Syria In-Depth: Chechen Leader In Aleppo Talks About Islamic State of Iraq’s Expulsion of “Warlord” Hayani

FiSyria, a Russian-language pro-jihad website that reports on Islamist factions in Syria — particularly where Russian-speaking fighters are involved — has posted an interview with Abdul Khalim al-Shishani, a representative of the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham’s Sharia Committee in Aleppo.

Al-Shishani describes ISIS’s recent expulsion of a local “warlord”, Khalid Hayani, the leader of the Martyrs of Badr Brigade.

Who is Khalid Hayani?

Syrian activist Edward Dark described the situation regarding Hayani in a recent article for Al Monitor:

Khaled Saraj, better known as Khaled Hayani, is a notorious rebel warlord operating in and around Aleppo. He’s a native of the town of Hayan — hence, his nickname — just a few kilometers on the Gaziantep highway north of Aleppo. He was largely unknown from his impoverished background right up until the armed conflict erupted in Aleppo province. Soon after, he formed his own militia, the Martyrs of Badr, and through various unsavory activities quickly amassed a small fortune, all in the name of the revolution and fighting against the Syrian regime.

Dark describes some of Hayani’s more notorious activities, including the extensive looting of factories and warehouses in the industrial zone of Liramoun on Aleppo’s northern outskirts, and the storming and subsequent mass looting of the Sheikh Maksud neighborhood.

Dark adds:

It should come as no surprise, then, that the people of Aleppo are more than happy to see him go, even if it is at the hands of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). The group has already dispatched with another notorious warlord, Hasan Jazara, captured in the Sakhur neighborhood along with some of his men as ISIS swept into several areas of Aleppo late last month. He has reportedly been sentenced to death for his crimes. His execution was to be held Oct. 31, but there has been no confirmation that it was carried out.

ISIS, for its part, has been playing a clever and slick media campaign, claiming that it is purging the rebel fighters of traitors, collaborators and criminals. After taking over the border town of Azaz, destroying the rebel faction Asefet el Shamal [Northern Storm Brigade] for allegedly collaborating with US and German intelligence, ISIS has now set its sights on other strategic areas in Aleppo, rooting out rival militias it accuses of criminal activity.

Interview With Abdul Khalim al-Shishani, member of the Sharia Committee in Aleppo

Fi Syria: We need details, as far as that is possible , to explain the conflict between the Mujahideen of ISIS and the Brigade of Khalid Hayani, which is related to the Free Syrian Army…

Abdul: The history of Hayani’s brigade is as follows. He got in with a small group of anti-Government forces, and at the beginning of the Syrian revolution he showed some diligence. He had some early victories and successes, and he was apparently intoxicated by them. Gradually, he stopped caring about the overall reasons why he came to fight and he began to gather around him a force, like a mafia, to enrich himself at the expense of the local population.

From the very start of the Sharia Council, there have been many reports and complaints from the public about this Hayani and his gang. If we could have gotten from the Sharia responsibility for individual members of the group, like Khalid Hayani and his most notorious commanders, then it would have been with an open armed confrontation with a group of up to a thousand people. And also take into account the fact that up to 200 of those guys held certain parts of a common front [against Assad’s forces]. And we were afraid that Hayani could have removed them from there …

FiSyria: And members of the front would have been exposed?

Abdul: Yes. And the enemy could have used that against us. They set up their posts all over the place, not to protect the population but to loot it.

They did not pass over a single car, so they could take bribes from its driver. They took fruit, if any of the Bedouins drove sheep, the sheep were taken. Truckers were usually stripped, stripped bare as they call it. If someone refused to pay, his car was confiscated and he’d be imprisoned. They had, as we found out, a small jail on almost every base.

If they got information that such-and-such guy was from a rich family, then they stuck him in their jail.

FiSyria: So they would take him hostage with the aim of getting a ransom?

Abdul: Yes, and he would be held in custody until his relatives from Aleppo handed over the money. We got complaints like that many times. But like I said before, we didn’t take any definitive action in this regard, because we considered that it wasn’t yet the time for internal squabbles. We thought, let’s finish with the main taghut, then let’s deal with cleaning up the internal ranks.

And we told people who came to us with complaints, that for the time being we were forced to leave him [Hayani]….

And people told us, how are you the assistants of the Sharia, when you punish the weak and spare the strong? And it was hard for us to hear these fair criticisms.

When we brought offenders before the Sharia court, they would usually say to us, “I broke one of the regulations, I committed a sin, and you are immediately bringing me before the law.” Khalid Hayani and his gang have not kept a single one of the laws of Allah…and they did not understand any of our reasonings or arguments that it was not yet possible and so on.

Fi Syria: The people needed fairness.

Abdul: That’s it, fairness. The situation reached the stage that Mujahideen began disappearing without a trace from their positions.

Fi Syria: From local ansars [local battalions]?

Abdul: No, not only them — also the Muhajirs [immigrants, i.e. foreign fighters].

Fi Syria: For what end? What do you make of it?

Abdul: As we understood it, it happened when a Mujahid had information that was important for them. More recently they started picking fights with our brothers who passed through their posts. We got the impression that this is what happened…

Fi Syria: Targeted provocations?

Abdul: Exactly, I can’t say otherwise. Our patience was misinterpreted by them, as a result they wound up with what they’d been looking for. The last provocation, that led to this action, was particularly brazen. One of our brothers, Sheikh Abu Ja’afar, went through one of their posts with several guys, to the Sharia House. They started picking a fight with them at the post, demanding that they show passports and ID cards and whatnot, knowing full well that the Muhajirs don’t have any passports.

Sheikh Abu Ja’afar, with his usual politeness, started to explain that they were foreign fighters, that they don’t carry passports, that they are going to the Sharia Committee. After several exchanges they let them go, but afterwards a pickup with a machine gun started to follow after the brothers.

When Sheikh Abu Ja’afar stopped his car, they jumped out of the pickup, surrounded the brothers, and took their weapons. Then Abu Ja’afar called our brothers on a walkie talkie and managed to say that a Hayani post had surrounded them and were trying to kidnap them. The brothers showed efficiency and within 5 minutes they reached the post, surrounded these impious ones, took their weapons, and arrested them.

Right then, we heard gunshots from a second post nearby….It seemed that the Hayanis were shooting at our car and injured three brothers, two seriously and one lightly. In a moment, our guys surrounded that post. Part of them were able to run for it, but we disarmed and took hostages of most of those at the post.

Fi Syria: Did you capture those who fired at our guys?

Abdul: Honestly, I can’t tell you, but I was told that those who ran for it, didn’t get far — our ansars know where they live.

Fi Syria: They say that right from the start of the conflict, Hayani sent negotiators. Who represented him?

Abdul: Abu Jastin came, he seems to be [Hayani’s] military Emir.

Fi Syria: Was there a third party?

Abdul: Yes, the third party was one representative of Jabhat al-Nusra, and there were more from other battalions. We immediately set out the condition that all those who shot at our brothers would be handed over, and that there could not be any other negotiations. We also demanded that all those about whom the public had made complaints to the Sharia Committee also be handed over.

However, our guys overheard on the walkie-talkie that Hayani, with his usual arrogance, told his subordinates that he wouldn’t hand anyone over, and that he’d “annihilate” anyone who opposed him.

A short while later, after considering the circumstances and understanding that our Mujahideen were determined, he had to come off his high horse, and he started to delay the negotiations.

Our boys understood that they were playing for time til nightfall, and they gave orders to surround their bases and homes.

Fi Syria: Yeah, I remember that momemt. Umar, who til then had always tended to a peaceful resolution of conflicts with partners, took a harsh position, he gave the order to attack their bases and homes.

Abdul: I have to say, either from confusion or because our Mujahideen practically surrounded their main bases in a short time, they didn’t show resistance. Our guys captured about 200 people, many fled, leaving behind all the stuff they’d looted from the population.

In nearly every house that these criminals occupied, there was equipment facilities for prisoners. On the main bases there were actual prisons, where they kept the hostages that they’s taken for ransoms.

In short, this was a real gang of robbers. The Arabs call these guys “kuta turuk”, literally “cutters of the road”.

You could suspect that, if a wealthy family travelled near one of their posts, then they’d drag him into jail. They even took women. In their jail there was a young family: a man, a woman and a 5-month-old baby. They were being held there until their relatives came up with a ransom.

We found a large number of documents that were taken from people. We found an entire database of information with the names of their grasses and stool-pigeons, and details of people living in a particular area. Who they are, what they do for a living, where they work, property and so on.

When we liberated their main prison and set the prisoners free, we found marks of torture not just on the prisoners but also on their subordinates. And it was obvious then why these subordinates weren’t exactly eager to defend Hayani and his cronies. They were kept in that work out of fear, and also because of the money that they were paid.

There’s another such incident — we liberated our brother Abu Umar at-Tunisi [Abu Umar the Tunisian] from their jail. The main events started around 4 p.m., but Abu Umar and another guy from ISIS, plus a car, had been captured at 1 p.m..

The prisoners were kept in appalling conditions. They had 2×2 cells. They practically didn’t feed them, they wouldn’t let them, they weren’t allowed out to go pee, and they had to pee right in the cell. Many of those liberated were at the end of their tether and really weak.

Those villians, they lived in houses, dripping in luxuries. We’ve the houses and villas of Assad’s generals and ministers, but in comparison with the houses of Hayani and his cronies, well, you could say they lived modestly!

What didn’t they have? Rare decorative fish, expensive horses, camels, cars, pedigree dogs, the rarest carpets, furniture, jewelry, antiques, weapons and all that stuff.

In one of the houses we found a radio, through which you can connect direct to Assad’s military command. We also found documents, which said that they’d had contacts and negotiations with Assad’s leaders, behind the backs of the Mujahideen.

All of these documents we’re now studying.

Fi Syria: What happened in the end with the captives, their property and such?

Abdul: Our guys are making enquiries, getting in contact with the relatives. Inshallah, they will be returned to their families. All the property that was seized, is in the Sharia Committee. The previous owners are already being declared. Inshallah, it will all be done fairly and the property will be returned to the suffering people.

Fi Syria: And where is Khalid Hayani and his inner circle? Is anything known?

Abdul: They fled. There are rumors that they fled to Turkey. Others say they’re hiding in one of the Kurdish villages that opposes us. There isn’t any concrete information as yet.


Fi Syria have also published a Russian-subtitled ISIS promotional video showing one of the men allegedly kidnapped by Khalid Hayani. The blue-shirted man, identified as one of the men kidnapped by Hayani and his gang, tells the interviewer about his kidnapping and alleges that Hayani tortured the prisoners. The alleged detainee says he personally witnessed two deaths.

The man accuses Hayani and his men of drinking wine and taking “narcotics pills”. At the end of the video, the man says that the prisoners knew ISIS had come when they heard the words “Allahu Akbar”, before leading the prisoners in the cell in a “Takbir”. Judging from the man’s clean shirt and his relative good state compared to the emaciated, pale and dirty-clothed prisoners in the cell, we suspect that he might not be a prisoner but is answering questions as part of a propaganda video.

Translation of Russian Subtitles

November 13, 2013

Voice Over:

These captives are innocent people who were kidnapped by the sinner Khalid Hayani (Amir of the Shuhada Badr Brigade).

He kidnapped them, so that a video could be shot, demanding money, he made some provocations.

(To Prisoner) What did Khalid Hayani want from you?

(Prisoner) He demanded that I made a video. (Pointing) From that one he demanded 200 thousand, and from (him) over there, a million. From everyone something different.

(To Prisoner) Where are you from?

(Prisoner) From Deir Khafa.

(To Prisoner) Where were you, when you were abducted?

(Prisoner) I was in the Sakin Shabab area of Ashrafiyeh [in Aleppo]. They took me and my wife, they wanted us to make a video recording (so that relatives would pay money).

(To Prisoner) Where’s your wife right now?

(Prisoner) They let her go, so she could take the video.

(To Prisoner) What other information is there about that dog, Khalid Hayani?

(Prisoner) No, no, no.

(To Prisoner) How did he deal with the detainees?

(Prisoner) One of them was burned with a flame and of these criminals beat him. At the same time they were beating him, they spoke the words of the infidels…

(To Prisoner) Did they drink wine or anything?

(Prisoner) They did everything! They drank wine, took narcotic pills. Everything, everything.

(To Prisoner) Do you know the number of women prisoners?

(Prisoner) No, I don’t know.

(To Prisoner) They say there were five…

(Prisoner) No, no, I don’t know, every day they brought women.

(To Prisoner) You mean you don’t know how many exactly there were?

(Prisoner) No, I don’t.

(To Prisoner) What types of punishment did they dole out?

(Prisoner) They tied the arms and then suspended (people), they used electric currents, they beat (people), burned with flames.

(To Prisoner) Is it true that some of the prisoners died?

(Prisoner) Yes, two died in front of my very eyes.

(To Prisoner) Did they die from the blows?

(Prisoner) Yes.

(To Prisoner) Do you know where they took the bodies?

(Prisoner) I heard they threw them in some well.

(To Prisoner) Do you know where it is?

(Prisoner) No.

Voice Over: Here are the prisoners, who were captured by that Khalid Hayani and his group of criminals. Praise be to Allah, ISIS came to their defense and to return their rights…

(Prisoner) They entered my house and didn’t leave anything there, they looted it totally.

(To Prisoner) What’s your opinion of ISIS?

(Prisoner) It’s who liberated us, may Allah preserve them from anything bad. I ask Allah to raise the banner of La Illah Ila Allah. We were here and we heard only the words of the infidels. When we heard the words “Allahu Akbar”, then we understood that ISIS had come.

Voice over: Yallah, Takbir!

(Prisoners) Allahu Akbar!

Umar Shishani Interview On Offensive Against Kurds Near Atma

Russian-language pro-jihadi site FiSyria, which reports on North Caucasian fighters in Syria, has published an interview with Umar Shishani, the ethnic Chechen leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar.

Shishani, who is also the military commander for ISIS in northern Syria, was reported killed by Kurdish sources following clashes with Kurdish fighters and Free Syrian Army insurgents along the Syria-Turkey border region. However, jihadi sources were fast to dispel the rumor, publishing photographs of Shishani.

The interview focusses on the clashes between ISIS and the Kurdish fighters. (NB FiSyria, like other jihadi sources, refers to the Kurdish faction as the Turkish PKK, while Kurdish sources say that the Syrian YPG is the group involved in the clashes.)

I have translated the interview, which offers insights into the incidents between ISIS/ Jaish Al Muhajireen Wal Ansar not only regarding the clashes with the Kurds in Atma, but also regarding the recent incidents between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army in the border town of Azaz in Aleppo Province.


A FiSyria correspondent interviewed Amir Umar as a result of the cross-border military confrontation in the region of the village of Atma between Mujahideen from ISIS and the PKK ( Kurdistan Workers Party ) .

FiSyria:

There’s been a lot of talk about the battles against the Kurds near Atma. Typically, each big event gives rise to rumors, speculation, sometimes blatant misinformation. There is talk of a truce between ISIS and the PKK, and some have even listed its points. I would like to clarify, when was the armistice signed, and what points did it include?

Umar:

Umar: So far, there has been no truce. Therefore, there can’t be any points. There is an agreement on a provisional cease-fire. And there’s a big difference between a temporary cease-fire and a truce.

FiSyria:

Yes, there is a difference between these concepts. And how did this conflict start? What was the reason?

Umar:

Some time ago, Kurdish fighters took over the hilltop near Atma and started to fire at the road. Mujahideen from ISIS responded quickly to protect the Sunni population. The Kurds were driven from the hilltops, having suffered losses. Three Kurdish militants were killed. On our side, there were no losses.

Unfortunately, this encounter of ours wasn’t given enough emphasis, and serious bases weren’t established in these places. As a result, for three days PKK fighters moved freely on these positions and thoroughly occupied the commanding hilltops. And we ”ve already had to storm the entrenched enemy.

FiSyria:

Is there any information about the reason why the Kurdish Communists showed aggression?

Umar:

Captured Kurdish militants claim that they had to gain a foothold in the hilltops, as they have been warned that Mujahideen from ISIS were preparing to attack their village. They claim that they were alerted by a senior member of the Free Syrian Army.

FiSyria:

Did they name names?

Umar: Yes they did. But, naturally, we can not yet reveal it, relying solely on the testimony of prisoners. There needs to be an investigation under Sharia Law.

FiSyria:

What combat troops participated in the assault on Kurdish positions, and what are the losses on both sides?

Umar:

As well as our Mujahideen, units from Ahrar Sham, Jabhat Al Nusra, and Liwa Dawood. Altogether our losses were 15 martyrs, not counting the wounded. Of these, 9 martyrs were from the Jaish Al Muhajireen wal Ansar.

As for the Kurdish parties, we can not give a completely accurate figure. After the assault, we found three dead women on the Kurdish positions. On one of them a notebook was found, that listed the names of those killed and wounded. From this data, there were 85 of killed. It is unclear who the woman was, whether she was a commander, or responsible for the medical care of militants.

FiSyria:

Yes, these figures are roughly consistent with our data. One of our Mujahideen, a Kurd by origin, told us that he got in touch with a relative of the village, and he cited a figure of about 90 killed.

So it’s not a rumor that there are Kurdish women in the military units of the PKK?

Umar:

No, they’re not rumors. The PKK has imposed a rigid system on the Kurdish population. A policy that could be called a “policy of War Communism.” The Communists keep a record of every farm belonging to each family and impose various taxes on people. In addition, each family must supply young men and women to the PKK military forces. If a family has 4 daughters, one has to go serve in their army. If they don’t comply then the house and property of the family are torched.

That’s the Mafiosi-Communist system for you.

FiSyria:

Is the military conflict in Atma is not the only incident with PKK militants?

Umar:

Yes, this is not the first encounter. There are other cases. For example, when there was a conflict between ISIS and the invasion of the FSA’s Northern Storm Brigade in Azaz, PKK militants shot our Mujahideen in the back from their checkpoint when they went out on the offensive.

About a month ago there was a clash in Hasaka [Province] between our ISIS and fighters from the PKK on the Iraqi border. By the way, there were 7 women among the captives then.

FiSyria:

Yes, apparently the global infidels will try to use any organization that doesn’t profess the Islamic faith against the Mujahideen…

Chechen Fighter Explains Battle for Hearts & Minds

The website FiSyria, a Russian-language pro-jihad website that publishes material related to the involvement of North Caucasian fighters in the Syria conflict, has published an interview with a member of the Sharia Committee of the Chechen-led faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA). Continue reading Chechen Fighter Explains Battle for Hearts & Minds

Video: Umar Shishani, the Caucasus Emirate & ISIS

What is the relationship between Chechen jihadists and ISIS?

A video message posted earlier this week of jihadi leader Abu Umar Shishani, a Kist or ethnic Chechen from Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, sheds light on that question. It sheds light on his roles in two Islamist factions in Syria, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar and ISIS, and on tensions between the two groups.

The FiSyria.com website which published the video, said the footage was made following a meeting in Idlib between the Emirs of the Mujahideen of the Islamic State of Iraq Ash Sham (ISIS).

At the meeting, the Emirs discussed issues of military tactics and Jihad strategy. FiSyria said that at the Idlib meeting, the Emirs also planned additional military operations throughout the territory of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Ash Sham [Syria]”.

Before returning to Aleppo, Umar Shishani sent a brief video message from atop a tank in Idlib, reporting on the progress of the Mujahideen in the north of Syria and laying out a plan for future military operations.

The pro-Caucasus Emirate website Kavkaz Center, adds further detail. It names Abu Umar as both the Emir of ISIS’s northern forces and the leader of a separate group of mainly-Chechen fighters, Jaish Al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA).

Kavkaz Center says that JMA is made up of units with fighters from the “Caucasus Emirate” [Chechnya and the Caucasus region], Ukraine, Crimea, Russia, and Europe as well as Arab and Asian countries. In addition to JMA’s involvement in Aleppo, the group is fighting battles in other areas, such as Hama and Latakia Provinces.

Some Mujahideen from the Caucasus Emirate are also deployed in Hama and Latakia Province, according to Kavkaz Center.

Umar has cooperated with ISIS during the battle for Menagh Airbase in Aleppo — and now he has been rewarded with the responsibility of leading operations in northern Syria — but so far the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar have not formally sworn allegiance to the faction.

Indeed, tensions in the relationship with ISIS have led to divisions and splits in Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.

Abu Umar’s video message comes after his former second-in-command, the Chechen fighter Seyfullakh Shishani, split from JMA and formed a new group, Mujahideen of the Caucasus and Syria (Mujahideen Kavkaz wa Ash-Sham).

Trying to re-establish his authority, Umar, who is a poor orator and speaks in heavily-accented Russian, repeats several times that he and other foreign fighters have come to Syria to wage Jihad. He declares that the fighters have had many successes, “As you can see, we are sitting on this tank and we have many modern weapons.”

Umar then hands over to another Russian-speaking insurgent on the tank, Abu Jihad, who greets Jihadists in Syria and all those who are not able to join them:

I want to remind [you] that this endeavor, this jihad, is not a personal endeavor, it is an endeavor of the Ummah [Muslim community], it is a question of the Ummah. And therefore, nobody has the right today to sit doing nothing, with folded arms. Everyone must do the work that is within his power… if you can’t help physically, then help with words, if you can’t help with words, then help with property.

Abu Jihad than talks about the successes of the group, and repeats that the fighters will continue to strive for more successes, because this is “all for the Ummah”.

“The Jihad will continue,” he say, calling on others to do their part.

Abu Jihad urges unity, saying that talk of “eternal schisms and dissolutions” have no influence over Jihad. When everyone stands together, he says, then no force can defeat them.

Today, he adds, the enemies of Allah and religion have united together despite their differences, and in spite of their hatred for each other, their different languages, and different skin colors.

“They have all united together against us, against our goal. So how can we, Muslims, slaves of Allah, Mujahideen, not unite for our common goal?” he says.

The fighter calls on Muslims, whether in Syria or anywhere else, to unite and not to listen to detractors.

“Everyone must act as he is able,” he says.

Chechen Fighter Explains Living Conditions For New Jihadi Recruits

On August 24, the Russian-language FiSyria, the “official website for Mujahideen fighting in Syria” published an interview with a man named as Salahuddin, the Emir of the Zubayr Company.

The exchange offers insights into the ideology of Russian-speaking fighters from the Caucasus, their treatment, and the benefits they receive for taking part in the jihad in Syria.

Translation:

Fi-Syria:
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim [In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate]. In our e-mail, we’ve got a lot of questions [for you]. It would be good to clarify some organizational issues, the procedure and conditions for young Muslims being accepted into the ranks of the Mujahideen for jihad. Could you clarify these issues?

Salahuddin:
I not only can, but want to clarify these issues. Because there are people who come and do not quite understand where they have come. There’s a war here, there is jihad. And this war dictates to all of us a certain order, a Nizam. And it can’t be “I want this” or “I do not want that.” You can do that at home with your wife or your neighbors.

Fi-Syria:
Perhaps this lack of understanding can be explained by the fact that someone has not internally prepared himself for jihad as he should have?

Salahuddin:
Of course, intention and preparation are of considerable importance. Most importantly, he must break with his old, familiar life.

Right from the very start, every person who comes to [wage] jihad, can choose a group that he wants to join. Then he has to hand over his papers to the Emir of the base. And this should not be a cause for concern, this Amanat [entrusting to safekeeping] is strictly maintained.

This is followed by an obligatory stint of muaskara (military training), which lasts 30 to 45 days.

Fi-Syria:
Military training for everyone, without exception?

Salahuddin:
No. There are exceptions. For example, for those Mujahideen for whom this is not their first year in the jihad and who have military experience. And for those who have professional military training.

Then, for a period of four months they are not allowed to travel outside Syria. Only after this period can someone leave for personal or family reasons. And I’ll say right now that, yes, there are exceptions here too. They are considered by the leaders on an individual basis.

Then after 6 months of being here, the Mujahid can bring your family. But housing has to worry about himself.

Fi-Syria:
Is there financial support for family members?

Salahuddin:
Yes. Certain funds, both monetary and food, are allocated from the Baitulmal [treasury fund].

If a muhajid stays with the jihad for a year, he is permitted to marry. And moreover, the management takes over the expenses for that endeavor.

Fi-Syria:
What else would you like to add?

Salahuddin:
That’s all for now…. That’s all I can say. As you know, in any military jamaat [group, assembly] there are things that you can say and there are positions that are generally not talked about.

Foreshadowing The JMA-ISIS Split: “Chechen Militants Want To Break Away From ISIS”

This post, from September 2013, foreshadows the split in Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar after Umar Shishani decided to swear allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in December 2013.

Fehim Taştekin, an analyst specializing in Turkish foreign policy and Caucasus, Middle East and EU affairs and founding editor of Agency Caucasus, explores why Chechen militants are fighting in Syria.

The original piece is in Turkish, but was translated into Russian for Kavkaz Press. This English translation is taken from the Russian version.

He claims that while the largest group of Chechen militants, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), led by Umar Shishani, has cooperated with the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham, it has not sworn allegiance to ISIS and has been trying to find a way to break with ISIS for some time.

The piece goes some way to explain a recent video statement by the second-in-command of JMA, the Caucasian militant Seyfullakh, who announces that he has formed a new brigade independent of ISIS and Jabhat Al Nusra.

The report also explains one reason why Moscow is concerned about “foreign fighters” in Syria, and their connection to “Al Qaeda-linked groups”.

Tastekin begins by asking why Chechens — who for centuries have fought a single enemy, the Russians — are joining the “global jihad” and turning up on the battlefield in Syria, when it has been generally accepted that unlike groups such as ISIS, Chechen fighters are not motivated by a Salafist Jihadist ideology, but a Sufist ideology specific to the Caucasus [actually, this is a mistake on Tastevin’s part — Chechen militants with the Caucasus Emirate in the North Caucasus have long adopted a Salafist ideology and despise traditional Chechen Sufism].

So Tastekin asks why have some Chechen militants turned to global jihad and why are they fighting in Chechnya? There have also been reports of some Chechen militants among those killed in Afghanistan.

According to Tastekin, the new phenomenon of Chechen militants joining the jihad in Syria is related to changes in the Chechen resistance that occurred during the Second Chechen War in 1999.


The Caucasus Emirate, proclaimed in 2006 by Doku Umarov, initially transferred the war in Chechnya to other Caucasian republics. The struggle of Chechens turned into a multinational design, involving the participation of militants from different ethnic groups such as the Circassians, Karachays, Balkars, Ossetians, Nogais, Dargins, Lezgins, and Avars.

Eventually, the struggle left the borders of the Caucasus. Now this diversity is reflected on the Syrian front. Syria emerges as an important step in the integration of Caucasian militants into the global jihad.

Caucasian fighters in Syria soon found themselves at the forefront of the insurgency, with the Khattab Brigade formed by Umar Shishani [the brigade eventually formed into the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, or Army of Emigrants and Helpers].

According to Taştekin, Shishani is a Kist [an ethnic Chechen from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia] and speaks a Vainakh language. The name of the Khattab Brigade comes from the Jordanian militant Emir Khattab — also known as Habib Abdul Rahman — who worked with Chechen mujahideen in the First and Second Chechen Wars after fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Khattab’s Salafist ideology had some influence on Caucasian militants fighting in Chechnya.

The Khattab Brigade, which later formed the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, fought in and around Aleppo with both the Free Syrian Army and ISIS but according to Taştekin avoided swearing any oath to ISIS leaders.

Most of the group’s fighters have origins in the Caucasus, though it is not known how many are Chechen diaspora who settled in Syria in the 19th century.

What attracts Caucasian militants to Syria? Tastekin says the main reason is a sense of solidarity with global jihad, including the idea of creating an Islamic State. However, there are some unique reasons why Chechen militants are coming to Syria to wage jihad:

One main factor attracting Caucasians to fight in Syria is Moscow’s support for Syria and the Assad regime.

For many Caucasians, therefore, the war in Syria is a continuation of the war in Chechnya.

Some of the fighters are wanted by Russian security forces back home in the Caucasus, and see Syria as an escape route from the police and the security services.

Yet others are Caucasian refugees who had a hard time in Turkey, and came to Syria, some of them with their families.

One Caucasian, “Mohammad”, who is close to Chechen militants in Syria said:

“There were those who lived illegally in Istanbul for around five years, and for them Syria was the best way out. Chechen refugees, and about 50 or 60 people of Circassian origin, all members of the Caucasus Emirate, went to Syria. They settled in the liberated areas of Syria with their families since they couldn’t go back to Istanbul. They also couldn’t return to the Caucasus. In Syria, they have no need of a passport or to pay any rent. Security officials also don’t pursue them.”

“Mohammad” said that while Umar Shishani does operate with ISIS, he is trying to move away from its leader, Baghdadi.

Why? “Mohammad” said that Umar Shishani believes that ISIS:

“have no respect for the language and culture. They enforce stringent rules for everything. In addition, they’ve looted factories. For example, they took a huge flour plant, delivered its equipment to Turkey and sold it…** The issue of declaring an Emirate has also led to protests in the ranks of the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar. All those who are fed up with the actions of ISIS join Umar Shishani . The number of militants in the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar is 1.5 – 1.7 thousand people. Those who leave Baghdadi don’t go over to the Free Syrian Army, as it is secular in nature and it has no ideology. And there are only a few Caucasians in Jabhat Al Nusra.”

** Taştekin claims that, in fact, it was Umar Shishani who sold the flour plant’s equipment.

Chechen Militant Shows Off Missile Factory, Asks For Funds

This video, posted on August 25, 2013, shows a Russian-speaking Chechen fighter in Syria, identified as Abu Ibrahim Shishani of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.

Abu Ibrahim explains that the Mujahideen have set up a “mini factory” for manufacturing home-made rockets.

He does not say where in Syria the factory is (so that its whereabouts is not discovered by the Assad regime or rival insurgent groups).

Abu Ibrahim explains that almost the entire process of making the rockets is carried out right here in the mini-factory by the Mujahideen.

“This work allows us to operate against the “Kafirs” [infidels],” he explains.

Abu Ibrahim then shows the viewer different types of rockets at various stages of completion and points out the machinery used to create the various types of rocket casings.

One of the rockets shown at 0:52 has range of 6-8 kilometers, according to Abu Ibrahim.

At 1:52, Abu Ibrahim shows us some finished munitions, missing only a small component on the head of the rocket.

“This is the sort of work that our immigrants, what our jamaat, are doing,” he explains, referring to foreign fighters who have come to Syria to wage Jihad.

After showing the machinery for making the rocket casings, Abu Ibrahim segues into a fundraising proposition: right now, there are not enough rockets being made, he says, but adds:

“Inshallah [God willing], if help is given, if there is the possibility for these people to help, this factory could produce more, and we can make more and more rockets, enshallah. The thing is that if there is any way to help, here in Syria, the Mujahideen…if there is a way to give the means… I can show you what use we can make of it…. If we have more funds we can make more types [of rocket]… with few funds we can only produce these types….”

Abu Ibrahim goes on to say that by donating so that more rockets can be produced, donors can have a big effect, and notes that the Mujahideen are not working for a wage.

“We will be be able to make more weapons to fight the infidels, Enshallah,” he emphasizes. “I’m making this proposition to anyone who knows me, who sees this situation and who wants to help,” Abu Ibrahim concludes.

Syria Video: Chechen Fighter – Wage Jihad Against Sochi Olympics, Not Here

This six-minute video in Russian, posted on July 31, is a message to Russian-speaking Jihadists and Muslims in the Caucasus. The statement is delivered by a man named as Salakhuddin, who is named as the commander of a battalion called Az Zubair — likely from the predominantly Russian-speaking Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Immigrants and Helpers), although this is not specified.

Salakhuddin, who speaks Russian with an accent, comments on the influx of Russian-speaking Jihadists to Syria, criticizing them fighters for not staying in the Caucasus and waging Jihad at home.

Addressing the Chechen Jihadi leader Dokka Abu Usman, Salakhuddin frames Jihad as a global fight against the “infidels”, but declares that it is more important for Chechen and Russian-speaking fighters fight the “Russian infidels” at home before traveling abroad.

In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate!

Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessings be upon His Messenger, his family, his companions and all those who follow him until the Day of Judgment, and after …

Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh [May the peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you].

First of all, we congratulate our fellow Muslims of the Caucasus, the Crimea, Idel-Ural, Siberia and other Muslim lands occupied by Russian invaders [on the occasion of ]the holy month of Ramadan.

Congratulations on this blessed month to our Emir Dokka Abu Usman and his associates, who have labored on the path of jihad for many years.

We pray that Allah not give us trials that are beyond our strength, and to strengthen our spirit in the fight against unbelief and unbelievers.

Recently, the youth spread rumors that they must to go to Syria to wage Jihad, and here today, there is a large influx of volunteers.

It’s understandable when Muslims come from places where there is no Jihad and no way to wage it. But it is not completely understandable, and in our view is not entirely right, when people come to Syria from places where there is Jihad that has been waged for years. Whether it’s Libya, Jammu and Kashmir, or our Caucasus.

Yes, here in Syria it’s easier right now to wage Jihad than in the Caucasus. There territory to be reclaimed from the infidels, there is a rear, there is a front and we’ve got captured weapons, including guns, mortars, anti-aircraft guns, BMPs, and so on.

Living conditions here are also much easier than in the Caucasus Mountains.

But, the truth is that even with all that, there are more victims in the ranks of the Mujahideen here.

I do not want to talk a lot on this matter, but I will say one thing to the brothers — you can’t leave somewhere where there is Jihad and choose other places without good reason. It is said in the Quran:

O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous. [Surat At-Tawbah]

What can be more respectful than Jihad in the Caucasus? Moscow and the Russian infidels have fought against Islam and Muslims for centuries. And before you change the field of Jihad, dear brothers, let everyone have an justification before Allah.

If you can’t climb the mountains, wage Jihad on the plains. If for some reason you can’t wage jihad on the plains, go to Moscow, in this hornet’s nest of the infidels and wage jihad there. Apart from Moscow, choose any city in Rus’ on your own.

And at the end of the day, prepare for the so-called “Olympic Games in Sochi.” This is a concrete order from our Emir Dokka Abu Usman.

Here I have to say, to make such a Jihad, do not form into larger units and battalions. It’s enough to have one to three people who prepare a task for themselves, select a goal and work hard and patiently to go to achieve it.

As our dear brother the Martyr Shamil Basayev [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamil_Basayev ] said: “… modern technology allows one person to cause irreparable damage to the infrastructure of an enemy state.”

And in the final analysis, we would like to give advice to ourselves first of all, and then to our brothers.

Before embarking on any business, perform the Namaz [prayer] . Do nightly prayers, do a lot of dhikr [“remembrance of God] and then go to work, trusting in Allah.

From bitter experience we know here as soon as we have faltered in ibadah [worship, obedience with submission], we suffered failures. And no matter how many weapons and people we have, it is not conducive to success.

On the contrary, when we were doing a lot of dhikr, night prayers, when we ask Allah for help night and day, then in just a few hours with the help of Allah we conquered territory and objectives that had stood against us for months.

Keep a clean, clear, well-thought-out and detailed plan. Do not share your plans with each “good friend.” Otherwise the whole thing will be ruined, you won’t even be able to start it. Let your words and conversations are not get in the way of action.

So by mercy from Allah , [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. [Surat ‘Āli `Imrān 3 159]

Those to whom hypocrites said, “Indeed, the people have gathered against you, so fear them.” But it [merely] increased them in faith, and they said, “Sufficient for us is Allah , and [He is] the best Disposer of affairs.” [Surat ‘Āli `Imrān 3 173]

Who Are Jaish al-Muhajireen wa Ansar?

One of the insurgent factions that suddenly grabbed the attention of mainstream media during the rebel capture of Menagh Airbase near Aleppo last week, was a previously little-discussed group called Jaish al-Muhajirin wal Ansar (JMA).

The rise of JMA is one of how the Syrian conflict has become linked to conflict in other parts of the world, in this case, Chechnya and the North Caucasus.

Syria is hardly the first conflict in to attract foreign Jihadi fighters. There were foreign fighters in Bosnia and Iraq, as well as Chechnya, and in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Formation of Jaish al-Muhajirin wa Ansar

A video posted on March 25, 2013 showed that JMA was formed earlier that month, when a unit of the Kataeb al-Muhajireen (Brigade of Emigrants) under the command of a man named Umar Shishani merged with several other brigades, including Kataeb Khattab and Jaish Muhammad.

In the ceremony, Umar Shishani is standing in the front row facing the camera as the group of fighters swear their allegiance to him. Next to Al Shishani is a man named as Emir Seyfullakh, Al Shishani’s second-in command and another Russian speaker.

The Kavkaz Center website, the mouthpiece of the Caucasus Emirate claims that says that JMA operates mostly in Aleppo and that it has volunteers from various areas, including the Caucasus.

Umar Shishani

There are several videos of Umar Shishani and Seyfullakh prior to the formation of JMA.

Umar Shishani says:

Dear brothers and sisters. We have not participated in this war, as we should have participated in it, and we have missed many opportunities. Now we have a real chance of establishing Sharia Law on this land. And from here we can spread out to other countries… We are doing as much as we can. With weapons in our hands…. First and foremost, we need money. Today, Jihad really depends on money. If we don’t get that sort of support, there won’t be the desired outcome.

A promotional video for the Brigade of Emigrants from early March features Seyfullakh and describes the brigade as consisting of fighters from the Caucasus, Crimea, Tatarstan and “other countries of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States, the initial for former Soviet republics after the fall of the Soviet Union].

A more recent video shows Umar Shishani and Seyfullakh together:

March 2013 — Handarat Air Defense Base, Aleppo

JMA’s first major operation was the capture of Handarat Base in Aleppo Province, north of Aleppo city.

Footage of the capture was uploaded on March 25 to a Russian-language YouTube channel associated with Kataeb Mujahir, Jaish’s predecessor and shows Seyfullakh talking about the capture of the base, taken the previous week .

Seyfullakh explains that the aim of the group, which he says has fighters from Syria, Iraq, Chechnya, and Afghanistan, is to establish Sharia law in the region. Seyfullakh points to the groups of men standing around and says that these are “all our brothers and they are all going to help”.

In a tour of the base, Seyfullakh points out various landmarks and sites of the battle:

JMA, Umar Shishani, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham

JMA and its predecessor groups have collaborated with other factions on the battlefield.

This video shows Jaish training with Islamist faction Jabhat al Nusra:

Jabhat Al Nusrah and Jaish Muhajirin Wa Anshar… by AbuSalima

Footage of the fighting for Menagh Airbase shows that JMA closely cooperated with ISIS.

ISIS leader in Iraq, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, appointed Al Shishani as ISIS’s commander in the northern region of Syria in May 2013. Al Baghdadi made the appointment after he traveled to Aleppo, following the rejection by Jabhat Al Nusra leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani of ISIS’s attempted merger.

Menagh Airbase

The earliest video evidence showing JMA taking part in the fight for the Menagh Airbase was posted in April. This promotional footage shows fighters from the faction bombing the airbase with a 130mm cannon.

More footage from April shows the faction attacking Menagh with homemade mortars:

The Kavkaz Center website reported on April 23 that Jaish had managed to “take control of” high ground and fortified positions overlooking the airbase and capture regime weapons during a raid on a regime armored division.

Jaish seized 20 Russian-made APCs and tanks, as well as a large quantity of weapons and ammunition, according to Kavkaz.

Footage dated May shows a captured weapons cache:

Footage from early July showing a JMA fighter attacking a tank with an anti-tank missile:

the end of the battle for Menagh, this video, again in Russian, showed a Jaish fighter explaining that the group has prepared a BMP vehicle to use as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in a suicide bomb attack. The speaker says, “Enshallah, today we will liberate the airport.”

Umar Shishani gives a statement after the capture of the airbase:

Just before and following the capture of the airbase, another ISIS fighter, Abu Jandal Al Masri is prominent in videos.

Abu Jandal gives a message to Bashar al-Assad:

Abu Jandal in the airbase after its capture:

It is Abu Jandal who is present in the “victory video” shot immediately after the capture of the base, an informal conference led by Free Syrian Army Commander Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi:

Beyond the Menagh Airbase offensive, there is also some evidence that JMA and ISIS have cooperated to train fighters:

The Lattakia Offensive

Jaish have been involved in the August 2013 offensive in Lattakia Province. Kavkaz Center reported on August 14 that fighters from the group —mostly men from the Caucasus region — were transferred fromAleppo to Lattakia and Homs:

JMA Beyond The Battlefield

Like other factions JMA has made promotional videos that show its activities away from the battlefield as well as its fighters’ military prowess. This video from June shows the group providing aid and assistance to civilians — presumably in Aleppo, though no location is given — and also involving children in their activities.

This video from June shows Jaish running a public advocacy event involving children, again, presumably somewhere in Aleppo Province:

Promotional images co-branded to both JMA and ISIS posted on Islamist forums in July show militants providing food aid to civilians in Idlib:

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