An Islamic State militant from Dagestan posted on social media about Abu Waheeb, the IS leader who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May 2016, talking about how he really loved North Caucasian fighters. Continue reading ‘IS’s Abu Waheeb Really Liked North Caucasians’ & Notes On Circassians & Shishanis
The new leader of Sayfullakh Shishani’s jamaat, a Chechen native named as Mohammed Khorasani, has made a video address in which he calls on Chechens in Europe and Chechnya to come to Syria and fight.
Sayfullakh’s jamaat fights under the auspices of Jabhat al-Nusra but is a distinct unit within that Islamist faction.
Sayfullakh was killed by a stray bullet or shrapnel after retreating during a failed attempt to storm the Aleppo Central Prison earlier this month.
Even though the address talks about waging jihad against the infidels, the speaker is clearly focused on the Chechen insurgency, seeing the fight in Syria as part of that struggle or a projected extension of it. He addresses his messages to Chechens, speaking in the native language. He mentions the situation after the First Chechen War and accuses Russia of invading “our land” now. The speaker ends with a direct address to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
The video appears to have been made in an apartment, most likely in Aleppo where the jamaat is located.
Key points from the initial 6 1/2-minute address by one of the jamaat’s fighters:
Sayfullakh Shishani was of great use to the Ummah, he was the best of us. The Ummah lost a man who strived on the path of Allah and raised his word and who many of us loved, those who were together with him and those who didn’t meet him but knew about him from things that they heard.
The best Muslims are chosen as Mujahideen and the best Mujahideen are chosen as martyrs.
However the jihad has not stopped. Allah said the jihad would continue until Judgement Day. And we will try to continue our work on this blessed land.
Those who die on the path of Allah aren’t considered dead, Allah says they are alive.
Everyone knows that our katiba went into Jabhat al-Nusra, when Sayfullakh Shishani was with us, and now after he left everything stayed the same.
And now we can hear a lot of nice sounding words about our group, like we are fighting with the infidels against Muslims, or that we are stealing things, and taking property from Muslims, that we are infidels and cowards.
Such a lot has been said that it needs an answer….
We ask Allah to show who these people really are.
We are fighting on the path of Allah against the infidels…and it’s enough that people see our striving against the infidels.
The Aleppo Central Prison – there are Muslims there – our people with our sisters and children.
I call on you not to accuse your brothers of things that you don’t know and for which you have no proof. Don’t be one of those who creates fitna among Muslims. Say what you know or stay quiet.
Like I said before, our work continues and our group who had sworn an oath to Sayfullakh Shishani has agreed that that amir of our group will be Mohammad Khorasany.
Khorasany, sitting to the left of the initial speaker, takes over with an address in Chechen:
Our brother Sayfullakh Shishani was a lion of the Ummah, favored by Allah and became a martyr.
This is a great loss for the Ummah, but this Ummah has lost many of its heroes, this Ummah is such an Ummah that, losing its heroes, it does not grow weak. Know that this is such an Ummah that every time it loses his heroes it becomes even stronger.
This strength comes from Allah. Brothers, consider it – this path has continued for 14 centuries.
Inshallah this path will continue and we will also be on that path for as long as Allah has prescribed it. We take on ourselves that responsibility, to serve in the religion of Allah.
May he strengthen us in faith.
Those brothers who spread rumors and lies about us, may Allah put them on the right path.
We came to the land of Sham not to fight each other but to raise the word of Allah.
Instead of being enemies let’s unite on the path of Allah and fight together.
The attention of the entire world is turned to us.
Those who bear this religion, they are not Muslims who are living under the taghut, but Mujahideen who Allah trusted with this religion.
And since it’s so, let’s measure up to that name and let’s be an example for each other.
I want to address the brothers who live under the taghut, I want to give some advice.
Don’t follow those who get money from the taghut and who try to tranquilize the people with their cradles.
You heard that here not a small amount of blood has been spilled, women and children, doesn’t that bother you?
Maybe for you the blood of Muslims is cheaper than that of animals? Where are you looking? Or are you waiting for when its your turn for them to get to you?
Hasn’t the time come? Don’t you understand the same hadiths and Quran verses that we understand?
You’ll find on the internet everything that you need, so can’t you find the verse about the obligation to wage jihad?
Open your eyes, brothers. On the judgement day you will answer for every drop of Muslim blood spilled when you were being silent.
Let’s say it again, our words are only for those who believe in Allah and in the judgment day. The others can just not listen.
If these words aren’t enough for you to come to the faith, then there aren’t any more words for you.
Don’t be late to answer the all or it will be too late. Let Allah put you on the path of faith.
Do what even women do, pray. Even just don’t reprimand us.
On judgement day you’ll get a reward for all your good deeds, don’t waste time!
We went out onto this path and we are ready to give our souls, we went out to raise the word of Allah and this curse that reaches us that we are somehow fighting with the infidels against Muslims that we left Allah.
To the brothers in Chechnya I want to say, the jihad here is going on and will go on while there are still Muslims. Until Judgement Day.
I want to say one thing, today we are trying to establish fairness, Sharia Law, to chuck out democracy and for that they call us terrorists.
And countries like America and Russia immediately invade our lands, saying that they’ve come to help Muslims. Every Muslim must know that the infidels who have their own religion will never help us establish Islam.
Why don’t you understand this?
And now like Sayfullakh said we have a a force, an army, weapons and inshallah we will fight. If we are killed then those who come after us will fight.
And I say to those in Europe and those in Chechnya, when I came here and I didn’t know my way around and I didn’t have any contacts, and I prayed to Allah that he would bring me to this land and he brought me here.
Let us go out and fight against these infidels. Today you’re sitting at home, when you die in your beds, it’ll be too late to be sorry about it.
Let’s rise up together and spread the religion of Allah and help our poor Ummah, when the Ummah needs us. If we don’t go out now then when will we?
We remember what happened in Chechnya after the first war. We know how several Mujahideen started to build themselves a home and several of them, when they’d gotten together 10 fighters, called themselves a brigadier general. They became arrogant.
Today our Ummah has been lowered by the infidels who have established their politics over the Muslims and several so called Muslims have followed them for the bones that the infidels throw them, but if they were Muslims they wouldn’t act that way.
If we fight the infidels then Allah will give us force, an army and weapons.
We will finish here in Syria, those are with us in this life, come here where the Ummah needs you.
We need Sayfullakh but his time has come and he has left having done whatever was in his strength, but we will not give up and we will continue that path.
And what about Ramzan Kadyrov (the Chechen leader), I want to tell him the following: That conversation you had after Sayfullakh was killed, when you said you killed him and that your intelligence services were waiting for us everywhere, it’s not worth two kopecks, if you don’t come and fight us.
Send your special forces, no problem, as Sayfullakh said, we will flatten you, we know who your special forces are, we are waiting for your special forces, send all your special forces, even a thousand of them, we’re not worried, if that worried us we wouldn’t have come here. Just send them here!
We are here, and here we will stay, where the Ummah needs our help, we will go there and if not us then those who come after us.
To those in Europe and Chechnya I want to say, let’s rise up and unite and fight the infidels in this blessed land. That is a great gift from Allah. I’m ready to give my life for Allah.
Like one Mujahid said in Dagestan, “We want to die like you want to live”.
On Tuesday, I posted a translation of the first part of a special report by Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), who sent two reporters on what it dubbed the “Jihad trail”, following the paths of Russian-speaking jihadists seeking to fight in Syria.
The piece is interesting not just for the information it brings about how Russian-speakers, mostly from the North Caucasus, are making their way to Syria, but also for what it reveals about Russian attitudes to the Syrian conflict in general, the participation of Russian nationals, and Russia’s own fears over the ongoing insurgency in the North Caucasus.
It is notable, for example, how KP conflates the “armed opposition” with extremist groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham and with affiliated groups comprising fighters from the North Caucasus. KP’s entry point into the refugee situation in Turkey is by highlighting concerns that Turkey is “losing sovereignty” over part of its territory along the border, but does not mention the battles between ISIS fighters (including from the North Caucasus) and the PKK along the border. The piece also confronts Russia’s own part in the Syrian Civil War, via Moscow’s ongoing support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A major concern for KP is what will happen when the Russian-speaking jihadists return to the Russian Federation.
Below is the second part of KP’s special report.
It turned out not to be easy to find a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. There was a whole chain of negotiations: Skype, phone calls, recommendations, guarantees… For starters, they dispatched a political director of one of the battalions of the Free Syrian Army to meet with the Russian reporters. Abu Khaldun smoked a lot, looked at us with curiosity, and started off by giving us a whole thesis about the history of the three-year conflict in Syria. A bloody regime wanted to put down the people’s social protests, the people took up arms…
“We’ve been your friends for 60 years,” continued the zampolit (political commissar) continued to shoot off cliches. “But now Syrians are very badly disposed toward the Russians, because you’re killing us with Russian weapons. I would advise you not to flaunt your nationality here.”
“Aren’t they badly disposed toward the terrorist groups?”
“The Islamist groups,” Abu Khaldun corrects. “They act in the interests of the regime, who is happy to dub them the opposition. Half the victims of this war are the “servants” of the Assad regime, the other half, are on the conscience of Russia.”
Our conversation is joined by an FSA general named Adib Aleui. At some point, he, a Sunni, was a pilot in the Government airforce. But he felt, as he put it, a second-class citizen among the Alawites. At the start of the war, he didn’t think twice about joining the opposition. “I couldn’t bomb my parent’s house.”
“During the time of Brezhnev and Andropov, we were very friendly,” he puts on the same old record. “I had a
Russian teacher, we all studied together for the progress of Syria, but this knowledge is now being used against the people.”
“Is Russia guilty because of what it taught you?”
“All the weapons were bought from Russia, and now these weapons are being used against the people,” the general stuck to his guns. Let his army fight with some other weapons…
WE CAN’T GUARANTEE YOUR SAFETY
According to the general, the revolutionary army controls 70% of the country. And
the opposition-held territory, there is a poor, but democratic rule with religious pluralism and tolerance. We ask for a permit to take a look at these new sprouts. And to go into the nearby Syrian countryside, which is controled by the FSA.
But our innocuous request is met with a stupor by our acquaintances. The opposition leaders talk amongst themselves for a long time, then ask advice from someone on Skype, and in the end they tell us that they cannot guarantee our safety and people there are very, very badly disposed toward Russians.
But do they worry so very much about our safety?
“Islamist groups often set up posts on the roads,” explains Professor Mukhiadin Bananekh to us in Russian. He is the man responsible for helping refugees. “They could take you for spies, and our guys could be accused of conspiring. That’s no good for anyone.”
The FSA general cannot guarantee the safety of his guests on his own territory! Because on that territory hold sway multinational gangs of Islamist-fanatics.
“Of course, those who come to us, to the war, only prolong it,” opposition Sheikh Yasim Aubad surprisingly agrees (as you guessed, he started out by talking about the Soviet-Syrian friendship). “If Russia wants the war to finish now, it has to say firmly, ‘Bashar, please, goodbye’. One man — and it’s all because of him!”
“And the two armies, who are shooting each other, will make peace?”
“Bashar hasn’t got an army. Saddam in Iraq had an army of a million people. When the US took Baghdad, where did that army go? They changed to civvies and fled.”
HOW BOZIGIT DIED
Our interlocutors are not the highest links in the opposition hierarchy, they’re more like mid-ranking. But they are valuable in understanding the situation — they at least spend time in Syria. And they live very close by its border, and even travel in cars with Syrian plates. Our translator apologizes that her mother forbade her to have anything to do with Russians. And she tells us a long story about the crimes of the regime army, about the victims of airstrikes, about arrests and people being disappeared. And we have no reason not to believe her. But on the other hand, how can you not believe the residents of the Christian regions of Homs, who hug us like we are their relatives? Or refugees from the Christian holy town of Maaloula, who attest to the atrocities of the FSA? Or the video footage with the decapitation of Christian priests?
The war does not have a single truth, which would suit everyone. But death does not choose between the righteous and the sinners. We see the next in the line of the “jihad-hit”: 18-year-old Dagestani Bozigit Abullaev, wounded in the kidney, does slowly and painfully. He tries to mouth a prayer, but pain screws up his face with convulsions. His associates sit nearby, someone shouts in accented Russian, “What the heck, can’t you find a car?” Bozigit’s eyes roll back, he’s not breathing anymore.
He was less lucky than his fellow countryman who escaped the war.
From the interrogation of S.S.Ahmedov (a fighter who returned to Russia from Syria):
“I returned to the base, where I asked the Emir if I could quit the armed opposition and go home because of serious family circumstances. He gave his agreement and said that he was no longer responsible for my life.”
The international jihadi brigades are spread out practically across the entire north and northwest of Syria. Some bands are trying to unite, others are trying to do the opposite and split from the influential groups and set up their Islamic State in some separate, captured village. For 50 kilometers of track from the border to Aleppo, you can meet both staunch adherents of Sharia Law and mercenaries chasing after petrodollars, and professional kidnappers, and – naturally – fighters for Al Qaeda from the Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS, predominantly Arabs.
The problem is that even when you are in Syria, it’s impossible to get a real estimate of the forces. Even more fantastic are the shouts in Geneva offices by the representatives of the opposition about a mythical unified command.
But the FSA with its verbose political officers and generals, who don’t even control the nearest roads, are hardly suitable for this role…
THREE TOURISTS, THREE SAD GUYS
From the Turkey-Syria border, we return to Dagestan. Awaiting us there is a meeting with those for whom the jihad excursion ended in arrest. And with the harsh indictment: “participation in illegal armed formations”.
This journey — there and back again — has been undertaken by hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian citizens from the North Caucasian republics. These lads, born in the mid-1990s, are of various psychological types, but share a common faith. According to “jihad tourist” Shamil Ahmednabayev, he didn’t get to fight. He worked in refugee camps. And in general, he said he “came to Syria to help other Muslims”.
“I saw on the internet how kids and adults were dying and being killed.”
The conversation with the second “fighter” is rich with quotations from the Quran. He was enchanted with the Syrian jihad.
“That wasn’t what I wanted to see there,” said Zhabrail Saligulayev sullenly, glancing at his laceless sneakers. “They called everyone ‘brother’ but in reality it was those who paid who got to climb into politics. Fame at any cost. Did you hear how Banat chopped off the heads of three priests? They told him that day, don’t do that! And they told the priests, don’t be afraid. Abu Banat was like, yeah, yeah. He waited til the evening, when the elders had left, and he chopped off the heads. Fame.”
“He who promises to defend the faithless and kills him, will carry the banner of perfidy on the Day of Judgement,” we remind our interlocutor. “That’s what it says in the Quran?”
Our interlocutor nods sadly. He’s surprised that we know quotations from the Holy Book. But it will be our turn to be amazed when we meet with Omar Ibragimov.
He got to Syria via the standard route: Makhachkala – Istanbul – Hatay – Reyhanli. He wound up in a suburb of Aleppo, where he fell into an “international” brigade of fighters.
“There were lots of people from Europe, from Turkey, the Near East. I wound up in an Uzbek jamaat.”
“A large one?”
“120 people. Various ages. The older ones had all lived in Moscow. They got to Syria on Uzbeki passports. And if they wanted to go to Russia, they traveled about using internal passports. So nobody counted them as tourists.”
At some point in the conversation, Omar got carried away. He proudly related how there was mutual assistance between the jamaats. He bragged about a new order in the territories liberated by the opposition.
“All life there goes on according to the Quran. It’s forbidden to sell cigarettes, women go around completely covered up. If they uncover themselves, they are punished with beatings. Most people are happy with the Sharia Law. They say, “Allah help us.” They ask, where are you from. You say, from Dagestan! They don’t get it, so you explain that it’s next to Chechnya. They hug you, they say, you’re our guests.”
“How do they deal with captives? Do they execute them immediately?”
“Nah, it’s OK, they give them food. If a guy accepts Islam, then they let him go straight away. If he doesn’t, then of course he’s executed.”
P.S. Omar, of course, did not take into account that he would run into such serious problems when he returned home. He thought that it would be quite the opposite. Like the three Davudbegov brothers who returned home from Syria to Khasavyurt (in Dagestan) in October, and immediately started to wage jihad in their motherland. Within weeks, the brothers were eliminated by special forces — in Syria, they simply were not taught conspiracy. But in the domestic Wahhabist underground, there are specialists in that area too, who are prepared to coach any young ‘brothers’ with invaluable fighting experience.
Np one knows how many “tourists” have returned or will return from Syria and join the North Caucasus jamaats. Only those who enter the country via passport control can be counted. But after all, there is an indirect, contraband route between Azerbaijan and Georgia. According to the most modest calculations, there are about 1,000 fighters from the North Caucasus, Tatarstan and Bashkiria in Syria. The jihadists themselves say the “Russian presence” is around 4,000 fighters.
It’s hardly reassuring that this is not just our headache. According to the Western press, there are around 200 Australians, hundreds of Belgians, 50 Germans, 150 French citizens, 80 Dutch, and 40 Norwegians fighting in the Syrian opposition.
Jihad-tourism has hot tour packages all year round.
(Featured image: Omar Ibragimov, who allegedly fought in Syria. Credit Aleksander Kots, Dmitri Steshin, Komsomolskaya Pravda.)