought with that faction to take the government-held Kindi Hospital in Aleppo.

Seyfullakh’s Turkish and the fact that his website, usudusham, regularly features articles in Turkish, points to the fact the he is a member of the Chechen Diaspora in Turkey. Around 1,500 Chechens who fled the First and Second Chechen Wars stayed in Turkey, where they have not been granted official refugee status.

Ali Kemal Yenidunya has translated some of the key points of Seyfullakh’s long interview. The questions, in Turkish, were put to Seyfullakh via the internet.

Seyfullakh is asked how long he has been in Syria and what the situation there is like.

Seyfullakh says he has been in Turkey for more than a year, and that there used to be fewer religious groups in that region, but that “the situation for Muslims is getting better.”

The answer is a common one given by foreign jihadis in Syria — that the Syrian people were secular or ignorant of Islam, but are becoming more religious (and therefore welcome the foreign fighters who spread a certain version of Islam).

Seyfullakh says that there many ethnic groups fighting in Syria including Turks, Azeris, Chechens. He says we see them as ‘brothers.’

– How are relations with other groups, especially with the Ansar?
There many groups. We have waged war together. We support Sharia and we are here for jihad.

– How do Syrians approach jihadists?
I got married in Syria and had a child there. They are as happy as Chechens for me. They have been under oppression for years. Innocent people should be invited to Islam. I love Syrian people.

– It is winter now. What is needed most?
We are calling on our Turkish brothers not to keep silent against Muslim blood.

Seyfullakh Shishani & Jaish Khilafatul Islamia Join Jabhat al-Nusra

The leader of the Chechen jamaat Jaish Khilafa al-Islamia (JKI), Seyfullakh Shishani, has pledged full allegiance to the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani. Seyfullakh is now fighting for Jabhat al-Nusra, as are the fighters of JKI.

The site Usudusham, which is close to Seyfullakh, published this video footage on Sunday showing Seyfullakh (on the right) explaining the move. The man on the left is “one of the Amirs of Jabhat al-Nusra”, according to Usudusham.

Seyfullakh says that Allah has seen fit to unite the ranks of the Mujahideen, and strengthen their love for each other:

“Our jamaat, Jaish Khalifatul Islamia, in short, are now Jabhat al-Nusra. After this, alhamdulillah, we will be a single force, a single organ. We will work with Jabhat al-Nusra. We will work together, inshallah, to establish the laws of Allah. Takbir!”

Seyfullakh was previously the second-in-command of Chechen jihadi Umar al-Shishani, when the two led the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar jamaat (JMA), based in Aleppo and operating in northern Syria. However, Seyfullakh split from JMA following JMA’s involvement in the fight for Menagh Airbase in Aleppo, when Umar accused him of takfir and corruption.

It appears, however, that the split was largely an ideological one. During the fight for Menagh Airbase, Umar worked closely with the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), and was later appointed as Amir of that group’s northern operations. Seyfullakh believed that JMA should remain independent and not work closely with other groups.

Following the split, Seyfullakh formed his own jamaat, JKI, alongside another charismatic Chechen fighter with extensive battle experience, Abu Muslim Shishani. (It was Muslim’s men and not JMA, as media reports have erroneously said who fought in Latakia province and captured Alawite villages.)

Seyfullakh’s oath to al-Golani and his decision to join Jabhat al-Nusra comes after his rival Umar pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Salahuddin Shishani, New Leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar: “No Enmity With ISIS”

The new leader of the predominantly Chechen Jaish al-Muhajideen wal Ansar (JMA) (Army of Emigrants and Helpers), Salahuddin al-Shishani, has made a video address explaining why some of the faction refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.

The former leader of JMA, Umar Shishani, swore an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi earlier this month, together with a group fighters from JMA, moving their allegiance to ISIS. Following the oath-swearing, there was a great deal of controversy over whether Umar had abandoned his jamaat, prompting Umar to make video addresses denying that and stating that most of JMA had followed him over to ISIS. Those videos were published on FiSyria, a website close to Umar.

In this video, Salahuddin Shishani does not give the main reason put forth as to why some of JMA refused to swear to Baghdadi: that the North Caucasus fighters had sworn a prior oath to the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Dokku Umarov. Instead, he emphasizes that JMA fighters were not forced to swear to Baghdadi and that there is no enmity between the groups as a result of the split. Salahuddin also says that those who did not swear to Baghdadi would have to swear a full Bay’at at such time as there was a single Amir ruling the whole of Sham — an implication that, of course, at the current time Baghdadi is not in control of the whole of Syria. However, Salahuddin emphasizes that his group will still fight together with ISIS when needed, even though his fighters are not officially part of ISIS.

The oath to Baghdadi has exposed existing divisions within the community of fighters from the North Caucasus, however. A faction led by Seyfullakh al-Shishani, Umar’s former second-in-command in JMA who Umar expelled last summer on charges of takfir, has fought alongside and likely joined, at least informally, Jabhat al-Nusra in the recent operation to take the Kindi Hospital in Aleppo City.

Salahuddin Shishani’s video was published on the Beladusham site, which is close to Salahuddin. We have translated key points below.


Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah, dear brothers.

Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar — this was a jamaat and it still exists, alhamdulillah.

On my right is the first naib (a term used for a local leader in the eastern Caucasus and especially Dagestan), Abdul Karim, and to my left is the second naib, Mutasim.

Enshallah, the jihad in Syria is spreading thanks to the will of Allah. Mujahideen from various countries, lands and tribes are gathering in the land of Sham (Syria). And nobody can get in the way of this process, because it is Allah’s will.

In the first place, it’s always so that there are various independent battalions and jamaats but nevertheless we carry out operations together and successfully. There are different battalions and jamaats — some are large and some are small. We always unite with each other, make decisions together and fight together against the infidels.

And that is the first reason why we are prepared to unite. It is the will of Allah.

The leadership of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham offered our group Jaish al-Mujahireen wal Ansar to make a full, lifelong Bay’at (oath of allegiance) to them. And part of our mujahideen pledged an oath to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And the rest of the mujahideen refused to make a full, lifelong oath to ISIS, and that decision was made after long, bilateral consideration and consultation with Islamic scholars of Jihad.

Alhamdulillah, every Mujahid has the right to choose. But we have not become enemies because of that. Alhamdulillah, we are brothers, we will all the same unite with them, when they need us, and then we will fight together against the enemy.

We will not be able to refuse to make a full Bay’at when there is a single Amir ruling over the whole of Sham, and then we will swear to him a full Bay’at, enshallah.

Syria: Seyfullakh al-Shishani On Capture Of Kindi Barracks & Truck Bombings

UPDATE, Dec 24: Seyfullakh al-Shishani’s faction, Jaish al-Khilafatu Islamiya, has announced that it has joined Jabhat al-Nusra:


Emir Seyfullakh al-Shishani (Ruslan Machaliashvili), the leader of the predominantly North Caucasian faction Jaish al-Khilafatu Islamiya, has made a video address following the insurgent capture of the Kindi barracks in Aleppo City.

The Kindi barracks, formerly a hospital, had been taken over and used as a barracks by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Insurgents from a variety of factions including the Islamic Front cooperated to capture Kindi. The operation included two suicide truck bombings. (According to UmmaNews, a Russian-language pro-jihad website, one of the suicide attackers was named Abu Marwan and was from Iraqi Kurdistan. The second suicide bomber was from Iranian Kurdistan, the western part of Iran bordering Iraq and Turkey.)

(WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES OF BADLY BURNED CORPSES AT 3:02)

In the video, published on the Usudusham YouTube channel — Seyfullakh’s official channel — Seyfullakh is shown sporting a fur hat as he tours the area outside the devastated Kindi barracks.

Seyfullakh shows the destruction of the former hospital and says that there are no infidels remaining there.

Alhamdulillah (Praise God), there was a martyrdom operation and we took this place.

This is the will of Allah, in short. In short, a lot of infidels were killed here.

(Seyfullakh points out the place where the suicide operation took place. He then continues to walk around, pointing at the building and explaining that there are no more infidels left.)

Muslims are working here. Muslims, al-hamdulillah, are waging jihad here. Here, in short, there are no more infidels.

(Seyfullakh now gives a message to the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.)

So when Kadyrov says he’s gonna send people here, I say this, send ’em — we’re waiting here.

….

Who should we fear but Allah? We’ll kill you all….We’re establishing Islam here, we’re establishing the religion of Allah.

(The video now shows badly burned corpses, including one with a severed head.)

They’re infidels!

(The camera zooms in on the severed head. There’s a child’s or woman’s voice in the background, as unseen people mock the corpse in Russian.)

(Child or woman:) Just like a dog!

(The video now shows us Seyfullakh, who mocks Kadyrov in Chechen or Azeri. He seems to be mocking Kadyrov’s threats to send Russian special forces after Chechen fighters in Syria.)

(The next part of the video shows a group of fighters holding a black jihadist flag with a green emblem. Seyfullakh is present in the center right. An Arabic speaker lists the groups involved in the captured of Kindi including the Islamic Front, Jabhat al-Nusra and Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islami. It is not clear with which faction Seyfullakh and his men fought.)

Umar Shishani “Likes To Spend Time In Jacuzzi In His Aleppo Villa”

UPDATE: Several sites, including Russia’s Segodnya.ru, published claimed images of the interior of Umar’s alleged villa and the swimming pool, taken from the photographs circulated in August after news of its capture.
….

Lebanese newspaper as-Safir claims to have some more details about Abu Umar al-Shishani, the former Emir of the largely North Caucasian faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar who recently swore an oath of allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It is not, of course, possible to verify whether as-Safir’s “jihadi source” is telling the truth about Abu Umar, but the story does indicate a growing interest in and allure of the Chechen insurgent whose power and influence are on the ascendency in Syria.

As-Safir’s “jihadi source” says that Abu Umar moved to Syria with his family, to wage jihad. The family settled in the town of Hraytan, north of Aleppo city.

The source repeats some details from a November 13 BBC Arabic report about al-Shishani — namely that he served in the Georgian Army for some time and was discharged in 2007 due to tuberculosis. The report also repeats that in 2010, Abu Umar was sentenced to three years in a Georgian prison for buying and storing weapons, but was released early because his health deteriorated.

As-Safir’s source says that it was during Abu Umar’s time in prison that he became religious and learned about the principles of Islam. The source speculated that perhaps a jihadi network helped secure his early release.

Following his release, the source said that Abu Umar went to live in Turkey where his jihadi contacts secured him temporary housing. From there, Abu Umar went to Syria where he settled in Hraytan and worked on forming his own battalion, the Kataib al-Muhajireen, which operated for some time under the banner of the Jaish al-Mohammad, before forming Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar. That group came to prominence during its role in the capture of Menagh Airbase (an operation in which jihadist foreign fighters cooperated with the Free Syrian Army, or at least worked in concert with them).

The source adds some more details about Abu Umar’s rise to power. According to the source, Abu Umar rapidly gained a good reputation and became a prominent figure in Hraytan, and was able to gather around him other fighters.

Abu Umar began to thrive and chose to live in a luxury villa with a swimming pool in Hraytan, the source told as-Safir. The villa had belonged to a wealthy businessman in the village and was luxuriously furnished. Abu Umar brought his wife and his young son to live in the “new palace”, the source said.

Shortly afterward, Abu Umar and his group of fighters seized a warehouse in the al-Shokaief industrial zone in Aleppo:

The warehouses contained various electrical appliances, the source said, which Abu Umar transferred to his villa. These included a large refrigerator and an air conditioning system.

The story, as told by as-Safir, gets even more interesting. As-Safir’s source says that the owner of the villa — coincidentally also called Umar or Omar — once visited his property but was prevented from entering by armed mujahideen, who stopped him from transferring some merchandise that had been stored in the cellar.

When the owner of the property spoke to Abu Umar about the goods, the source says that Abu Umar responded by denying that the goods existed, and adding that the owner should consider the villa as a gift of charity according to the laws of Allah and jihad.

The source also added a charming detail about Abu Umar’s life in the villa. The Emir of ISIS’s northern branch enjoys spending considerable time in the jacuzzi, the source said, where he likes to spend hours pondering his life in the villa. The source speculated that perhaps Abu Umar enjoys thinking about the contrast between his life now and what it had been previously.

MORE ABOUT THE VILLA IN ALEPPO PROVINCE

The claims of the villa seized by Abu Umar and his men accord to some degree with reports that insurgents from Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar occupied an empty villa in August, following the capture of the Menagh Airbase.

The pro-jihadi site Fi Syria, which is based in the North Caucasus and which is close to Abu Umar and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, published this video on August 17 showing insurgents from the North Caucasus in the swimming pool of a villa they had occupied. The site, however, claimed that the villa belonged to a relative of Bashar al-Assad.

In October, Russian-language pro-jihad sites published another video< showing a Russian-speaking jihadis, from Kazakhstan, lodged in a villa. While the location was not given, the residence looked at least similar to that shown in the above video from August. The October video has since been removed from YouTube.

Umar Shishani On Need For Unity, & Division of Spoils According to Rules of Jihad

Umar Shishani, the Chechen military commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’s northern region, has issued another video message. This is the second part of a three-part series filmed in conjunction with FiSyria, the Russian-language, pro-jihad website close to Umar, apparently in response to reader questions.

The videos also feature Abu Jihad, another ethnic Chechen the recently-named Emir of ISIS in ad-Dana, and were made in response to questions and criticisms leveled at Umar after he pledged an oath of allegiance last month to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In this new video, Umar and Abu Jihad discuss the need to unite, and explain why spoils of war need to be distributed according to the Quran.

I have translated and summarized some of the key points below.


UMAR SHISHANI discusses the need for the Mujahideen to unite (this is part of his explanation of why he pledged an oath of allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last month.)

Umar explains how the Islamic Ummah was divided and conquered by the infidels using an analogy: he says that a man cannot eat an entire loaf of bread just like that, he has to cut it into slices and eat it that way. That, Umar says, is what happened to the Ummah: it got divided up and conquered piecemeal, and that is how and the laws of the infidels got put in place on Islamic lands.

One of the points Umar makes is that the local people in Syria are keen to accept an Islamic State and to choose ISIS’s interpretation of Islam, as preached by the Mujahideen.

Umar says he has been in Syria for a year and 7 months and when he first got there, there were a lot of divisions. He describes how local people were excited about the Quran, and they came to religion like a man who was very hungry and that’s how they accepted Islam. Now there are lots of Muslims learning the Quran and this is a real result, he adds. Meanwhile, Western forces have been trying to infiltrate Syria with their concepts of democracy and so on.

What is needed is for the Mujahideen to unite, so that Syria can be defended and so that the laws of Allah can be implemented, Umar explains.

Abu Umar now talks about a tour he made this week — at this point the video is interspersed with still shots of the local landscape — and points out that he saw a great deal of banners proclaiming the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham around in ad-Dana and also in the “oblast” (i.e. province) of Raqqa.

Abu Umar talks about a unification that will stretch from Raqqa to ad-Dana in Idlib Province.

Of course there will be some people who try to fight against us and oppose us.

Abu Jihad then takes over and offers to say a few words about unification. The video now shows stills of various world leaders greeting each other, including Vladimir Putin with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and Bashar al-Assad with the Saudi King. We are also shown images of police officers standing next to praying Muslims, and crying children. Everyone is against the Mujahideen, and against the Muslims, is Abu Jihad’s point.

Yet the Muslims are one, Abu Jihad says: “we have one book. We are one.”

Abu Jihad goes on to make the case for unification: when there is no unity, every group is fighting its own battles for its own territory. But for unification to take place, there needs to be an Imam, a leader, who will set his own conditions.

Later in the video, ABU JIHAD discusses the topic of how to divide spoils of war captured from the Assad regime and the various issues involved in doing so.

Abu Jihad discusses why, under Islam and the rules of jihad, the spoils of war cannot simply be divided among the victorious army. During the reign of Caliph Umar, the division of spoils between the Islamic State and the conquering warriors was restricted such that a fifth of the spoils were retained for the Islamic State to be used for common benefit, while the remaining 80% were distributed among the Mujahideen. There are different rules for different types of spoils, i.e. booty obtained by fighting and booty obtained when an enemy retreats.

Abu Jihad offers some examples. If there is a tank, this cannot be simply divided up among the Mujahideen, it needs to be sold. Weapons are used against the infidels. Abu Jihad explains that the Islamic State cannot temporarily divide a fifth of its spoils among all the Muhajideen because then it would have no weapons left to build itself up into a larger fighting force.

Abu Jihad adds that he and Umar do not have time to make a lot of videos because they have other work to do, but they will make more to address reader questions. FiSyria has invited its readers to email in with questions for Umar or Abu Jihad.

Umar Shishani – “Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar Joined ISIS After Al-Baghdadi Oath”

In a recent video, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’s northern region, the ethnic Chechen Abu Umar al-Shishani, responds to criticisms that he left his Chechen jamaat, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, when he swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

FiSyria, the Russian-language website that reports on developments connected with fighters from the North Caucasus in Syria, said that it had filmed a two-part video series with Umar and his associate Abu Jihad in the wake of many questions raised following Abu Umar’s announcement regarding the oath to Baghdadi.

BACKGROUND

Following Umar’s decision to swear allegiance to Baghdadi last month, and transfer his loyalties entirely to ISIS rather than to Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA), there was talk of a split among fighters from the North Caucasus in Syria, with some those who did not want to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi, either because they had already pledged to the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, Dokku Umarov, or because they believed they should remain independent, remaining with JMA or going elsewhere.

In this video, the first of two, Umar denies that there is any split among his former jamaat, but says that it moved in its entirety over to ISIS.

FiSyria describes Abu Jihad as ISIS’s new Emir of ad-Dana in Idlib Province. (It appears that Abu Jihad fought with ISIS previously, given that FiSyria has featured earlier videos with Abu Jihad, including this one from July in which he appears with an ISIS banner and explains that the fighting in Syria is the faithful versus the infidels.)

Umar describes the fighting in Syria in jihadi terms. He does not mention the local struggle of the Syrian people against the Assad regime. Instead, the fighting is part of the Islamic struggle to rid the world of infidel regimes who are humiliating the Muslims and holding them in servitude.

Umar, who is from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia as are many of his fellow-fighters, has grown in importance and influence since he established the Kataib al-Muhajireen in Summer 2012. That group merged with two other groups, Jaish Muhammad and Kataeb Khattab, to form JMA in March. Since then, Umar was named the military commander of ISIS’s Northern operations in Syria. The decision to swear an oath to al-Baghdadi and move over completely to ISIS along with some of JMA will likely consolidate his power yet further. Umar’s main rival, his former second-in-command Seyfullakh whom he expelled from JMA in August on charges of takfir and fraud, and has said that the split with Umar was ideological because he and his followers did not want to become closer to ISIS. However, Seyfullakh has not emerged an an influential figure to rival Abu Umar following the split.

Below is a translation of some of the main points of the video, with FiSyria’s introduction.

ABU UMAR AL-SHISHANI AND ABU JIHAD DISCUSS RECENT CHANGES IN THE JAMAAT

Recently, after Abu Umar Al-Shishani swore an oath to Abu Bakr al-Bagadadi, our editors have received many questions in relation to these global changes. With the permission of Allah, we met with Umar and asked him to clarify some points, and asked him some questions. Abu Jihad, who has today become the Emir of the town of Ad Dana in the Province of Idlib, explains in detail about the structure and purpose of ISIS. The video is divided into two parts.

The video was shot on December 8, 2013

  • Abu Umar begins by greeting “all brothers and sisters whose hearts are concerned by the current situation” in which the Ummah has been humiliated, and who are helping with the jihad.
  • Umar says that the success of the jihad would be the establishment of Sharia Law — Allah’s law — and that the Ummah would then be able to live under Allah’s law. The laws of the infidels, which for a long time had been imposed on the Ummah, would be removed.
  • Umar talks about how the Mujahideen are waging jihad “fi sabil Allah”, i.e. on the path of Allah.
  • Abu Umar then goes on to say that he decided to make the video address because he had had a lot of questions, and he wanted to answer them. Abu Umar introduces Abu Jihad, the Emir of ad-Dana. He then goes on to give some details about himself: he is now the Emir of Northern Syria, and previously was the Emir of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar.
  • Abu Umar now answers the question of why he made an oath of allegiance to Al Baghdadi, and explains that there were some Mujahideen from the Caucasus Emirate who decided that they had already made an oath to Dokku Umarov (the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate).
  • “There are some brothers — a number of them — not many, about 17, actually, we don’t know the exact number — who chose not to give an oath to ISIS, and who left.”
  • “There are some who said that I wanted to give an oath to Baghdadi to leave Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, but that is not correct.”
  • Almost all of the original group of ours, Kataib Muhajireen, about 80%, made the oath, and so we can say that we joined with ISIS

ABU JIHAD:

  • “I wanted to tell you about some new events that have happened here in the land of Sham. There have been a lot of rumors and untrue things flying around on the internet.”
  • Abu Jihad blames those who have not come to join the jihad but who have chosen to sow discord among the “brothers”.
  • “So we will try to explain some of the questions, so that people will know what is going on and so that they can’t say we don’t know and we are afraid that we don’t have any information, etc.”
  • Regarding JMA, I have known Emir Al Shishani for a while, who we named as Emir right from the start, from when we were 30 guys, then 50, then 60. (He is talking about Kataib al-Muhajireen — JP)
  • This jamaat gave its oath to al Baghdadi. Jaish went over to ISIS. So you cannot say that Umar left his jamaat. That’s just rumor. Why? Because it has no relation to the truth.
  • There was another group who joined us after Jaish was already formed and when it came time to make the oath, because they had already made an oath to Dokku, they left us.
  • Abu Jihad says that most of the other members of JMA made the oath, “A Caucasian group, after that a European group, after that an Arab group i.e,. all the jamaat with all its structure and members, went over to ISIS.”
  • “We are all part of the ISIS already” — there are no small groups who wanted to keep their own name or anything like that.
  • So the group that is calling itself Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar is not the same one as before.
  • So please don’t tell lies, that Umar left his jamaat, that is a lie.
  • The reason for the unification was so that everyone would be fighting under the same banner.)
  • Abu Jihad goes on to praise al Baghdadi, saying that he created a strong jamaat in Iraq that helped to kick out the American puppets and will do the same in Syria.

Is Damascus’ Claim Of “1,700 Chechens” Fighting in Syria Correct?

The Syrian Government claimed this week that around 1,700 people of Chechen origin are fighting in Syria, and that those Russian citizens found to be fighting in Syria will be tried and punished under Syrian law, RIA Novosti reports.

The announcement, by Syria’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Riad Haddad, is another reinforcement of Damascus’s line that the insurgency is dominated by foreign fighters: a stance that allows the Assad regime to claim that the civil war is not based on domestic grievances, but is supported by external interests and groups, including extremists.

In this same context, Haddad, who said that fighters from 83 countries were active in Syria, warned that Damascus would only hand over Russian nationals to Moscow if they were proven innocent of participating in armed activities. Otherwise, those found fighting in Syria would be prosecuted under Syrian law.

SO HOW MANY CHECHENS ARE FIGHTING IN SYRIA?
The Russian Security Forces Estimate

Although is impossible to calculate the exact number of fighters from Chechnya and the North Caucasus in Syria, Damascus’s claims of 1,700 does not accord with figures given by the Russian security services, who have a vested interest in quoting a higher estimate, given Russia’s support of Damascus’s line that the insurgency is “dominated” by foreign fighters, and given its own need to justify its security efforts in the North Caucasus.

On September 20, Sergei Smirnov, the deputy director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosi or FSB) said that there were around 300-400 Russian nationals fighting in Syria.

Smirnov also expressed Moscow’s main fear about Russian nationals fighting in Syria:

“They will come back, and that poses a huge threat,” he warned.

That figure is greater than an earlier estimate given in June by FSB director Aleksander Bortnikov, who told an international security conference that, “There is great concern in Russia that there are about 200 militants from the Russian Federation fighting (in North Africa and Syria) on the side of the Caucasus Emirate (militant Islamic organization considered a terrorist group by Moscow) under the flag of Al Qaeda and other affiliated structures.”

The Russian Media Estimate

Russian journalist Orhan Jemal told Russian-language news outlet Kavkazskii Uzel in November that in his estimate there are between 200-400 Russian citizens fighting in Syria, including those from Georgia and Bashkiria as well as Chechnya and Dagestan.

A figure of several hundred Russian nationals accords with estimates given by other groups in the region.

In November, Kavkazskii Uzel cited a member of the Integration Fund of the Caucasus People, Umar Idigov, as saying that around 200 Chechen-Kists from the Pankissi Gorge region of Georgia are fighting in Syria. (The Kist people are a Chechen subethnos in Georgia, mostly in the Pankissi Gorge.)

Idigov said that Kist fighters went to Syria in 2011 to support the insurgency against Assad. An imam from a mosque in the Pankissi Gorge, Ayub Borchashvili, explained that the fighters believed they had gone to “support the oppressed people” of Syria. All of those who went to Syria were connected to the insurgent group the Caucasus Emirate, considered a terror organization by Russia, according to Kavkazskii Uzel.

Although an investigation by Russian outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda found that Russian nationals were still able to travel — albeit illegally — to Syria from the North Caucasus, it is unlikely that the numbers of Russian nationals fighting in Syria has more than tripled since November.

The North Caucasus Pro-Jihad Media Estimate

Kavkaz Center, a Chechnya-based, pro-jihad outlet that reports on developments related to fighters from the North Caucasus in Syria, has said in a report in November that there are around 600 Chechens fighting in Syria, but notes that these are mostly the offspring of Chechen refugees rather than nationals of the Russian Federation:

“We recall that according to various estimates there are around 600 Chechens fighting in Syria. They have gone into various units and jamaats around the country. These are mostly the children of Chechen refugees from Europe, as well as representatives of the diaspora in Turkey, Jordan, Georgia and other countries. There are also several dozen people who came to Syria from Chechnya.”

Estimates from Analysts

Dr. Mairbek Vatchagaev, a Chechen historian and political analyst on the North Caucasus and a former senior ranking official in the Chechen government of Aslan Maskhadov, estimates that most of the Chechens fighting in Syria come from refugee populations in Europe rather than from Chechnya itself.

“The number of Chechens leaving Chechnya for Syria is not as substantial as the influx of Chechens from Europe. Probably several dozen people, up to a hundred at most, traveled to Syria from Chechnya.”

WHERE ARE INSURGENTS FROM THE NORTH CAUCASUS FIGHTING?

According to evidence from the field — video footage and statements, interviews, and reports in Russian-language, North Caucasus-based pro-jihad outlets — the bulk of the Russian-speaking, ethnic Chechen fighters and those from elsewhere in the Caucasus fought with the group Kataib al-Muhajireen, which in March merged with two other groups, Jaish Muhammad and Kataeb Khattab, to become Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Helpers).

Although mainstream media sources have tended to describe Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar as a Chechen brigade, in reality there are fighters from various parts of the North Caucasus, including Dagestan and Azerbaijan, with the faction.

There have been wide-ranging estimates on the number of fighters in Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, from several hundred to 1,700, though not all of the group’s fighters are from the North Caucasus: some are fighters who left other Islamist groups but who do not want to join the Free Syrian Army because of differing ideologies.

NOT ALL “CHECHEN FIGHTERS” ARE FROM CHECHNYA

The number of ethnic Chechen fighters and those from the North Caucasus may be greater than the figure of 400 Russian nationals quoted by the FSB, because not all ethnic Chechen fighters in Syria Russian nationals.

Apart from ethnic Chechens from the North Caucasus, some fighters are likely from Chechen Diaspora families already in Syria or neighboring Jordan.

It is known that Jaish al-Muhajareen wal Ansar also contains a battalion of fighters from Azerbaijan, which up until his death in September was led by Abu Yahya al-Azeri. (Al-Azeri is noted for expressing his jihadist ideology in an address he made to his followers in May, when he noted “we are not fighting America or Russia. Our battle on the path of Allah consists only of establishing His laws on these lands.)

RUSSIAN MEDIA REPORTS OF “1000s” OF FIGHTERS |

Even though the Russian security services have been cautious about the number of ethnic Chechens fighting in Syria, there have been some reports in the Russian media of larger numbers. These reports have not provided any sort of evidence to back up their assertions, however, and are usually based on rumor. The most prominent of these was a RIA Novosti report in September, which sourced its material from the London-based Al Quds newspaper.

(It is interesting to note that the Chechnya-based pro-jihad website Kavkaz Center reported in April that Chechen Emir Abu Abdurahman had been killed in Syria.)

According to the report, a new Chechen-led faction numbering 1,000 fighters and named Al Muhajireen had been founded in Aleppo city by Chechen fighter Abu Adurahman. Al Quds cited Abdurahman as saying that the group had established a training camp in Aleppo. There have been no other reports of the faction, however.

DISPUTES AMONG NORTH CAUCASUS INSURGENTS INDICATE 100s, NOT 1000s OF FIGHTERS

There have been two recent splits within the Chechen/ North Caucasus fighters in Syria, both of which are, at root, about ideology.

The earliest of these splits took place in August, before Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar’s involvement in the insurgent offensive and capture of Mennagh Airbase in Aleppo Province, when Jaish leader Abu Umar al-Shishani announced that he had expelled his second-in-command, Seyfullakh the Chechen, accusing him of creating a new faction within Jaish, embezzlement, and being a takfiri. Seyfullakh was expelled with his entire faction, consisting of just 27 men — hardly a sign of a large group of Chechen fighters.

In response, Seyfullakh made a video statement, in which he denied stirring up trouble. Seyfullakh said that he had more supporters than just 27 men (the video does not really back this up, however — only around 30 men are seen).

In November, Seyfullakh’s supporters issued a statement saying that the split between Abu Umar and Seyfullakh was not because of any embezzlement or fitna, but was ideological — Seyfullakh wanted Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar to distance itself from the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham, while Abu Umar was moving toward swearing allegiance to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi.

The second split occurred in November, after Abu Umar al-Shishani and several Jaish fighters did pledge an oath to Baghdadi, moving to fight with ISIS and leaving those remaining fighters who had pledged to Caucasus Emirate leader Dokka Umarov, with Jaish, now led by a Chechen named Salahuddin. Reports of the split in Russian-language pro-jihad sites did not mention “thousands” or even hundreds of fighters had pledged allegiance to Baghdadi.

Umar Shishani Claims: “Dokka Umarov Financed Us”

Russian-language pro-jihad site Beladusham published an interview with Abu Umar al-Shishani, the ethnic Chechen Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS).

CLAIMS THAT DOKKA UMAROV FINANCED CHECHEN FIGHTERS IN SYRIA

The interview was conducted just after Abu Umar swore an oath of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Abu Umar explains that initially, the leader of the Caucasian Emirate, the ethnic Chechen militant Dokka Umarov, had supported the Chechen Mujahideen financially for a specific period of time.

Abu Umar claims that Umarov had agreed to the North Caucasian fighters in Syria swearing allegiance to Baghdadi, though this does not explain why some fighters who previously swore oaths to Umarov have refused to pledge allegiance to the ISIS leader.

Dokka Umarov’s Caucasus Emirate, a self-proclaimed virtual state which includes Chechnya and Dagestan, has been declared a terrorist organization by Russia and the US.

Abu Umar’s assertion that Dokka Umarov approves of and has even supported Chechen fighters in Syria has been supported by a recent investigation by Murad Shishani of the BBC’s Arabic Service. That report notes that initially, Umarov was opposed to Chechen fighters leaving to join the Syrian insurgency, saying that they should support the Caucasus Emirate. However, Umarov later changed his mind, saying that the flood of volunteers to fight in Syria was because the Caucasus Emirate refused to allow young people to join its ranks.

The BBC cite a source “close to the Syrian insurgents” who said that “in the North Caucasus there aren’t training camps like there are in Syria, and there aren’t enough resources.

“We are ashamed that we are going to Syria at a time when the Caucasus is still occupied, but young people are returning here once they’ve undergone a training course. One of my mates returned straight back to the mountains after he went through a training course in explosives (in Syria). In this sense it’s useful to (the Caucasus Emirate) that we’re spending time there. As a result it gets well-trained fighters,” the source said.

OATH TO Al-BAGHDADI AND SPLIT IN JAISH AL MUHAJIREEN WAL ANSAR

Before swearing the oath to Baghdadi, Abu Umar was the leader of the predominantly North Caucasian faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar as well as the Emir of ISIS’s northern branch. The move led to a split between fighters from the North Caucasus: those who swore allegiance to Baghdadi followed Abu Umar, while those who had pledged an oath to the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Dokku Umarov, remained with Jaish al-Muhajireen, which is now led by Salahuddin al-Shishani.

TRANSLATION OF THE INTERVIEW WITH UMAR

Beladusham’s interview with Abu Umar sheds some light on his ideologies and views toward the insurgency, the role of ISIS factions and his opinions on the overall “jihad” in Syria and Iraq.


ABDUL KADIR:
What have you to say about the past situation in Syria?

ABU UMAR:
In Syria, everything began with popular uprisings and protest demonstrations. With time, things morphed into jihad. The Prophet of Allah said, “Islam began as something strange and will return to being something strange”. We have seen an attestation of these words here in Syria, when as soon as we arrived here we saw a people who did not know Islam, but over the past 7-8 months we have seen how the nation has strived hard for religion.

When we got here, all the checkpoints were in the hands of the Free Syrian Army, they went around smoking, listening to music, but now all the checkpoints are under the control of ISIS, that has strongly raised the morale of the people.

The situation here is changing fast, of course these changes will lead to the people knowing the one God, Allah. In principle, the Prophet in his Hadiths spoke about the blessedness of these lands, we hope that Allah will turn these actions into good.

ABDUL KADIR:
We have heard about your conflict with the FSA.Is this conflict with just those who fight against you, or with the entire FSA?

ABU UMAR:
We aren’t in a position of conflict with the whole FSA right now, but just against those groups who oppose our aims of an Islamic State.

Like we previously reported, we are fighting with the pro-democracy gangs, at first this was in ad-Dana, after that in Azzaz and now in Kfar Hamra. For example, one of the latest groups we fought with, the leader of which was well known (he is talking about the commander of the group Shuhada al-Badr led by Khalid Hayani — Beladusham). People were really grateful to us after we defeated him, they said that they were praying for us. During our battles with him, 40 hostages wound up falling into our hands, they were all recently freed. Among them were local girls that they’d liked, even Mujahideen, these criminal groups collected ransoms from the people, that Hayani was known among the local people as a thief and a smuggler…

That group had previously attacked three ISIS mujahideen. We are at war with the tyrant before us, and if the same tyrant is behind us, we don’t see any difference with whom we fight.

ABDUL KADIR:
Tell me, what are your future plans, do you plan to create a monopoly of power, i.e. will there be only the ISIS movement or will you give permission for other groups of Mujahideen to exist? In short, will you represent their power?

ABU UMAR:
First of all, like we already said, we are planning to found a State. After the creation of a full state, we will ask everyone, “why don’t you join us?”. That problem isn’t exclusive to Syria or Iraq, that’s a problem for the whole Ummah. There will be a huge blessing in the declaration of a State. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made this declaration. I want to put the question to the whole Ummah, is not our goal of an Islamic State a common aim? Why do you not join with us? That is my frankness to everyone.

ABDUL KADIR:
In certain circles, supporters of ISIS are perceived as misguided sects, Kharijites (Muslims who rejected the authority of the final Rashidun Caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib), and takfiris, and are also perceived in certain circles as Murjites (a sect opposed to the Kharijites). Would you cooperate with them?

ABU UMAR:
(Laughing) I don’t even know how to reply. These people existed even in Omar’s time and in the time of Salahuddin al-Ayubi, their only work is chatter. We need to look at ourselves. If we establish Sharia Law, then there won’t be a problem, that’s why we need to look at ourselves.

ABDUL KADIR:
In the future, inshallah, the Islamic State will have a need for schools, will there be job opportunities for people, caring for kids and the public, sorting out issues of refugees and suchlike?

ABU UMAR:
At this stage, we are striving with all our strength for jihad. At this moment, ISIS has taken upon itself the main burden of being an army. For that reason, we have not yet had the chance to work in other areas. But despite this we are trying to open schools. Right now, we know of 125 people who trained in Madrassas in order to give sermons. They will explain the Tawhid and Islam. Inshallah, in the future we will do all that.

ABU KADIR:
Kadyrov (Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya — JP) said regarding the Mujahideen in Syria that “we kicked them out of Chechnya, they don’t even want their families, these are terrorist mercenaries. Do you want to say anything to Kadyrov?

ABU UMAR:
(Laughing) People shouldn’t think what Kadyrov thinks. We came here on the orders of the Emir Abu Osman (Dokku Umarov) and for a certain time he supported us financially. But now we swore an oath to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and we are fighting under his authority. This is what he wanted, that we swear an oath to al-Baghdadi. Dokku is also fighting to establish an Islamic State and we are fighting for the same thing.

Praise Allah, in the Caucasian Emirate, there are enough Mujahideen for Kadyrov. Mujahideen from Chechnya also went there, but most of them are here. To Kadyrov, I wanted to say this: There are enough Mujahideen for you there, but when everything finishes here, we will be even stronger and will be ready to come to you.

ABU KADIR:
Would your politics toward Assad or the FSA change if America carries out an invasion of Syria?

ABU UMAR:
No it won’t change. We will continue to fight with America and other enemies who continue to shed the blood of Muslims.

ABU KADIR:
What is the situation right now in Iraq?

ABU UMAR:
In Iraq it’s the same as in Syria. The Iraqi Government is also like that in Syria, the system in Iraq and Syria is a a Rafidite (“deserter”) system. Until America gets out of Iraq, nothing will change there, except that the morale of the Mujahideen has been raised, from that point of view of course a lot has changed.

Umar Shishani Reports Advance For ISIS In South-West Aleppo

Russian-language, pro-jihad sources report that the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham, led by ethnic Chechen Umar Shishani, have made advances in the south-western part of Aleppo Province over the past week, in an operation named Operation Fatih.

FiSyria, which reports on events in Syria involving ISIS and related groups, particularly where Russian-speaking fighters from the North Caucasus are involved, said that during the night of December 3-4, ISIS took seven hilltops from pro-Assad fighters, plus two villages.

FiSyria did not name the villages or give any details of the location of the captured bases, but said that the fighters had managed to advance their position closer to the road linking Aleppo city to the south-western part of the province.

According to FiSyria, Umar’s fighters managed to capture a T-72 tank, and anti-aircraft gun and a cache of small arms during the offensive.

It is notable that FiSyria names Abu Umar as the military Emir of ISIS. Previously, Umar has been described as the commander of ISIS’s northern branch, as well as the Emir of the predominantly North Caucasian group, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar.

Those members of JMA who had already sworn allegiance to the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Dokku Umarov, refused to swear an oath to Baghdadi.

There is a third faction, led by Abu Umar’s former second-in-command, Seyfullakh, who have stated that fighters from the North Caucasus must be independent in Syria, even though Dokku Umarov does not hold sway over Syrian land.