vendredi 2 mai 2014

Foreign Fighters, Rebel Side, in Syria. 7/Chechens and North Caucasians

Before talking about the presence of Chechens in Syria, it should be noted that Chechen diaspora is present in the country since the nineteenth century (1866) following a forced displacement under the Ottoman Empire. Chechen families settled in both the north (Qamishli , Raqqa) and south (Quneitra) of the country. There would have been 7 to 8 000 Chechens in Syria when the conflict erupted in 2011. In April 2013, an expert estimated that only few had joined the insurrection, while some fight in regime forces1.



Le logo de  Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal al-Ansar .-Source : http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0f/Jaish_al-Muhajireen_wal-Ansar.jpg


Foreign Chechens also join the insurrection2. The first North-Caucasian fighters are reported in the month of August 2012. Departure of volunteers in Syria is not without cause discord, especially among Chechens and Ingush, because the local fight against Russia is still considered as more important than external wars as the Syrian conflict. Rustam Gelayev was the first Chechen killed in August 2012. Since, the Chechens in particular formed the backbone of the group Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal al-Ansar, created in March 2013, and some of which joined ISIS in November 2013. In Syria it is found not only Chechens and North Caucasians from the region (Russian North Caucasus), but also community members in exile or refugee groups near the borders of Caucasus3. Recruitment is made also among Chechens in Europe, who study in Arab countries, or also from those of Georgia. In addition to the Chechens, it must be added that the Russian FSB recognized as early as August 2013 that 200 citizens of Dagestan probably fought in Syria. A recruitment network had settled in Russia for poaching of North Caucasians, the citizens of Central Asia and Tatarstan. The network is led by a Salafist veteran of Afghanistan, a Tatar named Salman Bulgar4. In Chechnya itself, the influx has increased since the fall but for now concerns a maximum of 100 people, including perhaps some women. But the Chechens integrated groups among the most powerful of insurrection and their influence is probably unrelated to their actual number .



In February 2014, the Chechens and other North Caucasians mainly operate in 4 groups, all controlled by the Chechens : Omar al-Shishani (Shishani meaning "Chechen") Seyfullakh al-Shishani (killed February 6, 2014 during the assault of Aleppo Central Prison), Salahuddin al-Shishani and Amir Muslim5. Omar al-Shishani was a Chechen rom the village of Jokolo, in the Pankisi Gorge, Georgia, born in 1986. He served in Abkhazia in 2006-2007 but could not continue to be part of the Georgian army due to tuberculosis. Arrested for purchase and illegal possession of weapons, in September 2010, he goes to Egypt once released. In prison, he met a Saudi who had praised him the merits of jihad including a Saudi jihadi commander in Chechnya, Thamir Saleh Abdullah al- Suwailem. Upon leaving prison, Tarkhan Batirashvili took the nom de guerre Omar al-Shishani. He would be arrived in Egypt in February 2011. According to the newspaper al- Akhbar, close to Hezbollah and the Syrian regime therefore, be treated with caution, Omar would have been under the influence of a Saudi cleric, a Qatari businessman and a Turk, Mansour al- Turki6. He goes then in Syria via Turkey. In the Aleppo region, it comes into contact with an important figure of jihadism, Abu al-Athir al-Absi, who eventually put him in touch with Baghdadi, Emir of ISIS. He fought in Aleppo in September 20127 and founded Jaysh al- Muhajireen wa'l-Ansar (which would have counted up to 3,000 fighters from the Caucasus, Ukraine, Crimea and Arab countries, most of the Chechen volunteers from Europe however, seem to join this group) then becomes emir of northern Syria for ISIS in April 2013. His second is Shishani Abu Jihad, who became influential after taking airbase Minnagh , in August 2013.

Omar al-Shishani (à gauche) et Abou Jihad (à droite)-Source : http://www.memrijttm.org/image/Omar%20and%20Abu%20Jihad.JPG


Seyfullakh, a Chechen refugee in Turkey from Pankisi is part of the Omar Shishani group until it was split in September 2013 to start his own formation with a few dozen fighters. He joined the al-Nosra front the December 31, 2013 , after participating in the capture of the al -Kindi hospital, bastion of the regime in Alep8. He was killed in the assault on the Central Prison in the city, on February 6 2014. Seyfullakh group was then taken by Mohammad Khorasany, another Chechen, who has since also died in combat. Salahuddin had recovered much of Omar fighters in November 2013 : in fact, they had refused to swear allegiance to the Emir of ISIS, Baghdadi, considering themselves already linked to the Emir of Caucasus Umarov9. Others simply do not want to be incorporated into ISIS. Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal al-Ansar, which remains the name of the original group led by Salahuddin, fought in Aleppo, alongside what became in January 2014 the Army of the Mujaheedin, and even Islamic Front, against the regime forces, but avoid fighting against ISIS. Beginning in March 2014, the Deputy of Salahuddin, a Crimean Tatar named Abdul Karim Krymsky, attacked violently ISIS and his attitude in Aleppo10. Amur Muslim, a Chechen from Pankisi, is a veteran of two wars in Chechnya. He was arrested by the Russians in 2008, but strangely enough, soon released. He leads his own group, Jund al-Sham in the province of Latakia. He is nicknamed "
Spöka " (the top of the hill , in Russian) for capturing the Alawite villages in the hills during an offensive in the province. Muslim served in the Soviet air defense forces in Mongolia and in Chechnya in the insurrection, alongside Arab fighters. It has important links with donors in the Middle East since the time of Ibn al-Khattab, which enabled him to attract experienced jihadists. He participated in the assault on Aleppo Central Prison alongside al- Nosra front11.


Au centre, en noir, Seyfullakh, tué lors de l'assaut raté sur la prison centrale d'Alep le 6 février 2014. A droite, l'émir Muslim, chef tchétchène indépendant de Jund al-Sham.



Below is the video showing the assault of Aleppo Central Prison, 6 February 2014, which helps Seyfullakh, who joined al-Nosra, and where we also distinguishes Emir Muslim. Seyfullakh is killed during the retreat, about 34:30.





A gauche, l'émir Muslim.-Source : http://www.chechensinsyria.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/mujahid02.jpg


Chechens have been, in fact, often present in fighting among the most important for the Syrian uprising. Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal al-Ansar has played a not insignificant role in taking the Minnagh airbase, in August 2013, besieged for months by the rebels in the province of Aleppo. That same month, some Chechen elements are involved in the first attack against the province of Latakia, led by ISIS-related groups. On 6 February 2014, the group of Chechen Seyfullakh integrated since December 31, 2013 at the al- Nosra front plays an important role in an attack on Aleppo Central Prison, in which its leader is killed. The Emir Muslim, another Chechen leader remained independent, is also involved in the operation. Muslim also collaborates with other rebel formations such as the Islamic Front to counter the progression of the regime on the industrial district of Sheikh Najjar, northeast of Aleppo, in March 2014. Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal al-Ansar, conducted by Salahuddin, fought northwest of Aleppo, in the early months of 2014, with Jaysh al-Mujahideen and Islamic front against the regime, but not facing ISIS. Finally, it may be noted that the Chechen part of the Syrian uprising has played an important role in the last offensive against the province of Latakia, on the border crossing point Kessab, launched on 21 March 2014. Group of Emir Muslim is present. In addition, the battalions Ansar al-Sham , a component of well established Islamic Front in the province of Latakia, and which led the offensive, have their military command led by a Chechen, Mousa Abu ash- Shishani. Moreover, one of the battalions of Ansar al -Sham is named after a former Chechen presidents who fought Russia : Dzhokar Dudayev. Chechens are long present in the province of Latakia (via the group including the Emir Muslim) ; Ansar al -Sham tries to repossess the Tour 45, a strategic hill overlooking the area of border crossing point of Kessab12. Chechens have, in the Syrian insurrection, military reputation for efficiency -perhaps exaggerated, but that is also psychological war- which provoks often fear from their opponents.



In this video, we distinguish Emir Muslimduring the Anfal offensive in the province of Latakia, which began March 21, 2014, and allowed the insurgents to penetrate to the Mediterranean.




There are other formations including Chechens or North Caucasians, less important. Abu Musa, who arrived in Syria in 2012, lead a group of 300 men. Jamaat Sabiri is a group including especially Uzbeks and directed by Abdullah al-Tashkenti, a leader who little is known and who died during the attack on Aleppo Central Prison. The group fought alongside Omar Shishani and claims to have training camps in Syria. The Caliphate group Jamaat also fight the Syrian regime ; its leader, Abdul Hakim Shishani remains fairly mysterious13. It would count 100 militants. Recently, it has emerged on djihadist's social networks, Russian-speaking, a group led by a a man from Dagestan, Abu Hanif, part of ISIS but which retains a separate organization because of cultural and linguistic proximity of its members. Group fighters are from Russia, North Caucasus and Kazakhstan. The group was originally founded in the province of Aleppo by Abu Hanif and another man from Dagestan, Abu Banat14.
.
Most original yet, the history of the suicide bomber Abu Khalid, who blew up April 25, 2013 in Aleppo. Ramazan, from Nizhnegorsk, Crimea, is a Tatar whose profile does not match that of the majority of North-Caucasian fighters. Mature, it is part of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, Umar ash-Shishani's group : it is with this group he will lead a truck packed with explosives against the al-Kindi hospital. It is believed that some Crimean Tatars fought or are fighting in Syria. Local Tatar authorities accuse the radical Islamist group Hizb ut- Tahrir driving recruitment, as well as the Ukrainian media, which evoke in April 2013 death of Abdullah Jepparov, Belogorsk, Crimea, killed in Syria. Abdullah was recruited by Hizb ut-Tahrir with 6 other Crimean Tatars and transported with them in Turkey, and thence in Syria15. .


Below, recent video posted by the website FiSyria supporting Chechens and other Russian speaking related to ISIS, showing a training camp in Syria.




The majority of Chechens in Syria (400 to 1 000) is initially composed of students in Syria or Egypt at the outbreak of the revolution, which helped to attract others. Chechens from Pankisi have also much easier to go to Syria that those of the North Caucasus, paradoxically. Others come from the 150 to 250 000 Chechen refugees in Europe. Very few volunteers are from Chechnya itself. Volunteers are trained for a month/a month and a half, except for those who have at least one year of combat experience. They are closely limited in their movements the first 4 months. Clearly, North Caucasians seek to create in Syria training camps for combat in the North Caucasus, where it is difficult to install such structures. Some volunteers would have already returned to the North Caucasus.

In January 2014, Shahid Temirbulatov, a Chechen, was the first Russian citizen sued in court for fighting in Syria. He has gone in the country in July 2013. Clearly, the Russian FSB and the GRU (military intelligence) failed to identify and track leading Chechen commanders before a certain time, or to infiltrate groups in Syria- at least for now. Nurmagomedov Shamil, a resident of Dagestan aged 24, was arrested December 7, 2013 in Khasavyurt. He is accused of having joined Syria in July 2013, having undergone training in Atmeh before joining Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal al-Ansar and fight until 20 November 2013. These convictions against relatively marginal characters among jihadists in the North Caucasus may be designed to deter potential volunteers. The Russians have not arrested, for example, Magomed Abdurakhmanov, alias Abu Banat, who served past in the Center Against Extremism in Dagestan, then went to Syria, where a video shows him killing two priests16.

 

1Ahmet Burak OZTAS, Combattants Tchétchènes en Syrie: Mythe ou Réalité?, EHESS, avril 2013.
2Mairbek Vatchagaev, « Chechens Among the Syrian Rebels: Small in Number, but Influential », Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 223, The Jamestown Foundation, 12 décembre 2013.
3Mark Youngman, « The North Caucasus Insurgency’s Syrian Balancing Act », Jihadology.net, 7 septembre 2013.
4Emil Souleimanov, « North Caucasian Fighters Join Syrian Civil War », CACI Analyst, 21 août 2013.
5Murad Batal al- Shishani, « Islamist North Caucasus Rebels Training a New Generation of Fighters in Syria », Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 3, The Jamestown Foundation, 7 février 2014.
9Since the fighting between ISIS and other rebel groups in January 2014, disagreements between Chechens are growing and are seeing between two Internet sites : Kavkaz Center which rather supports groups linked to al-Nosra and central command of al-Qaeda, and FiSyria supporting those linked to ISIS. Cf http://eaworldview.com/2014/04/syria-special-chechen-foreign-fighters-wound-fighting/
16Mairbek Vatchagaev, « Russia Arrests Several North Caucasian ‘Syrians’ », Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 48, The Jamestown Foundation, 13 mars 2014.

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