More on Omar al-Shishani [Part III]

‘Omar The Chechen’ Should Come Home, Says Dad
By Katie Stallard, Moscow Correspondent, in Pankisi, Georgia
Sky News | 10 July 2014

The father of ISIS commander Omar al Shishani has told Sky News his son felt rejected by his country when he left to fight jihad.

With his distinctive red beard, al Shishani has become one of the most recognisable faces of a group now notorious for extreme brutality in its pursuit of an Islamic state across large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

But his father remembers a young man who was never particularly religious, but who always wanted to be a soldier.

Born in the remote Pankisi Gorge in Northern Georgia, an area once seen as a stronghold for Chechen militants, his real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili.

When he was younger, he worked as a shepherd boy in the hills above the gorge, where he reportedly first met Chechen fighters, crossing the Caucasus mountains to fight Russian forces across the border.

"He was a very good boy, very well behaved," Timur Batirashvili remembers.

"Always very intelligent, very nice, he hated when people lied.

"Do you know what I think now? I didn’t know my son. I didn’t know him at all."

Tarkhan joined the Georgian army and served in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. His father said he seemed happy, that he had found his place in the world.

He was due to be promoted to become an officer, and told his father their lives were about to change, that he was going to earn so much more money.

But then he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and admitted to hospital, after which he was discharged from the army on medical grounds.

He tried and failed to get back in – Mr Batirashvili said he was "tormented" – sent from office to office to no avail.

A few months later he was arrested and sent to prison for possession of illegal weapons.

"When he came back from prison he was really thin," Mr Batirashvili said.

"He lost his colour in prison, and he told me, ‘Father, this means that this country doesn’t need me.’

"I haven’t seen him ever since. He felt really bad, he was really angry.

"He made a pact that if he left the prison alive he would start a holy war for God.

"’I will start a holy war in the name of God’, he said, and that’s what he’s doing right now."

He reappeared in Syria last year under a new name, Omar al Shishani – which translates as Omar the Chechen – and became the leader of an al Qaeda-inspired group, The Army of Emigrants and Partisans, before pledging his allegiance to ISIS.

Mr Batirashvili said his son phoned him once, asking whether everything was okay, and whether he was praying to God.

When he replied that he was praying to Saint George, a Christian saint, al Shishani told him he should convert to Islam and hung up.

We asked him what he would say to his son if he could speak to him now.

He said: "Come back home. I am an old man. I need to be taken care of, I need to be looked after. Come home."

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/omar-chechen-come-home-says-dad-003638680.html

 

Chechen jihadists in Syria: The case of Omar al-Shishani
Suhaib Anjarini
Al-Akhbar | Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chechen jihadists play a major role in the conflict in Syria. They have been fighting in Syria since 2012 and their role has been carefully planned, with direct clerical guidance from certain countries and indirect involvement by a number of intelligence agencies.

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Chechen jihadists in Syria. (Photo: AFP)

The Chechen jihadist role in the Syrian crisis has the covert support of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The Qatari ties to Chechen jihadists, though relatively recent, are the most effective. The Saudis have provided clerical support, while the Turkish role is mostly logistical.

Omar the Chechen

In September 2010, the Georgian authorities arrested Tarkhan Batirashvili on charges related to illegally purchasing and stockpiling weapons. Little did the man know that the primary outcome of his arrest would be his transformation into a jihadist and that later on, he would become one of the most famous leaders of the jihadist project in Syria.

Omar was born in 1986 in the Pankisi Gorge located in northeast Georgia, where the majority of the population is Chechen. In 2006, he was drafted into the Georgian military. The impoverished young man was seen as a loner, but he was known for his passion for learning various combat techniques.

He was retained on contract by the Georgian army after the end of his compulsory service in 2008. Less than a year later, he was discharged after contracting tuberculosis. This was before he was arrested in September 2010.

There is nothing new in the information above, most of which is already known and circulated. But a jihadist source close to Omar al-Shishani agreed to speak to Al-Akhbar to help us gain a better understanding of who Omar really is and how he became a leading Chechen jihadist.

According to the jihadist source, the two years between Omar’s discharge and his arrest played an important role in developing his jihadist ideology. During that period, Batirashvili met a number of friends who eagerly supported jihad.

The short time he served in prison played a crucial role in his life. There, he met a man called Mohammed, a Saudi national who had ties to major jihadist leaders and was well versed in jihadist ideology. Mohammed told Batirashvili about the role of the Saudis in supporting jihad, and the feats of the late Thamir Saleh Abdullah al-Suwailem, a Saudi national and major jihadist commander in Chechnya.

Batirashvili, became eager to partake in jihad himself, and even started seeing himself fighting against what jihadists called the “Russian infidels.” “Brother Mohammed would tell him salvation was near, and that those visions were signs from God,” the source added.

Batirashvili was later released from prison after contracting tuberculosis. “Sheikh [Batirashvili] left prison armed with the prayers of Brother Mohammed and the names of clerics who have a history of supporting jihad, and ways to contact them,” the source explained.

Passage to Egypt

Batirashvili, now rechristened as Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen), wasted no time. He quickly contacted two of those clerics via the Internet. The source said, “They told him there were vigorous efforts to revive the golden age of jihad. They then quickly agreed to meet away from the country of the infidels, in Egypt.”

Shishani travelled to Egypt, possibly in February 2011, where he met with a Saudi cleric, a Qatari businessman, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, and a young Turkish man known as Mansour al-Turki.

The idea of jihad in Syria was not on the table yet. Batirashvili believed he would be leaving Egypt back to the Caucasus, having obtained backing for a new and sustainable wave of jihad against the Russians. It is also likely that there was a jihadist operation in the works for Egypt, which was witnessing the beginnings of unrest against the Mubarak regime. The Muslim Brotherhood and its backers, primarily Turkey and Qatar, wanted to seize power there at any cost.

But the way events unfolded in Egypt allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve its goals at the ballot box. This, in addition to the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, tilted the jihadist compass in the direction of the Levant.

By that time, Mansour al-Turki had become a permanent escort for Batirashvili during his stay in Egypt. He had also convinced him that jihad would become global. The source quoted Shishani saying, “Repeated discussions with Sheikh Mansour persuaded me that the jihad against the infidels was one and the same everywhere, and was the path to the restoration of the caliphate and its rule over the entire world.”

It seems that Omar’s impressionable character was one of the reasons he was chosen to lead Chechen jihadists in Syria, instead of giving the task to veteran jihadist commanders. For one thing, the latter’s allegiance primarily lay with the organizations they fought for before, specifically al-Qaeda.

The journey to Syria

In late 2011, Shishani found himself in Turkey, ahead of entering Syria, for “jihad against the Russians and their Baathist ally, who is no less of an infidel than the communists are.”

The jihadist source said, “Sheikh Omar did not want to form an independent group. He was looking for a group with a clear vision and a correct approach.”

To this end, Batirashvili held several meetings with jihadist leaders in Syria. He is quoted as having said, “We sat with their commanders but we were shocked by the extent of their misplaced loyalties. We found them to be very vein.”

Shishani also wanted to obtain a pledge from jihadists in Syria to support jihadists in the Caucasus in the future, a promise he ultimately obtained only from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In ISIS’ arms

In the Aleppo countryside, Omar met with major jihadist figure in Syria, Abu al-Athir al-Absi, who became his new patron. Through Absi, a meeting was arranged for Shishani with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS.

Shishani is quoted as praising Baghdadi, “We found in him humility, which we did not find in others. He pledged to support the jihad in the Caucasus. He was immensely pleased with us, and confirmed that he has been looking for some time for a way to help there.”

Shishani’s Army of Emigrants and Partisans, formed in March 2013, pledged allegiance to ISIS for jihad against the Syrian regime, but they did not endorse its claim to leading the caliphate for many reasons, including “avoiding antagonizing emir Dokka Omarov [a major Chechen jihadist leader] and his supporters,” according to the same source.

Despite this, Salah al-Din al-Shishani, another Chechen commander, along with 800 of his fighters, split from Omar’s group in November 2013. Interestingly though, the split was almost amicable. In a statement explaining his move, Salah al-Din said, “The leadership of ISIS suggested that our group, the Army of Emigrants and Partisans, grant it an all-encompassing pledge of allegiance. Part of our mujahedeen gave an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, while the rest refused to grant an all-encompassing pledge. Praise be to God, every mujahid has the right to choose. We did not become enemies because of this. We are brothers, and we will unite when needed to fight together against the enemy. We will not refuse to give an all-encompassing pledge when there is a single emir ruling all of the Levant, God willing.”

The Turkish role

Since the jihadists’ attention turned to Syria, their reliance was primarily on the Turkish role for help. Turkish collaboration with Chechen jihadists dates back to the Ottoman era, specifically, to the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid I, who helped Sheikh Mansour al-Shishani in the war with the Russian Empress Catherine in 1787. Mansour answered the call “to preserve the caliphate.”

Based on similar grounds, Chechen jihadists were manipulated to draw them into the Syrian crisis. The premise was that “jihad against the Russians in the Levant paves the way for the return of the caliphate, and for taking the jihad back to the Russian heartland.”

Ankara took advantage of the ties cultivated by its secret services with a number of Chechen jihadist symbols, who moved to Syria recently. Turkey is a compulsory crossing bridge for all Chechens on their way to Syria. The flow of Chechen jihadists reached a peak in the past two months during the battle near the headquarters of the Air Force Intelligence in Aleppo, and the town of Kessab on the Syrian coast.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/19615

 

 

Syria Analysis: The “True” Story of Insurgent Leader Abu Umar al-Shishani — & What It Means
By Joanna Paraszczuk, Scott Lucas
EA WorldView | November 21, 2013

In August, Abu Umar al-Shishani (“Abu Umar the Chechen”) surged to prominence in the Syrian conflict. The faction which he led, Jaish al-Muhajirin wa Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Helpers) had played a key role in one of the insurgency’s biggest victories of 2013, the capture of Menagh Airbase in Aleppo Province.

Over the next three months, EA’s Joanna Paraszczuk investigated the story of al-Shishani and the foreign fighters, most of them ethnic Chechens, of Jaish al-Muhajirin wa Ansar. She detailed the evolution of the group, assessed its significance in the insurgency, and examined its relationship with the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham. She brought testimony from al-Shishani himself, in videos commenting on battles near Hama, on ISIS — which had reportedly named him “Northern Emir” for Syria — and on battles with Kurdish militia this autumn.

Doing so, she put into perspective the overblown claims of media and some analysts that the “foreign jihadists” of Jaish had “spearheaded the capture” of Menagh and become a leading force in the insurgency. Her story of Abu Umar also gave much-needed context for a media shorthand that was reducing factions in northern Syria to “Al Qa’eda-linked” without considering their backgrounds, operations, and motives.

Now we have additional information for Paraszczuk’s analysis, courtesy of two detailed and sometimes curious stories, from Alan Cullison of The Wall Street Journal, and from Murad Batal Shishani of BBC Arabic, about the “real” Abu Umar.

Both Batal Shishani and Cullison have published stories based heavily on information from anonymous sources, and a middleman who gave information from Georgia’s Defense Ministry.

The Wall Street Journal version

Cullison says that Abu Umar is Tarkhan Batirashvili: “Born to a Christian father and Muslim mother, he served in an intelligence unit of the Georgian army before opportunities dried up at home and he left for holy war.”

Cullison, who interviewed people claiming to be Umar /Tarkhan’s relatives and two of his (anonymous) former army commanders, says that he grew up as a shepherd boy in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, “living in a brick hut with no plumbing in the village of Birkiani”. His long-standing campaign against Moscow began as he helped Chechen rebels cross secretly into Russia and sometimes joined the fighters on missions against Russian-backed troops.

After leaving high school, Umar /Tarkhan joined the Georgian army, winning plaudits for his handling of weapons and maps and joining a special reconnaissance group. He was eventually promoted to sergeant in a new intelligence unit, spying on Russian tank columns during Georgia’s 2008 five-day war with Moscow.

In 2010, Umar /Tarkhan’s life changed when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and confined to a military hospital for several months. He was deemed unfit for the military and discharged.

Unable to get a job with the local police and suspected of helping Islamist fighters inside Russia, he was sentenced to three years in prison in September 2010. When he was released after 16 months, he left Georgia.

Umar /Tarkhan’s father says his son left for Istanbul, where an older brother had gone months earlier, because he had “no job, no prospects”. While his father says Umar /Tarkhan intended to join an Islamist force fighting inside Syria, he disappeared until this spring when he emerged in promotional videos for Jaish al-Muhajirin wal Ansar.

The BBC Arabic Version

In Batal Shishani’s version for BBC Arabic — published some days before Cullison’s, on November 13 — we learn that BBC Arabic “spoke with a Chechen who served with him (in the Georgian Army), who said he was “a young man sober, sane, considered such by all who knew him, nothing in his character that demonstrated anything extreme or something like that”.

The BBC Arabic version says that it managed to access a file from Abu Umar’s military service, from the Georgian Defense Ministry, via a middleman who asked not to be identified.

The military file revealed that Tarkhan Batirashvili was born in 1968 in the village of Barkiyana in the Pankisi Gorge. He served his compulsory military service between 2006 and 2007. After he finished his service in the disputed region of Abkhazia between Russia and Georgia, in early 2008 he signed a contract to join the Georgian army in a sniper battalion.

The file seen by BBC Arabic says that Tarkhan fought in battles with the Georgian Army against Russia during the five-day war in 2008, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant because of his performance, but he was never rewarded. Instead, because of a health conditions — he contracted tuberculosis in 2010 — he was discharged from service in June that same year.

In September 2010 Tarkhan was imprisoned on charges of buying and storing weapons. He was sentenced to three years, but was released to his deteriorating health, before the end of his sentence.

Some who knew him said that he then traveled to Turkey, and from there to Syria, which had begun experiencing armed conflict. Assisted by his military experience, he gained a leadership position with armed groups in Syria.

BBC Arabic also talked to residents of the Pankisi Gorge, one of whom, named as Abdullah, described Umar as “a good person”. An imam of a nearby village described him
as a “balanced man, and a noble one, and I love him so much. Umar and others with him have gone in the way of Allah to Syria to support the oppressed there, and the protection of their rights.”

It is an engaging story, but what is its significance for an understanding of the insurgency in the Syrian conflict? Both articles offer more questions than answers.

Did Umar /Batirashvili Become a “Global Islamic Jihadist”?

The common narrative of Islamist groups in Syria, and the foreign fighters in them, is that they are pursuing a sectarian campaign for a global Islamist ideology. That often turns into the phrase “Al Qa’eda-linked”.

Cullison’s account offers little of this for Umar /Batirashvili. There are only two sentences.

In a recent interview with the jihadi website, Mr. Batirashvili said that prison transformed him. “I promised God that if I come out of prison alive, I’ll go fight jihad for the sake of God.”

Cullison does not give a link to the website, so there is no way to establish if Umar /Batirashvili offered more insight into a religious motivation.

Instead, the close of his article points away from the “global Islamist” narrative:

Mr. Batirashvili’s father…doubts his son’s beard was grown out of any religious conviction.

“He just switched armies, and now he’s wearing a different hat,” he said.

How Did Umar /Batirashvili Rise So Quickly to Lead Jaish al-Muhajirin wa Ansar?

In Cullison’s story, Umar /Batirashvili goes to Turkey in 2012 with military experience and some evidence of support for Islamist insurgents in Russia, but no previous involvement, let alone leadership, with factions fighting in Syria.

Within a year, however, Umar /Batirashvili moves from recruit to head of Jaish al-Muhajirin wa Ansar, formed in March 2013 from the merger of three Islamist factions — Kataeb al-Muhajireen, Kataeb Khattab, and Jaish Muhammad.

There is no explanation in the article of Umar /Batirashvili’s meteoric rise to become, in Cullison’s words, an “unruly mastermind” of an insurgent force.

This footage, from February, shows Kataeb al-Muhajireen — which Abu Umar commanded until its merger —following an assault on a military airbase in Aleppo Province. During the storm of the airbase, 36 fighters, mostly from the North Caucasus, were killed. The man speaking in the video is Seyfullakh, Abu Umar’s second-in-command:

What is Jaish al-Muhajirin wa Ansar’s Relationship with the Islamic State of Iraq?

Cullison repeats the menacing lines used by most Western media in descriptions of “foreign jihadists” rising to dominance of the insurgency:

The jihadi commander has recently emerged from obscurity to be the northern commander in Syria of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), an al Qaeda-connected coalition whose thousands of Arab and foreign fighters have overrun key Syrian military bases, staged public executions and muscled aside American-backed moderate rebel groups trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

However, the article has no information on the link between Jaish al-Mujahirin wa Ansar and ISIS, other than the nominal designation of Umar /Batarashvili as an “Emir of the Northern Front” for ISIS during a major offensive by insurgents in Latakia Province in August.

And there is nothing in the piece to link Jaish with Al Qa’eda beyond the generic guilt-by-association reference to Umar /Batarashvili as an ISIS Emir.

What Does It Mean?

Perhaps ironically, given its dramatic opening of Jaish’s involvement in the capture of the Menagh airbase in August, the Wall Street Journal account undermines the portrayal of a well-organized “foreign jihadist” effort which has systematically taken over the insurgency.

Instead, Umar/Batarashvili’s story — and thus the story of Jaish — is one of circumstances and opportunities in which a motley collection of fighters, mainly from outside Syria, gathered. Some may have a sense of “global jihad”, others may have a vague ideological commitment, others may just have a general wish to be involved in a battle.

Umar/Batarashvili, who often struggles to put together a sentence, does not offer a coherent vision of jihad beyond the fight as a fight — against President Assad’s forces, against the Kurds, possibly against other insurgents.

This does not diminish Jaish as a force, at Menagh and elsewhere. Its use of suicide bombers, its ruthlessness — noted and condemned in a Human Rights Watch report on the Latakia offensive — and its determination have made it an asset for insurgent campaigns.

However, it is only one of a large number of such forces in a patchwork insurgency in a fragmented conflict. Jaish are not the cohesive “foreign jihadist” front dominating an insurgency on behalf of Al Qa’eda.

And Abu Umar/Batarashvili — ex-shepherd boy, veteran of the Georgian military, former prisoner — is just a man who “switched armies” to fight another fight.

http://eaworldview.com/2013/11/syria-analysis-story-insurgent-leader-omar-chechen-means/

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More on Omar al-Shishani [Part II]

Rising Star of ISIS Has Chechen Background and Fierce Reputation
By Erin McClam
NBC News | July 2nd 2014

The rising star of ISIS, the Sunni insurgent group terrorizing Iraq, is a fighter known as Omar the Chechen — a young, fierce military commander whose most distinctive feature is an unmistakable red beard.

His nom de guerre is Omar al-Shishani, and he’s only 28. Terror analysts say his growing profile demonstrates not just the reach of ISIS but its ferocity: Al-Shishani grew up in the spartan Pankisi Gorge of Georgia, hardened by decades of fighting.

“That’s the Harvard of terrorist upbringing,” said Patrick M. Skinner, director of special projects for the Soufan Group, a security consulting company, who has studied ISIS and its predecessor groups for years.

“It’s very different than being a kid in Saudi Arabia, where you’re coddled and you come to the ideology later,” he said. “He was raised this way.”

Al-Shishani has commanded ISIS forces in Syria as they work to erase the border between Syria and Iraq. Analysts say he may already be the military chief for the whole movement.

The last man to hold the job, Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari, was killed in the city of Mosul last month, just as ISIS fighters were sweeping across the Iraqi north and capturing swaths of land.

Unlike Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, Omar the Chechen is not afraid to show his face. He appeared in an ISIS video over the weekend, asking God to grant his fellow fighters martyrdom if they can’t establish an enormous Islamic state.

“Our aim is clear, and everyone knows why we are fighting,” al-Shishani said in the video. “Our path is toward the caliphate.”

The public profile is almost certainly not an accident because ISIS is known to be extremely brand-conscious — mobilizing on Twitter and even recently changing its name to Islamic State to emphasize its goals.

Al-Shishani’s style draws a sharp contrast with al-Baghdadi, who has almost never been photographed and whose secrecy has enhanced his prestige among fighters, according to terror analysts.

Al-Shishani, whose given name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, is from the Caucasus region of Georgia, torn by strife as long as he has been alive. He served in the national army and was discharged after an illness, a former neighbor told The Associated Press.

The BBC, citing Georgian military records, reported in December that it was tuberculosis.

Police in Georgia arrested him for illegal arms possession, the neighbor told the AP. Al-Shishani left Georgia for Turkey in 2010. He showed up in Syria three years later, long after that country had plunged into civil war, and swore allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

The State Department estimates that 9,000 foreign fighters have joined the civil war in Syria. And the Chechens, who have fought Russia in the Caucasus for decades, are among the most feared.

Al-Shishani commands perhaps 500 to 1,000 fighters and has risen with a sustained campaign of success. His groups have avoided crippling losses, including fighting both the Maliki forces and the troops of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

Last August, it was al-Shishani’s fighters who helped capture Managh, an air base in the Syrian north that had been disputed for months.

Until recently, ISIS was thought to be recruiting heavily inside Iraq. It has shifted its focus and is picking people who have demonstrated fighting prowess no matter where they are fighting — the opposite of the cronyism of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, analysts say.

“Shishani’s unit is the best performing wherever he goes,” Skinner said. “In the jihadist world, there are levels of fear and respect, and the Chechens occupy the top.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/rising-star-isis-has-chechen-background-fierce-reputation-n146466

 

Iraq crisis: Umar al-Shishani – the face at the forefront of the new terror wears a chilling smile
Kim Sengupta
The Independent | Tuesday 17 June 2014

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Diplomatic channels: Umar al-Shishani describes the US as ‘enemies of Allah and enemies of Islam’

The photograph circulating on social media is of a man with a striking long, red beard, dressed in a simple robe and prayer cap, emerging smiling from a vehicle.

The picture is of Umar al-Shishani, one of the most feared commanders of Isis, the Sunni militia that had stormed through a swathe of Iraq, spreading alarm through the international community; he had been test-driving a captured American-supplied Humvee, abandoned by fleeing government troops in Mosul.

Shishani is an ethnic Chechen, a leader among the fighters from abroad who had flocked to join the jihad against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and who are now the shock troops of the insurgency across the border. After a period of absence, foreign Islamists, often fanatical, who had played an important and bloody role in the savage war that followed the US-led invasion, are once again back in Iraq.

Some of those foreign fighters had left Iraq to fight on other front lines, others were eased out by Isis’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), as their presence became increasingly unpopular in the community, a factor that helped the US organise the tribes in the “Sunni Awakening” against the insurgency alongside the American military “surge” under General David Petraeus.

All that has changed: the “martyrdom” message board of Isis on the internet lists 202 foreign fighters killed in Iraq. The dead came from the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, the Caucasus, the Balkans, the US, Canada and Western Europe. The numbers do not yet include those killed this year.

British Muslim deaths, until the current offensive, have been confined to Syria; the dead Western jihadists in Iraq have been from France, Denmark, Canada and Norway, eight in all. Others killed include 57 Tunisians, 38 Saudis, 27 Moroccans, and 10 Libyans. Most of the fatalities were in Anbar, where Isis has set up base in the city of Fallujah, with 56, northern Baghdad province with 51, Diyala 41, and Nineveh 29, the last figure bound to rise from the battle for Mosul.

The Chechens only joined the Iraq expedition in numbers during the current Islamist “surge” although, it is believed, they had played a key role in drawing up operational plans. Many of them, along with volunteers from neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia, had previous military experience which helped them move into lead roles in combat missions. Shishani is said to be staying inside Syria, going across the porous border when necessary, because he believes that he may be targeted in American air strikes, or by the Iranians on the behest of the Kremlin. There is an unverified claim that he had been shot by a Kurdish peshmerga sniper near Kirkuk.

US intelligence put the total of foreign fighters in Syria at around 17,000; other figures vary between 14,000 and 20,000. The local population, I found during my visits to opposition-held parts of the country, differentiate between the characteristics of the nationalities – the Libyans were viewed as the friendliest, the Saudis the most pious, the Pakistanis the most spiteful, the Chechens the toughest and the most implacable.

Shishani, who was born with the name Tarkhan Batirasvili in Georgia, was pointed out to me at a town on the outskirts of Aleppo last autumn. At the time he was basking in the approbation over Menagh airbase which the Free Syrian Army had sought to take, but failed, for months. The coming of the Chechens was followed by the base being stormed.

Shishani had initially formed his own group, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) with around 3,000 men under arms from the north Caucasus, Crimea and Ukraine, as well as a small group of Arabs. He later pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of Isis, and was appointed the head of the group’s “special unit” as well as commander of the northern region.

The presence of the foreign fighters in Iraq is likely to have an impact on the relationship between Isis and al-Qa’ida, which is already fractious. Some of the most direct criticism of al-Qa’ida had come from the Chechens; this, in turn, had led to verbal attacks on them by fellow jihadists. Shishani has been the subject of online postings pointing out that he is of “tainted” mixed Christian and Muslim descent and also that he served in the Georgian army where he was trained by the Americans. No evidence has been produced for the latter.

Shishani insists that his motivation was a hatred of Russia and thus the desire to fight against its ally, President Assad. But, in an interview with a jihadist website, he also described America as “enemies of Allah and enemies of Islam” who must be confronted.

States neighbouring Syria and beyond had sought to influence and manipulate foreign volunteers on either side of the civil war. But, as the conflict has spread across borders, the more tenuous those controls have become. The international brigade of jihadists is now a force of significance, their destructive power adding to the turbulence in the region and with ominous signs of some, especially those from the West, taking the war home.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-crisis-umar-alshishani–the-face-at-the-forefront-of-the-new-terror-wears-a-chilling-smile-9542071.html

More on Omar al-Shishani [Part I]

The Ginger Jihadist of Mosul: Omar al-Shishani the Chechen ‘General’
Jack Moore
International Business Times | June 11, 2014

Following the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams’ (Isis) capture of Mosul, which caused 500,000 Iraqis to flee the city and propelled the group to the status of richest terror force in the world, pictures have emerged on social media of Isis Emir Omar al-Shishani inspecting stolen US-supplied humvees.

The photos of al-Shishani, a Georgian-born ethnic Chechen, suggest that he was the mastermind of the siege as the commander of the northern sector of Isis in Syria and Iraq.

He is considered one of the most influential leaders of the Syrian opposition after a series of assaults on military bases near Aleppo, specifically as the mastermind of the capture of a government airbase in August last year which boosted his standing among comrades.

After being raised by a Christian father and a Muslim mother in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, al-Shishani served in the US-funded Georgian army, rising to the rank of sergeant.

With a deep hatred for the Kremlin, he played a role in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, spying on Russian tanks and relaying their positions back to Georgian artillery.

After his wartime efforts, Al-Shishani contracted tuberculosis in 2010 and was subsequently discharged from the army. He became increasingly disillusioned by life at home, unable to find a job, after his mother passed away with cancer. This was to inform his later decision to take up arms in Syria.

"He has become the same as them"

According to US intelligence figures, over 17,000 foreign fighters are now in Syria aligned to the opposition rebels, with many from the North Caucasus.

Many Chechens have flocked to Syria and proved their military nous by battling fellow jihadists, often in brutal fashion.

For instance, one jihadist from Dagestan posted a video beheading three Syrians for supporting the Assad regime.

However, some Chechens who have taken to Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have become dissatisfied with al-Shishani because of his comfortable life in Syria and killing of other Muslims.

"He’s spent such a long time in Isis that he has become the same as them. Already he’s killing Muslims," wrote Chechen Sultan Khizriyev on his Facebook page.

Another social media user commented on the Sultan’s post calling Shishani "Tarkhan the Rodent" in reference to his real name, Tarkhan Batirashvili. Shishani translates as "the Chechen" in Arabic.

Many Chechens in Syria refuse to fight for Isis because of their brutality and willingness to kill other Muslims.

"A sober, respected person"

A former comrade of al-Shishani tells a different story. One of a man not enamoured with Islamic fundamentalism but a quiet and popular colleague.

"He was a sober, respected person, who never showed signs of religious fanaticism or extremism," the colleague told BBC News.

His father, who hasn’t heard from his son since he left for Syria, told the Washington Post that al-Shishani was "a man with no job, no prospects. So he took the wrong path."

Al-Shishani’s chief motivation for fighting in Syria is reportedly to weaken one of Russia’s key allies but, in other interviews, he has talked of his hate for Americans as "the enemies of Allah and the enemies of Islam".

These extremist beliefs appear to have stemmed from his 16 months in a Georgian prison after being charged for possessing illegal weapons in 2010.

"I promised God that if I come out of prison alive, I’ll go fight jihad for the sake of God," he told a jihadist website.

His military experience, time in prison and hatred of Russia have seemingly combined to make Omar al-Shishani one of the most influential and feared figures in the Middle East today.

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ginger-jihadist-mosul-omar-al-shishani-chechen-general-1452232

 

The Georgian roots of Isis commander Omar al-Shishani
By Nina Akhmeteli
BBC News, Birkiani | 8 July 2014

Omar al-Shishani may now be one of the most feared jihadists in the Middle East, as a commander in the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), but his early life was very different.

He was born Tarkhan Batirashvili and grew up in Georgia’s picturesque Pankisi Gorge. He lived in the village of Birkiani, where his father, a Christian, still lives in a small, simply-furnished house.

The jihad in Syria and Iraq was not Shishani’s first experience with combat. He previously served with the Georgian army during the war with Russia in 2008.

Tinderbox

But when he became ill and was dismissed from the army, things started to go wrong, Teimuraz Batirashvili says.

He found it hard to get work and was arrested after a raid on his house.

"One night a terrible noise woke me up – someone was banging at the door. It was the police. There was a bench next to the door near the stairs. I used to go past it every day," Mr Batirashvili recalls.

"A policeman called me over and took a box full of ammunition out from under it. He asked me: ‘What’s this?’ and I told him: ‘I don’t know. It wasn’t here before.’"

clip_image001
The Pankisi Gorge boasts bucolic scenery – but gained a reputation as a haven for Islamist militants

Shishani was reportedly accused of storing the ammunition.

But it was when he was sent to prison that Shishani really changed, his father says, adding that he left for Syria after being released early under an amnesty.

Family photos removed

"He said to me: ‘Father, no-one needs me here,’" Mr Batirashvili recalls.

Before Shishani left he removed all family photos in the house, in accordance with his strict new beliefs.

"I didn’t notice it, but one day when I wanted to look at an album I realised there was nothing left," Mr Batirashvili says.

He says his middle son was also radicalised and has also left the country.

"I have three sons and they all became Muslim. I’m a Christian, I go to church.

"Neither my father nor my grandfather were Muslim. We’ve all prayed in these sacred places. And these three are Muslim radical preachers," Mr Batirashvili says.

clip_image002
Shishani has appeared in photos and videos released online by Isis-affiliated accounts

The Pankisi Gorge had been an area of suspected militant activity.

Mr Batirashvili says poverty was a factor in Shishani’s radicalisation.

"When you’re desperate you’ll do anything. Now he says he left because of his faith, but I knew he did it because we were poor," he says.

However, he admitted that Shishani’s motivations would have changed over time. "Now, yes, money isn’t the reason he’s leading this war."

Cut off

Now, Mr Batirashvili gets by on his pension with the help of the odd contribution from his eldest son Tengiz, who is still in the village.

He has had only one phone call from Shishani since he left.

Shishani told him he had a Chechen wife. "He said: ‘I have a daughter and she looks like you, her name is Sophia.’"

Shishani asked his father if he was still praying. Mr Batirashvili says that when he replied that he was still a practising Christian, his son hung up the phone and never called again.

Among the more religious people of the gorge, Shishani has attracted respect for his actions in Syria, and some locals say that more men from the area have gone to follow his example.

Mr Batirashvili laments his family’s new-found notoriety. "What need do I have for this sort of fame? I wish [Shishani] had never left. But maybe that was his fate, to go to war in Syria," he says.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28217590

Why being Chechen is a badge of honor for Islamist militants

By Adam Taylor
Washington Post | July 3, 2014

clip_image002
This undated image posted on a militant social media account, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Omar al-Shishani climbing out of a humvee.

While Islamic State’s famously reclusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi remains in hiding and is rarely photographed, another young Islamist fighter has come forward to publicly represent the group in videos and photographs shared on social media. This man, however, stands out from his largely Arabic fellow fighters.

That’s because the militant known as Omar al-Shishani, a rising star in Islamic State’s Islamist campaign across the Middle East, is from the Russian Republic of Chechnya. What’s more, he’s one of more than 500 militants from Russia who have joined the fight in Syria, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). And that estimate could be low; another from the Soufan Group suggests that more than 800 may have headed to the Middle East to fight.

The Associated Press reports that Shishani had been in charge of Islamic State’s military operations in Syria and may now be the overall leader on the battlefield after the death of Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari in early June. Like other Chechens, he has come to be thought of as among the best fighters in the Islamist groups.

In many ways, this isn’t a surprising turn of events: Chechnya and its people have a modern history of violence that has created a number of battle-hardened fighters. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the chaotic creation of the Chechen Republic, which in turn sought independence from Russia. The two sides came to war in 1994, in a particularly bloody conflict, with tens of thousands of civilians believed to have been killed before Russia finally retreated in 1996.

The Chechens, though Muslim, generally lacked an Islamist element: Dzhokhar Dudayev, the most prominent leader of the rebels, was fighting for nationalist reasons rather than religious ones. However, the chaotic and indiscriminate use of force by Russian forces against Chechens left a deep mark on many, and members of Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda came to the country, drawn by media reports. While the influence of these Islamist fighters may have been limited at the time (most did not speak Russian, and their religious practices bore little resemblance to the moderate Sufi practices of most Chechens), they do appear to have had longer-term influences.

After the First Chechen War ended, a period of insurgency followed, and in 1999, the Second Chechen War was sparked by Islamist attempts to invade the neighboring region of Dagestan and a series of apartment bombings in Russia and Dagestan. While Russian troops were eventually able to quash the Chechen rebels and regain control of Chechnya, it was another brutal, bloody war, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead. This time, foreign jihadists had a far stronger influence, which was notable in a number of spectacular terrorist attacks, including the 2002 taking of hostages at a Moscow theater and the 2004 storming of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia.

After virtually two decades of fighting and insurgency in Chechnya, many Chechen fighters have extensive battlefield experience. They have already made contact with foreign Islamist groups that now fight in Syria and Iraq. They were well-versed in the use of guerrilla tactics that could be used against traditional armies that are technologically and numerically superior. They also understood how to use propaganda and terror attacks to win over converts and awe their enemies, clearly a key part of Islamic State’s current strategy. In Iraq and Syria right now, these are all very useful skills.

For Chechens, too, taking their fight outside the Caucasus makes sense: It shows their solidarity with a global jihad movement and allows them to escape Russia (where many may be wanted by authorities) or Turkey (where many live in illegal exile). And, in the case of Syria, it allows them to battle an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin (Bashar al-Assad). Many may hope to pick up contacts for an eventual return to fighting in Russia, a possibility that clearly concerns Moscow.

For Islamists, it seems that being Chechen can be a badge of honor: You’ve already survived one of the most terrible conflicts of recent memory, so you must know what to do to withstand another. Hussein Nasser, a spokesman for the Islamic Front coalition of Syrian rebels, told the Associated Press that Chechens were feared because they will do whatever their leader tells them to do. “Even if his emir tells him to kill a child, he would do it," Nasser explains. And the Chechen reputation for toughness goes back even further,

"Chechen boys are raised as warriors and survivors, which should not be surprising given the turbulent history of Chechnya and the North Caucasus in general," Simon Saradzhyan, a research fellow at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University and expert on Russia, told me. "Even Russian czars, who lost many troops conquering Chechnya, recognized these qualities. Hence, Chechens formed a cavalry sub-unit in the Savage Division that fought on fronts of World War I 100 years ago."

Shishani seems to understand this: The ethnic Chechen was known as Tarkhan Batirashvili when he worked in an intelligence unit of the Georgian army, the Wall Street Journal reports. At 28 years old, it’s unlikely he ever directly experienced the fighting that made Chechens so notorious, but he knows its power. His nom de guerre, "Omar al-Shishani," means simply "Omar the Chechen."

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/07/03/why-being-chechen-is-a-badge-of-honor-for-islamist-militants/

“Let Him Eat Leaves”: North Caucasians Aligned to Islamic State Slam Caucasus Emirate Emir

By Joanna Paraszczuk
JIHADOLOGY | July 4, 2014

A recent video address by Caucasus Emirate (CE) Emir Ali Abu Muhammad stating that North Caucasians in Syria ought to have backed Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) and accusing the Islamic State’s (IS) military Emir in Syria Umar Shishani of worsening the fitna between IS and JAN, has unleashed a flood of responses and counter-responses from North Caucasian jihadis in various factions.

North Caucasians in or aligned with IS spoke out harshly against Abu Mohammad and the CE-affiliated group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), while those close to JMA expressed support for Abu Mohammad while slamming IS.

The storm has also prompted another prominent Chechen foreign fighter in Syria, Muslim Abu Walid Shishani, Emir of the independent faction Junud a-Sham, to break his long silence in a lengthy audio message discussing the “fitna in Sham,” IS, and Umar Shishani.

Previously, I examined the growing rift in Syria between North Caucasians aligned to the Caucasus Emirate, and those aligned to IS, over concepts of jihad. An exploration of some of the responses prompted by Abu Mohammad’s video message will help shed more light on this fault line. It will also show how, for North Caucasian jihadis in Syria, the question of loyalties, including with relation to the jihad “back home”, is a major cause of this rift.

1. ALI ABU MOHAMMAD’S CRITICISMS

In his video address, CE Emir Ali Abu Mohammad attempts to gain ideological and practical control not only over the CE-affilated Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, but over all North Caucasians in Syria. He makes several main points (for an English translation, click here). These chiefly reflect his concerns over how North Caucasian participation in Syria affects the CE and the North Caucasian insurgency.

Abu Mohammad’s main points are:

1. North Caucasians wishing to fight in Syria have posed an ideological/ theological conundrum for the CE [1]. While some hadith implied Muslims could and should fight in Sham, others implied that one should fight “the closest enemy”. Abu Mohammad takes a harder line on this than his predecessor Dokku Umarov, stating that, “We did not find even one scholar calling for the brothers who are fighting in their own land, to leave the Jihad at home, and join the Jihad in Syria.”

While Abu Mohammad poses this problem as a matter of theology, in reality the issue of Caucasians in Syria is about resources, and (to some extent) prestige: the jihad in the North Caucasus needs fighters, and why should this struggle be marginalized? He admits, “We hoped that [Caucasians in Syria] would return to their home country after taking part in the jihad in Syria so we could share our experience with them, and that they would help us. This is because we have a severe shortage of brothers.”

2. The decision to form JMA went against the instructions of the CE, who told North Caucasian fighters not to form a CE battalion in Syria, but rather to join the “oldest and most legitimate” jamaat. Abu Mohammad deems this to be Jabhat al-Nusra. The CE also instructed fighters not to make video or other addresses. By disobeying, North Caucasians have made it known to “the Kuffar”—Abu Mohammad is of course referring to Russia—that the CE are fighting in Syria, making it harder for Caucasians to return home and fight there.

3. Abu Mohammad makes a personal address to two individuals: Umar Shishani, and his deputy Abu Jihad. Umar Shishani’s decision to join IS was mistaken, according to Abu Mohammad. Umar then disobeyed orders by failing to maintain a neutral stance in the fitna. Umar should not speak on behalf of the CE, should stay out of politics because he does not express himself well, and should return to JMA, Abu Mohammad insists. Regarding Abu Jihad, Abu Mohammad says the CE does not know who he is.

2. REACTIONS FROM NORTH CAUCASIANS IN AND ALIGNED TO IS

North Caucasian fighters in Syria and their factions maintain a network of social media accounts—mostly on Russian social networking site VKontakte—and Web sites. Many of these published criticisms of Abu Muhammad’s address, of the Caucasus Emirate in general, and of the Caucasus Emirate’s representatives in Turkey in particular.

Sham Today (ST), a VK account run by North Caucasian fighters in ISIS, published a multipart response to the CE Emir’s address.

Like other IS-affiliated jihadis, ST was particularly incensed by what the writer saw as a personal attack by Abu Muhammad on Umar Shishani and Abu Jihad.

Beyond this, ST’s reactions also shed light onto how at least some IS jihadis perceive the jihad in Syria in relation to the insurgency in the North Caucasus. It is notable that IS-affiliated fighters, while setting themselves apart from the CE, still emphasize that they are North Caucasians, and even question whether JMA/CE affiliated fighters are “true” North Caucasians, and/or whether they truly can claim the North Caucasian jihadi heritage.

Rather than considering the North Caucasian struggle as separate from that in Syria, ST’s response suggests it wants to consider both conflicts as part of a wider transnational jihad. ST’s response also demonstrates that its writer does not consider himself obedient to the CE: the writer is careful to express solidarity with “brothers fighting in the Caucasus,” not “with the Caucasus Emirate.”

With regard to the CE itself, ST dismisses the group as out of touch with the situation in Syria (and by extension with the true state of global jihadi affairs):

The CE leadership have no clue what is really happening in Sham. It’s entire knowledge resource is the internet, non-objective tales from CE representatives in Turkey, and other non-objective opinion.

ST argues that the CE’s presence in Syria has always been limited to a small group; that Umar was not, as Abu Muhammad claimed, sent by the CE to Syria; and that Umar never had an oath of allegiance to the CE, though he “respected Dokku Umarov.” Rather, Umar was the Emir of a multiethnic faction, JMA, within which the CE-affiliated fighters were a small, discrete group with their own Emir. Writing of Umar’s decision to pledge allegiance to then-ISIS, ST emphasizes that Umar’s jamaat did not only include North Caucasians:

That night, Emir Umar and the first group gave bayat to ISIS and it was clear that the whole Muhajireen wal-Ansar brigade and its Emirs would go to ISIS, these were Caucasians, Arabs, Turks, Azerbaijanis, Europeans, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and others. The only ones who didn’t go was the CE group.

ST further claims that the CE had tried to press its own, local goals among North Caucasians in Syria, thus hindering the jihad, by sending representatives from Istanbul to interfere with Umar. Rather than supporting these jihadis in fighting the Kuffar on the global stage, the CE pushed its narrow, national interests, browbeating Umar into agreeing to train and send CE Mujahideen back to the Caucasus:

Representatives of the CE came to Syria from Turkey, ranted at Umar as per usual and told him how it was hard for them and what the situation in the Caucasus was, that he had to help the Caucasus and send brothers home, prepare them, unite them, and whatnot. After multiple negotiations, Umar knew he would have a ton of problems with them and that it would really distract him as he actively waged jihad in Sham… so he agreed. After all, he himself is from the Caucasus, he is pained and suffers because of the position of the Mujahideen in the Caucasus, as do we all, he really loved and respected Dokku Abu Usman…

Despite this, the CE refused to support its faction in Syria, leaving their welfare to Umar:

All the CE in Syria jamaat’s expenses were paid for by Umar’s jamaat. Food, weapons, cars, visits to Turkey and Europe, sending cash to the Caucasus, treating brothers…they didn’t have a single ruble to spend, it all came from Umar…

In warning the CE that it is alienating the wider ummah by criticizing IS and Umar, ST positions itself as part of that ummah within the wider jihad. Rather than seeing Abu Muhammad as the Emir of all North Caucasian jihadis, ST implies he is but a small, Russian-speaking fish in a very big jihadi pond:

We advise you to change your informants…whoever shows friendship to infidels and does not show hatred toward them..is in a  bad position. This video is already translated into Arabic and the entire Ummah and most mujahideen are watching this video on the lands of jihad… in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. The reaction is negative and many are asking us, “how can the Mujahideen of the Caucasus and their Emir talk that way and insult us and our Emirs…Maybe we only knew their good side…”

3. JAISH AL-MUHAJIREEN WAL ANSAR: UMAR BROKE HIS OATH

In response to these criticisms, CE fighters published a rebuttal on the pro-CE VK account Ajr ot Allakha Subhanu wa Tag’alya SHAM, stressing their loyalty to the CE and Abu Muhammad:

[A]fter our Emir, Ali Abu Muhammad clarified his position regarding the fitna in Syria, some began to unleash on our Emir a barrage of criticism with with explanations about the fitna in Syria,  totally humiliating the dignity of the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate in the blessed land of Sham.

Arguing that both Umar and Abu Jihad had in fact pledged allegiance to Dokku Umarov, the rebuttal concludes that both men have broken that oath by swearing to ISIS. Umar and his followers, they argue, should not have broken their first oath to Umarov, because the conditions had not arisen to allow them to do so. CE jihadis, even those fighting in Syria, cannot relinquish their allegiance to the CE until there is a single Emir to whom all Muslims can pledge allegiance:

And the difference between us is that these people gave their oath of allegiance to the Caucasus Emirate first, and then violated this oath, and we gave this oath to the Caucasus Emirate and still keep it, and will keep our State until Muslims elect a single ruler in compliance with all conditions. And the first of these conditions – that the governor is chosen by Ahl Al-Hal wa Al-’Aqd…And if the leaders of jihad around the world gather under one banner and one elected Emir, I swear by Allah, we will extend our hand first in allegiance to this Emir.

Other JMA criticisms have centered on more practical issues, such as rebutting IS’s claims that the CE in Syria has not participated in any real battles.

4. “JMA ARE LIKE THE CAUCASIAN NOBLES WHO CRITICIZED THE MUJAHIDEEN IN THE FOREST”

Perhaps one of the strangest exchanges between JMA/CE and IS fighters in Syria has focussed on attacking the North Caucasian jihadi heritage of the other side, in order to suggest that they are not waging jihad correctly.

In response to a JMA criticism that IS fighters could not have established an Islamic State, because “what kind of Islamic State is it where people go around wearing masks because they’re too afraid to show their faces,” one IS-affiliated group on VK writes:

That’s very much like the hypocritical tales directed at the brave forest Mujahideen of the Caucasus – from the Caucasian grandees – who talked about this newfangled guerrilla war in the forest and with hidden faces. History repeats itself – the same hypocrites manifest themselves!

5. “WE’RE FIGHTING THE WORLD, LET ABU MUHAMMAD STAY IN THE FOREST AND EAT LEAVES”

One of the harshest attacks against Abu Muhammad the the CE came in the form of an audio message that has been widely shared around the web. The speaker says that IS is fighting on the world stage, in order to free the global ummah from the Kuffar, while Abu Muhammad is sitting at home in a small-time, provincial conflict.

We’re fighting on all fronts against the Kurds and the Basharite dogs, the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat al-Nusra… the whole world, get it? While Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar don’t fight anyone… We’re freeing the whole world from the Kuffar… and that Muhammad Ali (sic), let him sit in the Caucasus, let him shut his gob, let him eat leaves.”

6. MUSLIM ABU WALID SHISHANI: AN INDEPENDENT VOICE

In a move apparently triggered by the storm over Abu Muhammad’s message, Chechen foreign fighter Emir Muslim Abu Walid Shishani (Murad Margoshvili) issued an audio message on 29 June, in which he says he is breaking his silence to talk about the fitna between IS and JAN. [2]

Muslim, the leader of the Latakia-based Junud a-Sham faction, has maintained a strict policy of refusing to swear allegiance to any faction in Syria, a stance he stresses in the opening of his speech:

First and foremost, I want to say that I don’t belong to any group, we have our group, Junud as-Sham, and I am the Emir of that group, and we work with all groups and don’t differentiate them.

A self-proclaimed veteran of the Russo-Chechen wars who says he fought alongside Arab foreign fighters Ibn Khattab and Abu Walid (from whom he takes his nom de guerre), Muslim has maintained his distance from the CE. He did not refer directly to the CE at all in his latest address, and does not frame the fitna between IS and JAN has having anything to do with the CE. He does refer several times to his experiences in the Russo-Chechen wars, and specifically to Khattab, comparing the start of the jihad in Syria to Chechnya:

[The early days of the jihad in Syria] was a second Chechnya, and we had experience adopted from Khattab and those brothers who were with him, and it wasn’t hard for us to repeat it.

For Muslim, who is outside of the CE-IS debate, there is no need to pledge allegiance to any Emir because the conditions for doing so have not yet been fulfilled. For him, the reason for waging jihad in Syria and not the Caucasus or any other place is clear: there is a clear instruction to do so in the hadith. The fact that there are many factions in Syria, and that there is infighting between jihadi groups, is not important:

It [where the Islamic State will be established] is not in the Caucasus and in other places that are not mentioned in the Hadith. This is Sham and there are quite a few hadith of the Prophet, we just need to listen to them…

Did [the hadith] say join the fight in Iraq? Or do you doubt that Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s fight is the fight of Iraq?…Do not be fooled. Even after Sham, there is nothing said about Iraq. And if you say that there is no single fight in Sham, then I say at the beginning of the war there wasn’t one in Afghanistan nor in Chechnya, nor in Iraq. This fight will be, as long as there are groups of people coming for it.

Muslim does talk about the problems of control that Umar Shishani faced when dealing with an influx of jihadis from the North Caucasus, who either joined JMA or were located close to its headquarters in Hraytan, Aleppo. Despite problems—including a mafia-style operation run by a group of Dagestanis who would murder local Syrians and steal their cars—JMA under Umar was respected including among locals:

There was no small kudos given to the group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, headed by Umar Shishani…Local people greatly trusted this group, if problems occurred, they immediately turned to Umar Shishani.

7. CONCLUSION:

Abu Muhammad’s attempt to extort authority over what has become a CE subgroup in Syria, JMA, and over key North Caucasian foreign fighters, specifically Umar Shishani, has only succeeded in exacerbating an existing rift that began around a year ago.

The CE Emir’s address may have gained him some notice, but it has exposed his lack of control and sway over many North Caucasian fighters in Syria. Umar Shishani has not responded to the criticism directed against him, and it is almost certain that he will not obey Abu Muhammad’s call for him to return to JMA. Abu Muhammad has opened his group’s foreign operations, particularly in Turkey, to criticisms that they are concerned with local goals, not global jihad.

While JMA have openly expressed their loyalty to Abu Muhammad, their military victories in Aleppo that propelled them to notice in past months have tapered off at the same time as Umar Shishani has gained fresh prominence, filmed alongside IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani destroying the Iraq-Syria border before declaring the Caliphate.  The rift between North Caucasian fighters is unlikely to heal, and there may be fragmentation among smaller groups. Particularly after the announcement of the Caliphate, Umar’s jamaat in IS may prove a bigger pull for new North Caucasian jihadis crossing into Syria. [3] And while fighters like Muslim Shishani insist on their independence, in reality Junud a-Sham has had to team up with larger Syrian Islamic brigades in order to make an impact on the battlefield.

[1] For more background on the CE’s relationship with Al Qaeda, see this recent piece by Mairbek Vatchagaev, Statement by New Leader of Caucasus Emirate Creates Rift Among Chechen Groups Operating in Syria, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 121 (http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42587&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=7&cHash=af78595cf7cb3732319d514c41520fb6#.U7aBqhZjDwJ)

[2] This Muslim’s second lengthy address. A translation of his first address can be found here:http://wp.me/p4sJvO-5yi

[3] According to sources close to Dagestani and Chechen Islamists, there is a great deal of interest among individuals in the North Caucasus in trying to find ways to go to fight in Syria.

http://jihadology.net/2014/07/04/the-clear-banner-let-him-eat-leaves-north-caucasians-aligned-to-islamic-state-slam-caucasus-emirate-emir/

 

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“Your Caucasus Emirate Mates Only Fight Alawites” – An ISIS Chechen Writes About “Fitna”

From Chechnya to Syria | June 4, 2014

A Russian-speaking jihadi linked to or part of ISIS has written a series of posts on social media, giving ISIS’s narrative of the events around the start of the hostilities between ISIS and Syrian brigades at the start of the year

The first two posts, written by “Abu-Ibrahim Muhadjir”, document events up until and including a speech made by ISIS military emir’s second-in-command, Abu Jihad, which explains that Umar’s faction joined ISIS because it was the only faction that agreed to help them send North Caucasian fighters back home to fight there.

In this post, the author slams ISIS’s opponents as “hypocrites”, and accuses them of using the media to discredit ISIS. He also says that some North Caucasians, including from the “Imarat” – i.e. the Caucasus Emirate, meaning Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar – just sat around and didn’t wage jihad, because of doubts they experienced. This has become a common criticism leveled by ISIS against fighters in their rival brigade Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.

NB: Use of the translation or extracts is not permitted without the author’s consent.


And we gave them 24 hours. During which time they had to open all checkpoints for ISIS fighters to pass, release captured women and men, and stop all provocations relating to ISIS. If not, the traitors could be guaranteed an adequate response from all barrels, even if that meant leaving the military ribat. We must clarify this important juncture, which was exaggerated by the hypocrites and skeptics to an enormous size.

The events that took place in Aleppo province would have been impossible had the ribats with the Assadites been held by all those “Army of Hypocrites” and others. But the ratio of ISIS guardians of the ribat to the rest was almost 50 on 50. That is there were 500 people from ISIS and 500 from ALL the rest. All these others included IF, “Al-Qoida” (sic), Haiwani, Afasha and the rest of “Jaish Munafikeen”, at that time they had all of 3 ribats with the Nusayris, though most of those guys on the ribats were negotiating to join ISIS.

It’s understood that the hypocrites did not want to leave the ribats with the Alawites empty and under attack from their villages in districts in Aleppo. But the wheels were in motion, the criminal plan had started and they did not want, nay, could not, back away from the orders of their daddies.

Therefore, the second wave started – the attacks in the mass media. There wasn’t a single enemy, including Bashar Assad, who had so many dirty lies poured on him like those splashed by these hairsplitters. They got everyone hooked! Starting with the FSA channel on Syrian TV and ending with all sorts of Tartousis and Muhaisanis. Everyone thought it was his duty to note, log in, and of course, subsequently go on a spree.

It was all paid for and everything was included,. You want to talk, be my guest, at your service, any channel from Qatar to Turkey. There’s just one condition: ISIS = mushkila [problem]. Say that magic phrase and then you can babble any nonsense you like, and afterwards you’ll get foodstamps that you can use in the stall of the Central Committee of Saudi Arabia.

Sometimes, though, there were incidents. It happened that some beardless chap, apparently committed to the secular lifestyle, got backed into a corner by the questions of a grizzled “Islamist”, who unleashed such a blizzard that even a housewife, hungry for sensationalism, used to all kinds of shampoos, wouldn’t want to eat it.

It was a test from Allah, but it was passed only by those who by the grace of the Almighty, had always been sincere. The ones who had evasiveness in their hearts, or [who] at best were lurking or had broken loose like a black dog that had zeroed in on you.

It was true, there’s another category, those who went from being Muslims to just sitting around. Because of doubts they’d experienced. And at that time they were closed to Kufr than Iman.

And you went – from Raqqa to Tabka, from Tabka to Maskana, after to Deir Hafer, and from Deir Hafer to Al Bab. From Al Bab to the jami’a and Manbij, ar-Roi and Sirin. Towns were conquered, the Sharia of Allah established. The hypocrites identified and annihilated. You met many different people on your way. Some were well-known, they came and asked you not to touch their little world. And you made a contract. But because of the fear inspired by Allah, these guys escaped from their little world in a way that surprised even experienced Mujahideen, who asked them to repeat it several times, because they didn’t believe it at first.

The villainy of some of these unfortunates knew no bounds. Treachery is one of the signs of the hypocrites. And who can be more treacherous than those who offer peace out of fear, because Allah revealed our vast army. And then, seeing 20 Mujahideen, these 300 “flipped” and demanded to surrender. So Satan polished and embellished their deeds.

And the next day, having received a gift from our brother in the form of a belt, those who remained alive yelled, ‘They murder! They explode! They break [their word!” Liars! To break something, you have to make it. And before that – You asked and YOU deceived. So you get what you wished for. And let the fire of Hell be the best reward for your treachery.

And this situation has become the norm. They themselves request, and then they break [their word]. And if it wasn’t for the order of Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi not to fight with those who ask for peace, we’d destroy you, and we rest assured that tomorrow we wouldn’t find a knife in our backs.

And you’re Imarat [Caucasus Emirate] mate, he’s also in the third category, holed up from the “fitna”, fighting only the Alawites. In the same ranks as the “Zinkis” [the Nuraddin az-Zinki brigade] and other beauties. But more and more often you find missed Skype calls from him. Something was bothering your friend…

http://www.chechensinsyria.com/?p=22148

 

Disclaimer: The views published on the RMSMCBlog does not necessarily reflect the views of the owner.

ANALYSIS: Chechen Fighters Joining Iraqi Jihad is Western Plot

 

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ISIS fighters in Iraq

 

NEW YORK, July 4, 2014 (RIA Novosti) – With an ethnic Chechen Omar Shishani coming to the spotlight in ISIS’s activities in Iraq, analysts say Chechen war was an attempt by the Western countries to destabilize Russia through the Caucasus.

With his trademark red-beard and frequent appearances on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) promotional videos, Omar Shishani colorfully spotlights the many Chechen fighters to have answered jihad’s call in Syria and Iraq.

“The Chechen war was a classic attempt by the US and Britain to destabilize Russia through the Caucasus. It was fomented from the outside by NATO. In Ukraine, we saw some of the Kiev fascists were the same as those who went to Chechnya to fight Russia,” Webster Tarpley, a historian and author of “Obama: The Postmodern Coup” told RIA Novosti.

Shishani, whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, is an ethnic Chechen from Georgia who reportedly fought against Russia in the 2007-08 Georgia-Russia war and whose military career took him to an al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militia in Syria.

Chechen fighters probably established links with Western spy agencies during the conflicts with Russia and are now advancing Western interests in the Middle East, Tarpley claimed.

“Now, Chechen militants are turning up in Syria and Iraq to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Chechen terror groups have a long history of working in cooperation with NATO interests, now they are doing so in the Middle East,” the expert said.

Syria’s three-year-old civil war has attracted as many as 10,000 foreign combatants from various countries. It is not known how many hail from Chechnya, but Chechens are considered battle-hardened by successive bouts of combat against Russia in the 1990s.

Tarpley and other analysts are suspicious of US goals in Iraq. They suggest that ISIS and other Sunni Islamist groups receive back-door funding from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf petro-monarchies with tacit approval from Washington.

In recent weeks, ISIS has launched an offensive from Syrian territories it has gained during the country’s civil war, taking swathes of northern and western Iraq and declaring the creation of an Islamic caliphate across the region.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Iraq or Syria, Sudan or Somalia, the US policy everywhere has been to create divisions,” Sara Flounders, co-director of the International Action Center, an anti-war pressure group, told RIA Novosti.

“Washington typically favors one group over another, switches sides and creates enormous internal destabilization. It’s a conscious policy of divide and conquer. It’s a policy of empire and has nothing to do with democracy, elections or stable government.”

According to Tarpley, fighters like Shishani who join Islamist militias, are vulnerable men who are susceptible to hardline ideologues with connections to Saudi money and US espionage outfits, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

“These people are coming from 75 or 80 different countries to fight in Syria,” Tarpley told RIA Novosti.

“These are young men with no job prospects who are preyed on by demagogic, apocalyptic preachers who convince them to take up arms. These preachers are part of bigger organizations with a funding apparatus from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf, with weaponry, transportation and logistics. If you want to stop the Sunni militias, deliver an ultimatum to the Gulf countries to stop their support,” the expert added.

http://en.ria.ru/world/20140704/190804863/ANALYSIS-Chechen-Fighters-Joining-Iraqi-Jihad-is-Western-Plot.html

 

Disclaimer: The views published on the RMSMCBlog does not necessarily reflect the views of the owner.

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