The Caucasus Emirate and Other North Caucasus Mujahedin in Syria: Implications for Russia, Eurasia, and the Global Jihadi Revolutionary Movement

RUSSIAN AND EURASIAN POLITICS WHITE PAPER

Gordon M. Hahn

April 2014 

Introduction

It should have come as no surprise that Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin, their supporters and sympathizers would travel to fight jihad in Syria. It is the closest any front in the global jihadi revolutionary movement has ever been to the CE’s base of operations in Russia’s forbidding North Caucasus.

Moreover, for at least seven years the CE has been globalized, de-territorialized, and part and parcel of the global jihadi revolutionary movement. As such it is an emerging threat to the U.S. and the international community. In 2010 the CE was involved in its first foreign plot. In autumn of that year, a Shariah4Belgium-led plot was uncovered involving Chechens and Morrocans in Belgium and Germany planning attacks on NATO targets and raising money and recruits for the CE. In 2011, a cell tied to the CE’s Dagestan network, the Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV), was uncovered in the Czeck Republic planning an attck in an unidentified third country and raising funds and fighters for the CE. In 2012, the DV organized a large-scale, multi-pronged Mumbai-style plot to attack the May 2012 Eurovision music festival in Baku, Azerbaijan. The CE has inspired if not been operationally involved in several other foreign plots. These include: Lors Dukaev’s 2011 plot to blow up the offices of the Copenhagen newspaper that published the infamous Muhammad cartoons that sparked demonstrations across the Muslim world; the summer 2012 plot by two Chechen and one Turkish AQ operatives to attack targets on Gibraltar during the London Olympic Games and targets elsewhere in Europe later; and the April 2013 Boston Marathon attacks that killed four and wounded more than 200.[1]

Thus, the Syrian civil war and jihad open up new possibilities for the CE and other Caucasus, Russian, and Central Asian jihadists and Islamists. Although the number of mujahedin from the CE based in Russia’s North Caucasus and others from elsewhere in Russia and Eurasia fighting under the jihadist wing of the Syrian revolution are limited to a few thousand at most, CE-tied mujahedin are playing an important role in key jihadi groups and the leading role among the foreign mujahedin fighting in Syria. Perhaps more importantly, the experience and perhaps other things the Caucasus and other Russian mujahedin might gain and be able to return home with is going to have important implications for the CE jihad in the North Caucasus and for jihadi terrorism across Russia and much of Eurasia. Moreover, the CE, the North Caucasus, Russia, and perhaps Eurasia as a whole could begin to occupy a more important place on the agenda of Al Qa`ida (AQ) and the other groups with the global jihadi revolutionary movement. 

THE HIJRA

Muslims from Russia and Eurasia began leaving to fight in Syria in significant numbers in early 2011. Perhaps as many as several thousand have gone and remain fighting in Syria, all have been documented fighting on the side of the jihadi and AQ-affiliated element among the Syrian revolutionaries, which has gained the upper hand within the movement. Several hundred fighters hail from the CE mujahedin, the leading jihadi group operating in Eurasia and based in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Why They Go

Military-political, religious millenarian, religious sectarian, and theological-political motives drive Caucasus, Russian, and Eurasian Muslims to join the Syrian jihadists. For Caucasus and Russian Islamists, the regime of Bashyr Assad serves as a both a surrogate and preliminary target. By attacking it, they are also hitting Russian power, given Moscow’s limited albeit support for Assad. Assad’s fall from power will be a defeat for Moscow in terms of its interests and international prestige. In addition, the establishment of an Islamist or jihadist regime in or around Syria as a result of the civil war will offer radicals among the Caucasus diasporas in the Middle East and the global jihadi revolutionary movement, of which the CE is an integral part, a staging point for supporting the CE.

In addition, for the globally oriented among Caucasus, Russian and other Eurasian Islamists and jihadists, the CE’s North Caucasus jihadi front serves as the doorway to Europe. In September 2010, one year after the leading global jihadi philosopher Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi endorsed the CE as a major jihadi organization, he urged Muslims around the world to support the CE “so the Emirate becomes the door to Eastern Europe.”[2]

The global jihad’s often millenarian character is another driver for Russia, Eurasian, and other jihadis. One North Caucasus Islamic clergyman emphasized the influence not just of fatwas issued by leading pro-jihadi sheikhs but Islam’s millenarian prophecies, which ongoing events in Syria seem to confirm for believers:

Signs of the approach of Judgement Day exist in Islam, which are divided into small and large signs. There are on the order of 130 small signs and more than ten big signs. A portion of the small prophecies have come true and are occurring coming true before our eyes. And among the number of small signs of the coming of Judgement Day, that is the end of the world, is even mention of war in Syria. Even mentioned is the place of Guta where chemical weapons were used in August of this year. It is also said that the Muslims’ center will be located precisely in Syria, and from there a new spreading of Islam will begin. Similarly, the Prophet Jesus Christ should appear precisely in Shama (today’s Syria) and Iraq. Personally, I think that the circumstance that representatives of various countries are ging to Syria is explained precisely by these prophecies. Naturally, the fact that a series of theologists well-known around the world declared the war in Syria ‘jihad’, despite the fact that what is ging on there is in essence a very real civil war, had a serious influence on young people who are weakly oriented on religious issues.[3]

Similarly, after acknowledging in March 2014 the death of the CE’s founding amir Dokku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov somewhere between July and December 2013, the new amir, CE Shariah Court qadi Sheikh Ali Abu Muhammad ad-Dagestani, noted: “When jihad began in Shama, we were overjoyed, first, because we studied Islamic sciences in Shama, but second because we studied the hadiths which tell about the achievements of Shama, about the fact that in the end-time of troubles the faith will be in Shama, that Allah’s angels will spread their wings over Shama, that the best land is in Shama, and that the Heavenly Group will be in Shama at the end of time.”[4]

Another factor driving CE mujahedin and Caucasus and other Russian and Eurasian Muslims to join the jihad in Syria is the Sunni-Shia divide in the civil war between the Shia-oriented Alawites of Basyr Assad and the Sunni essence of the Syrian opposition, the global jihadists flooding to the war, and their foreign backers in Riyad, Doha and elsewhere. Sunni anti-Shiism is a theo-ideological influence as prevalent within the CE as the rest of the global jihadi revolutionary movement. CE websites publish anti-Shiite tracts. Indeed, perhaps the most important theo-ideologists and propagandists to emerge from the CE, Sheikh Said Abu Saad Buryatskii, produced an anti-Shiite tract ‘Shiites – Who Are They?’ that has circulated on CE websites for years.[5] Buryatskii, born Aleksandr Tikhomirov to ethnic Buryat and ethnic Russian parents, was the CE’s leading theo-ideological propagandist and suicide bombing operative from 2008 until his death at the hands of security forces in March 2010. This theo-ideological factor fires Caucasus and other Russian and Eurasian Islamists’ desire to fight against the Assad’s Alawite regime.

Another driver of the Caucasus-Syria jihadi connection originates in ties the CE has had through the influential Syrian, London-based jihadist sheikh Abdu-l-munim Mustafa Halim Abu Basyr At-Tartusi. After Sheikh Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi and perhaps Anwar al-Awlaki, Tartusi is the foreign jihadi philosopher closest to the CE and one of its strongest theological-political patrons. Tartusi reportedly once replied to a question regarding which mujahedin are closest to the “Heavenly community” by answering that they are those in Afghanistan and Chechnya.[6][7] Tartusi and his works feature frequently on CE-affiliated websites,[8] and Tartusi’s missives appear on the Russian-language page of the website of the AQ-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusrah group fighting in Syria that serves its Caucasus-led subunits.[9] Like Maqdisi, Tartusi even has intervened in the CE’s internal politics, for example, when they both backed amir Umarov in his 2010 conflict with a dissenting majority of amirs in the CE’s Chechnya network, the Nokchicho Vilaiyat.[10]

A final impetus for the hijra derives from the CE jihad’s weakness. CE amir Umarov noted several times in recent years that there are many thousands who would like to join the CE jihad, but that the organization lacks the supplies to support them. Therefore, they must be content with functioning as facilitators by gathering intelligence, supplies and recruits and providing safe houses. By going to Syria they can fulfill their dream of fighting for jihad, gain experience, and return to the Caucasus, perhaps even with weapons in hand if they are willing to risk a land trek through forests and mountains of Turkey and the Caucasus.

How They Get There

There appear to be at least three paths by which North Caucasus mujahedin get to Syria. They all seem to begin with radicalization by Internet publications on jihadi websites, presumably many are CE affiliated websites, given their use of the native Russian and, in some cases, local languages. Radicalized, young Muslims then seek channels by which they can get to Syria. The most common route appears to be through Azerbaijan and then on to Turkey wherefrom they hike across the border. Once in Syria, according to one report, some prospective fighters link up with Syrian jihadi rebels in small towns like Atmeh. There, recruits are organised into fighting units. Each is assigned an Arabic speaker, receives ten days of basic training, and focuses on communicating and working together. The fighters are then dispersed among the different jihadi organisations like ‘Ahrar al-Sham’ (Free Men of Syria) and ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’ (Front for the Aid of the People of the Levant). The ‘Chechens’ or, more likely Chechens and other North Caucasians, were allowed to form their own unit and called the muhajirun or immigrants led by Abu Umar al-Shishani (Abu Umar the Chechen) discussed in detail below.[11]

Azerbaijan has been a transit point for mujahedin traveling to and from the North Caucasus since the mid-1990s when Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya warlord Shamil Basayev and AQ operatives Ibn al-Khattab and Seif Islam established a transit routes to the region from Afghanistan through Iran, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Many Chechens who traveled this route remained in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and this diaspora serves as a conduit through these well-worn routes. Thus, in addition to the North Caucasus-Azerbaijan-Turkey-Syria route, there are some who travel through Georgia rather than Azerbaijan on their way to Turkey. The most prominent foreign fighter in Syria, certainly from among those hailing from the former Soviet Union, traveled this second route. Tarhan Batirashvili – who is referred to as Abu Umar al-Shishani, heads the largest foreign jihadi brigade under the Syrian jihadists affiliated with AQ, and is discussed in detail below – is an ethnic Chechen from the ‘Kist’ Chechen sub-group.[12] The Kists reside in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, where former Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya fighters sought refuge in the 1990s through the mid-2000s and where today CE mujahedin sometimes do the same.

A third route begins in Europe and moves through Turkey to Syria. In all cases, the Chechen diaspora plays a role in the movement of North Caucasian and European mujahedin through Turkey to the Syrian border.  At the Syrian border, some may enter training camps set up by Turkish, Qatari, Saudi, and perhaps even U.S. intelligence before entering Syria.

A Georgian report claims that the transport of CE fighters from the Caucasus to Syria was being managed by late CE amir Umarov’s brothers Isa and Akhmed Umarov, who live in Turkey, and long-time Basaev associate Movladi Udugov who lives in Qatar.[13] They might also be securing the mujahedin’s return to the Caucasus.

Where They Come From

Foreign mujahedin are coming to Syria from across the globe: from Eurasia, South and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and even North America. North Caucasians form one of the largest groups. Syrian opposition sources reported in March 2013 that ‘Chechens’ are the second largest contingent of foreign fighters in Syria.[14] The CE’s main website Kavkaz tsentr and other global jihadi websites reported that of 36 mujahedin killed in battle around Aleppo’s Nairob Airport in mid-February 2013 a “majority” were from the North Caucasians presumed or known to be CE.[15] However, many Chechens are going to Syria from the old and new Chechen diasporas in the Middle East, Turkey, and Europe. The CE’s main website reported in November 2013 on the basis of “various estimates” that there were 600 ethnic Chechens fighting in Syria but only “several tens” were from Chechnya. The remainder were from Europe, Turkey, Jordan, Georgia and “other countries.”[16] Diaspora Chechens might include a small number who still see themselves fighting for an independent Chechnya under the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI) flag, since almost all of the Chechen ultra-nationalists fled the region after the defeat of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI), and the remainder left after CE amir Dokku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov founded the jihad-oriented CE to replace the ChRI. An amir of one of the Caucasus-led groups discussed below, Murad (nom de guere Muslim, sometimes Abu Walid, Shishani) Margoshvili mentions running into some such fighters among the many autonomous jamaats floating around Syria and stated flately that the mujahedin had “moved beyond” that stage.[17] Many Chechens, like Margoshvili, are arriving from among the Kist Chechens in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge as discussed below, and others are from the Chechen diaspora in Europe and Turkey.

Of course, not all fighters from the North Caucasus are from Chechnya or are ethnic Chechens. Many taken for Chechens by locals and journalists are likely to be Ingush, Dagestanis and Circassians of various types from the North Caucasus, as well as Tatars and Bashkirs from elsewhere in Russia.The CE’s backbone is the DV and its Dagestanis, and Dagestan’s ethnic groups are well-represented in Syria as well. In October 2013 a group of some 30 Dagestanis arrived in Aleppo to join one of the Caucasus-led jihadi groups.[18] CE-tied websites report Dagestanis’ having become ‘shakhids’ in Syria several times throughout last year.[19] The Chechens’ brother Vainakh ethnic group, the Ingush, as well as other North Caucasus ethnic groups are well-represented, especially those that most populous among the CE’s ranks. At least one Ingush amir, Abdullah al-Shishani, has been killed fighting in Syria, and after his ‘shahad’ the website of the CE’s Ingushetiya network, the so-called Galgaiche Vilaiyat (GV), published a detailed biography of his years fighting jihad in the Caucasus.[20] A fighter named Seif Islam from Ingushetiya is the mujahed at the center of an infamous photograph showing several mujahedin in Syria standing inside a USAID-provided tent.[21] Also fighting in Syria are mujahedin from Russia’s North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkariya and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, who are also probably members of the CE’s United Vilaiyat of Kabradia, Balkariya and Karachai (OVKBK), which covers those republics for amir Umarov. A handful of ethnic Karachai mujahedin from the CE’s OVKBK (United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya and Karachai), the CE network with its area of operations in Karachaevo-Cherkessiya but primarily in Kabardino-Balkariya, issued two videos (one Russian-language video and another Karachai-language video) from Syria in October 2012 calling themselves “Jamaat –Katibatu Mukhajirin KBK’” and calling upon the North Caucasus Muslims to join them on the Syrian front in the global jihad.[22]

Besides CE members, there are independent Islamists and Salafists from the North Caucasus going to the jihad in Syria probably inspired by their Caucasian brothers and the battle against the Moscow-backed Assad regime. A prominent example is the Dagestani Salafi Islamist and Imam of School of Khafizes in Dagestan Abu Umar Sasitlinskii, who sent a videotape from Istanbul as he prepared to head to Syria.[23] This part of the hijra to Syria from the Caucasus is draining the CE’s recruitment or auxiliary pool, just as the drain of CE fighters to Syria puts greater demands on that pool.

The Numbers

The number of foreign mujahedin fighting in Syria is estimated variously at several thousand. The number of European fighters (among whom are included those from Russia) ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 in mid-2013 but were reported to be growing significantly.[24] There have been numerous estimates of the number of mujahedin from Russia and the North Caucasus fighting in Syria. The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Alexei Malashenko estimated in September 2013 that there were 1,000 fighters from Russia fighting in Syria, including jihadists from Dagestan, Chechnya, and Tatarstan. He adds that there are estimates ranging from 300 to 2,000.[25] In June FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov cited a figure of 200 CE mujahedin fighting under the AQ and its affiliates in Syria. In September 2013 First Deputy FSB Director Sergei Smirnov cited a figure of 300-400 jihadists from across all of Russia fighting in Syria. At the same time, however, a source in Chechnya’s Minister of Internal Affairs (MVD) claimed there were 200-500 residents from his republic alone fighting in Syria.[26] According to Syria’s state-appointed Sunni Muslim mufti, Ahmad Hassoun, as of October 2013 there were more than 3,000 fighters from Russia and other former Soviet republics may have joined the Syrian opposition forces.[27] When the foreign and predominantly North Caucasian Jeish Muhajirin va-Ansar (Army of Emigres and helpers) or JMA split in October 2013, its breakaway wing alone claimed a membership of “several thousand members,” but this seems unlikely.[28] From the abovementioned estimates and various videos of the relevant mujahirin units detailed below, I would estimate the number of mujahedin in Syria who have either a residence or diaspora tie to the North Caucasus ranges from 700 to 1500 over time; most of whom are CE fighters.

THE RISE OF AMIR ‘AL-SHISHANI’ TARKHAN BATIRASHVILI AND ‘JEISH MUHAJIRIN VA ANSAR’

Although their numbers among the foreign and even just European fighters are not predominant, both CE fighters from the North Caucasus and especially CE-affiliated fighters from Georgia are playing the leading role among all foreign mujahedin in Syria. Hundreds of North Caucasian mujahedin and hundreds of other muhajirin consolidated around a group of ethnic Chechen amirs from the Caucasus writ large – from Chechens from Chechnya and the ethnic Chechen Kist sub-ethnos centered in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge. Three amirs – Tarkhan Batirashvili (jihadi nom de guerre ‘Abu Umar al-Shishani’ or Abu Umar the Chechen), Murad Margoshvili (Muslim or sometimes Abu Walid Shishani), and (Seifullah al-Shishani) Ruslan Machaliashvili (sometimes Meslikaev)  – arrived in Syria as a group in late 2011 or early 2012 and, according to one of them, were initially financed by CE amir Umarov.[29] Initial reports suggest also that other jamaats went separately to Syria with an unclear connection to the CE. By early 2012, this ‘Chechen jamaat’ of some 40 fighters was being led by the aforementioned Batirashvili and was reportedly fighting in and around Aleppo under the Al Qa`ida-tied ‘Jabhat al-Nusrah’ (JaN or the Al Nusrah for short).[30] It included mujahedin from Chechnya, Dagestan, and a group called ‘Kataib al-Muhajirin KBK’ (the Emigres Brigade from Kabardiya, Balkariya, and Karachai) from the CE’s ‘United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya and Karachai’ (by its Russian language acronym known as the OVKBK) that is responsible for CE operations in Russia’s North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkariya and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya.[31] There are representatives of various Tatar communities from Russia and Eurasia also fighting alongside the CE jihadists in Syria, including Tatarstanis, Crimean Tatars, and even some Volga Tatars from Russia’s republic of Mordovia.[32]

Batirashvili’s and the CE’s venture in Syria was not immediately successful and at times hung by a thread. In September 2012, Batirashvili’s still small brigade of still mostly Chechen mujahedin fighting under the Al-Nusrah Front engaged Syrian troops in the university district of Aleppo, where North Caucasus jihadists have fought numerous times for more than two years under various AQ affiliates. In two days of fighting Batirashvili lost ten of his forty fighters.[33] Several more days of such attrition at the hands of Assad’s well-equipped forces would have reduced the remains of the ‘Chechen Jamaat’ to merely the latest list of jihadi martyrs. Soon, however, fortunes improved; new units joined, and the ranks grew.

By late 2012, the CE mujahedin and most other mujahedin from the North Caucasus, Russia and elsewhere outside Syria joined together in a united formation of foreign fighters under AQ affiliate, Al-Nusrah. Initially, it took its name form the abovementioned OVKBK jamaat in Syria and called itself the ‘Kataib al-Muhajirin’ or KaM with Batirashvili serving as its amir. On 7 February 2013, the CE’s main website posted a one of the first videos of Batirashvili, Machalishvili, and 20 well-armed, often masked KaM mujahedin from various parts of the world, as indicated by their dress.  The introductory text to the video notes that KaM is one of the “most active units of Mujahideen fighting in Syria against the Alawite regime of Assad and Iranian mercenaries” and includes “volunteers from the Caucasus Emirate.” Boasting his long red beard and some years and flanked by Machaliashvili and another Chechen, his “naib” Abu Musa, Batirashvili explains the KaM’s goal is to fight jihad and establish Shariah law “on this land.”  Noting the importance of financing, he appeals for financial support for the mujahedin. Abu Musa then speaks in Arabic about monotheism (tawhid), the obligation to fight jihad (fard a’in), and jihad.[34] A second major video appeared on 22 February 2013, with the Kavkaz tsentr’s introduction noting that KaM includes “mujahedin from the Caucasus Emirate, Crimea, Russia, Ukraine, Tatarstan, several CIS countries, and Arabs.” It also notes that the CE mujahedin captured Syrian soldiers or pro-Assad volunteers in or around Aleppo and shows photographs of some ten prisoners and of the mujahedin in combat.[35] In March 2013, Batirashvili received the bayat or loyalty oath from two Syrian rebel units, ‘Kataib Khattab’ and ‘Jeish Muhammad’, and they joined the KaM. According to a late March posting on the CE’s main website, Kavkaz tsentr, ‘Jeish Mukhammad’ and ‘Kataib Khattab’ together included some 600 fighters.[36] The renamed KaM, now titled ‘Jeish Mukhajirin va Ansar’ (JMA) or the Army of Emirants and Helpers, now numbered more than a thousand militants.[37]

Batirashvili, who would become the most prominent of CE-tied mujahedin in Syria as of early 2014, boasts an interesting biography with some implications for any assessment of the U.S. role in Georgia and in the larger Caucasus, Russian, and Eurasian contexts. Batirashvili is an ethnic Kist from eastern Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, where Kists predominate numbering some 5,000. The Kists are essentially a Chechen sub-ethnic group but sufficiently distinct in traditions from Chechens and other North Caucasians. Almost all Kists are Muslims. Batirashvili grew up with his Sunni Muslim Kist parents in a brick hut in Birkiani in the Pankisi Gorge. As a shephard boy, Batirashvili became familiar with Chechens and likely with the foreign AQ-affiliated fighters running through the gorge and helped them cross over the border into Russia’s North Caucasus. On occasion he reportedly took part in jihadi operations against the Russians and their local North Caucasian allies.[38]

The Pankisi Gorge served as a refuge during the Chechen wars not just for civilians but for fighters, in particular wounded ones. In the 1990s the Pankisi also was part of the transit route used by AQ-affiliated amir Ibn al-Khattab and other AQ fighters who went to Chechnya from Afghanistan. For years Tbilisi denied the presence of AQ or Chechen fighters but eventually was forced to acknowledge it. Consequently, a U.S. effort to deprive AQ of safe havens and routes for transferring fighters and funding around the world established the ‘Train and Equip’ program to help train the Georgian military in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist tactics and strategies. ‘Train and Equip’ also involved the transfer of military equipment to the Georgian military.

After graduating high school Batirashvili joined the Georgian army, became expert in various weaponry and maps, and was then trained under the U.S. program.[39] He joined a special reconnaissance unit and rose up the ranks and entered a new intelligence unit. When Georgia attacked Tskhinvali on 7 August 2008, kicking off the Georgian-Russian war in South Ossetiya, Batirashvili was near the front lines reconnoiting Russian tank units and relaying their position to Georgian artillery. In 2010, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and discharged from the army, turning his life upside down. He returned home and was turned down for local police employment, and his mother soon died from cancer. His father reports he became very disillusioned. By this time Batirashvili may have already been helping the Caucasus Emirate, since he asked his former commander for military maps of Chechnya. In September 2010 Batirashvili was arrested for illegally storing weapons and was sentenced to three years in prison.[40] Georgian prisons were notorious for their torture and violence under former President Mikheil Saakashvili, as leaked videotapes of torture and rapes of prisoners subsequently revealed.

Batirashvili was released from prison in sixteen months in early 2012 and immediately left Georgia. In a recent interview he acknowledged that he resolved to fight jihad in prison: “I promised God that if I came out of prison alive, I’ll go fight jihad for the sake of God.” Indeed, against his father’s wishes, Batirashvili headed to Istanbul where the Chechen diaspora recruited him to lead a group of Chechens to fight in Syria against the Assad regime.[41] The group probably included a significant number of Kists. According to a Georgian report, there were some 30 Kists fighting in Syria under the aegis of the CE in late 2013.[42]

Batirashvili is reported to be a talented commander who is able to communicate and manage the various ethnic groups that comprise the muhajirin he would come to command. Besides Chechen and Russian, Batirashvili speaks what one journalist who witnessed him in battle as speaking “heavily accented classical Arabic.”[43] These language skills would enable to engage mujahedin from Russian, Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the Arab world. One journalistic account gives some good flavor regarding his operation’s eclectic multinationalism:

Abu Omar gave an order in Arabic, which was translated into a babble of different languages – Chechen, Tajik, Turkish, French, Saudi dialect, Urdu – and the men retreated in orderly single file, picking their way between piles of smouldering rubbish and twisted plastic bottles toward a house behind the front line where other fighters had gathered.

Their Syrian handler stood alone in the street clutching two radios: one blared in Chechen and the other in Arabic. Two men volunteered to stay and try to fetch the young injured man.

The fighters sat outside the house in the shade of the trees, clutching their guns and discussing the war. Among them was a thin Saudi, dressed in a dirty black T-shirt and a prayer cap, who conversed in perfect English with a Turk sitting next to him. He had arrived the week before and was curious about how the jihad was being reported abroad.[44]

This Western reporting was translated in part and posted proudly on the CE’s main website.[45] CE jihadi websites similarly describe the international nature of the JMA.

The CE’s main website, Kavkaz tsentr, indicates that Batirashvili had more than episodic jihadi combat experience, claiming that he fought in both the first and second Chechen wars.[46] This suggests that there is a missing detail from Batirashvili’’s biography – that is, that he was a member of the CE. Indeed, in a circa November 2013 interview discussing the CE and North Caucasus mujahedin in the JMA, Batirashvili states that “we came here on the orders of Amir Abu Osman (Dokku Umarov)” and were initially financed by him.[47] But Batirasvili regards not just Russians but also Americans to be enemies of Islam. In a later interview he promised that after establishing an Islamist state in Syria, the ISIS, JMA and other mujahedin in Syria “will continue to battle with America and other enemies who continue to suck the blood of Muslims.”[48]

Brutality is the JMA’s hallmark, replete with the ritual jihadi beheadings. Indeed, Batirashvili was forced to apologize when his men accidentally beheaded a fighter who turned out to be a fellow rebel.[49] In an 8 December 2013 video posted on the JMA-afffiliated website FISyria.com Batirashvili’s associate – amir Abu Jihad, described as amir of the town of ad-Dana, naib in the town of Idlib and military amir of northern Syria – stated that on his territory and elsewehere in the self-declared ISIS the mujahedin are instituting Shariah law: “On the territory which Allah has tested me with as amir Allah’s law in being fully applied; that is –  adulterers are stoned and and thieves have a hand cut off – instituting Shariah law.” This is informed by previous mistakes, he notes, when the ISIS “time after time” took territory without establishing Shariah law only to move forward and abandon it and find later that it had been re-occupied by infidel forces.[50]

Batirashvili and other JMA leaders have said clearly that he, the JMA, and the ISIS will fight any group that hinders their efforts to establish an Islamist state.[51] This inevitably puts them on collision course with the FSA. Thus, the JMA like other jihadi groups among the Syrian rebels, has experienced tensions and conflict with the more moderate Free Syrian Army from the beginning. One report notes that as early as September 2012 fighters of JMA’s predecessor organization, the KaM, dissembled about their countries of origin when speaking with FSA soldiers, and radicals were telling them that after dealing with Assad’s army they must turn on the FSA.[52] Batirashvili has acknowledged that the JMA fought against the group Shukhada al-Badr and its leader, the “thief and contrabandist” Halid Hayani, whom JMA forces “routed,” taking 40 prisoners.[53]

The JMA’s Leadership and Organizational Structure

The JMA is reported to have a shura and shariah committee as obligated in jihadi organizations as well as several other combat jamaats and subunits. Amir Batirashvili heads the shura untl he rose up the ISIS ranks from military amir of its northern front in summer 2013 to overall ISIS military amir in October. He was then succeeded as JMA amir by his Chechen naib Salahuddin al-Shishani.[54] Amir Salahuddin’s deputy or naib is the apparent Crimean Tatar, given his nom de guerre, Abdul-Karim Krymskii (Abdul-Karim the Crimean). Both Salahuddin and

_____________________________________________________________

 The JMA’s Leadership and Organizational Structure in 2013.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

Top Leadership:

Amir – unknown. Previous: Salahuddin Shishani, after ‘Abu Umar al-Shishani’ Tarkhan Batirashvili.

Naib – Idlib amir ‘Abu Jihad’ (Previous: Salahuddin Shishani, then Abdurrakhman killed in April 2013)

Leadership Bodies

Shura – Headed by JMA Amir

Shariat Committee: Qadi – unknown

Subunits and Combat Jamaats*:

Jaish al-Khalifatu Islamiya (broke from JMA in November 2013): Amir – unknown (Previous: ‘Seifullah’ Ruslan Machaliashvili killed in February 2014)

Jund Sham (broke from JMA, November 2013): Amir – ‘Muslim/Abu Walid Shishani’ Murad Margoshvili

Spetsnaz (consisting largely of North Caucasians)

Caucasus Jamaat: Amir – unknown. Previous: Abu Abdurakhman (killed April 2013).

Katibatu Muhajirin Kabardiya, Balkariya, and Karachai (ethnic Karachais from CE’s OVKBK): Amir – unknown

Azerbaijan Jamaat: Amir – Abu Yah’ya al-Azeri

Volga Tatar ‘Bulgar Jamaat’: Amir – ‘Salman Bulgarskii’ (born Airat Vakhitov)

Crimean Tatar Brigade – JMA naib Abdul-Karim Krymskii

Turkish Jamaat: Amir – unknown

European Jamaat: Amir – unknown

Arab Jamaat: Amir – Abu Hafs (as of June 2013)

Websites

FISyria.com

Beludasham.com

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*It remains unknown how many of these jamaats might have left the ISIS for JaN after the JMA

joined the former, but this are some of the structural subunits under the JMA for most of 2013.

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SOURCES: “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaata,” FISyria.com, 11 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1644; “SIRIYA. Obrashchenie amira podrasdeleniya arabskikh modzhakhedov iz Dzheihs Mukhadzjirin va Ansar,” Kavkaz tsentr, 18 June 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/06/18/98600.shtml; https://archive.org/download/Doulya1/doulya1.mp4; http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/02/23/96386.shtml; http://fisyria.com/?p=232; “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 10 December 2013; “Siriya. Obrashchenie Amira Krymsko-tatarskogo dzhamaata Abdul-Karim (Video),” Kavkaz tsentr, 29 May 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/05/29/98206.shtml; and “SIRIYA. O Shakhade soratnika Usamy bin Ladena Sheikha Abu Umeira (Abu Khalida as-Suri),” Kavkaz tsentr, 25 February 2014, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/02/25/103323.shtml.

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Krymskii would break with Batirashvili, the JMA proper, and the ISIS in 2014 in a series of splits within the JMA (see below).

The identity of the chief judge or qadi of the JMA’s Shariat Committee is unknown, but the committee has at least one Russian-speaking member, Abdul-Khalim, who likely hails from the North Caucasus or Pankisi Gorge. In a September 2013 interview Abdul-Khalim said the committee opens Shariah courts and Islamic institutes to produce Islamic teachers and organizes Koran reading for children and lessons on Islamic belief (aqida) and jurispridence (fiqh) in mosques located on territories the mujahedin occupy. It also plans to open theo-ideological camps for new recruits and middle schools to teach “modern and Shariah subjects.” Abdul-Khalim’s several references to the leading global jihadi philosopher Abu Muhammed Asem al-Maqdisi suggest that the latter’s influence among CE muhajirin in Syria is as strong as among the CE mujahedin back home.[55] In sum, just as under the Taliban in AfPak, the JMA and ISIS in Syria are creating a Salafi theo-ideological and social infrastructure for consolidating its control over society and building the Islamist caliphate.

In terms of combat sub-units some, though not all, appear to be organized along the ethnic or regional principle, representing various nationalities and countries from across Russia, Eurasia, and the world. The only Eurasian region from which there are mujahedin in Syria that has not received a JMA sub-unit is Central Asia. Videos and reports reveal that there are Central Asians fighting with the JMA, ISIS, and JaN, but no corresponding subunits have been mentioned in Syrian jihadi or other media. Until the split caused by the JMA’s subordination to the ISIS, there were five subunits representing or dominated by mujahedin from Russia, four dominated by North Caucasians and the North Caucaus: the Jaish al-Khalifatu Islamiya, Jund Sham, Caucasus jamaat, Spetsnaz, and the Tatar jamaat.

Ethnic Volga and Crimean Tatar joined up with Batirashvili as separate groups. Reportedly, the Volga Tatar-dominated ‘Bulgar Jamaat’ left Pakistan for Syria as it decides whether to return to Tatarstan and help extend the CE’s weak presence in Russia’s Volga and Urals areas. The Bulgar Jamaat is led in Syria by 33-year old Airat Vakhitov (jihadi nom de guerre ‘Salman Bulgarskii’), the former student of a radical ‘Ioldyz’ madrassah, imam at the now closed ‘Tauba’ mosque both formerly located in Russia’s town of Naberezhny Chelny in Tatarstan, and Taliban fighter who had a stint in Guantanamo.[56] There is also a Crimean Tatar brigade under the JMA led by JMA naib Krymskii.[57]

Representing Russia’s neighboring South Caucasus or Transcaucasus is the Azerbaijan Jamaat, led by one amir Abu Yah’ya al-Azeri, who issued a video statement posted on FISyria.com and the CE’s websites. Azeri noted that a Shariah Committee has been formed in his jamaat and called on Muslims to join the jihad, emphasizing that there is a hadith that says: “It will happen that you will become united forces: the forces in Shama (Syria), forces in Yemen, and forces in Iraq.”[58] The Azerbaijan Jamaat could consist of remants of the jamaat of the same name formed under the CE’s Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV) in 2010 that planned the Mumbai-style series of attacks on and around the 2012 Eurovision music festival interdicted by Azerbaijan security forces in spring 2012. The number of mujahedin in the Azerbaijan Jamaat is unknown.

There are several Russian-language websites affiliated with the JMA and JaN. The two most prominent of late are: (1) FISyria.com, a Russian-language site reporting almost exclusively on the Syrian jihadi, ISIS, and the JMA perhaps set up by Batirashvili and the JMA and (2) Beludasham.com described as the website of the “Jamaat of the Mujahedin of Shama.”[59]

In October 2013, Batirashvili and the JMA switched allegiance from al-Nusrah to the the other major AQ-affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and its amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whom the JMA announcement praised as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.[60] In October, Batirashvili was promoted to the ISIS’s central command as its top military amir.[61] On November 21, the JMA issued a statement on its official website, FISyria.com, announcing that Batirashvili and the JMA had taken the ‘bayat’ or loyalty oath to ISIS amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was subsequently confirmed that they were waiting for CE amir Umarov’s “consent to the oath.”[62] However, it soon became clear that this reflected the split that emerged within the JMA; a consequence of growing ISIS-JaN tensions that grew into open warfare in early 2014 as well as internal JMA tensions.

AQ’S FITNA IN SYRIA AND THE JMA SPLIT

Increasing tensions and the eventual fighting between AQ’s two key affiliates in Syria – JaN and the ISIS – in 2013 resonated among the foreign mujahedin in the JMA, including those from the Caucasus. Along with personality conflicts, power competition, and conflicts over the distribution of resources, Batirashvili’s allegiance to the ISIS appears to have played a role in the precipitation the split among the North Caucasus amirs and jamaats. In late July or early August 2013, Machaliashvili and his ‘Jaish al-Khalifatu Islamiya’ (Army of the Islamic Caliphate) or JKI and Margoshvili’s ‘Jund Sham’ (The Soldiers of Sham) or JS broke from the JMA and formed their own united jamaat, named after Machalishvili’s ‘Jaish al-Khalifatu Islamiya’ or JKhI. Like Seifullah and his JKI, another leading JMA amir, Jund Shama amir Margoshvili, also removed his group from ther JMA and joined JaN. Both Machaliashvili and Margoshvili had come with Batirashvili to Syria in 2012 and were his close associates in both Kitaib al-Muhajirin and its successor organization, the JMA, and they had fought many battles together.

Batirashvili soon accused his naib or deputy, amir ‘Seifullah’ Machaliashvili, of sowing fitna or dissent within the JMA. In an 8 December 2013 video, Batirashvili and his new naib, one ‘Abu Jihad’, addressed the split in relatively vague terms. Batirashvili rejected the charge apparently made by Machaliashvili, Margoshvili, and perhaps others in the JMA that he had abandoned the JMA. He noted that 80 percent of the JMA took the bayat to Baghdadi and most of those who did not were the abovementioned CE mujahedin who were waiting amir Umarov’s approval. For his part Abu Jihad reiterates Batirashvili’s account, emphasizing “lies being spread” by “infidels” who seek to sow fitna among the mujahedin.[63]

The JMA’s First Split: Amir ‘Seifullah’ Machaliashvili and the ‘Caucasus Mujahedin’

Amir ‘Seifullah’ Machaliashvili began to gather in a series of jamaats under his leadership as tensions between the ISIS and al-Nusrah and within thr JMA. In early August 2013 the mujahedin of two amirs, Abu Rud and Yakhya, declared the bayat to amir Seifullah creating a larger force, Jaish al-Khalifatu al-Islamiya (JKhI) or the ‘Army of the Islamic Caliphate.’[64] In an later video posted on YouTube on September 3, Machaliashvili called his jamaat ‘the Mujahideen Kavkaz fi Sham’ (The Caucasus Mujahideen in Syria), noting it comprised fighters from Chechnya, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other countries.[65] The title reverted to Jaish al-Khalifatu al-Islamiya (JKhI) a month later.

Seifullah and the JKhI soon broke completely from Batirashvili and the JMA, expressing his disagreements with them in an August 2013 video. Sitting with more than 30 mujahedin behind him (at least one wearing a Caucasus Emirate teeshirt), he claimed that he had not sown any dissension within the JMA and that his ranks had grown from 27 to 100, with more joining each day. He also denied that he had engaged in any excesses of the kind exhibited by the noted Dagestani amir Abu al-Banat who, he says, slept and did not fight jihad, though he was in fact brutally establishing Shariah law and beheading infidels, as discussed above. Seifullah emphasized that he and Batirashvili had fought jihad together and loved each other for a year and that he and his mujahedin continue to love Batirashvili and his mujahedin, “have nothing against them,” and “cannot live without jihad.”[66]

Seifullah, however, did hint at a cause of the split, by noting that if he “wanted to buy something or a car” he did it for the jamaat and Allah and that he and his fighters had not come to Syria “for the sake of property or for the sake of money.”[67] This suggests that the disagreement might have arisen over resources, with Seifullah perhaps wanting to buy a car or other equipment for his group of fighters using JMA funds. Indeed, in a December 2013 video Batirashvili touches on the need to unify jihadi forces in Syria and the impossibility of distributing booty and territory “to everyone” at this point in the jihad.[68] Disputes over resources usually have at their root a struggle for influence and power within a movement. Such power struggles between leaders and factions are far from unusual and can lead to intense conflict and even bloodshed in totalitarian movements like jihadist ones.

Abu Jihad conceded in the 8 December 2013 video message that Seifullah’s CE affiliate consists of a “sufficiently large number” of mujahedin.[69] Indeed, in October 2013, approximately 30 Dagestani mujahedin joined Seifullah’s JKhI in Aleppo to a big welcome from several hundred mujahedin that included some ten apparent suicide shakhids; all shown in a JkhI video.[70] An ethnic Avar Dagestani, Mukhammad Nur Nidal, likely is helping the JKhI under the Nusrah baner. Nidal was born in Damascus, returned to Dagestan in 1984 and then moved to Saudi Arabia in 2003, was featured in an interview in August 2013 on the al-Nusrah website’s Russian-language page, suggesting he might be financing and/or facilitatiung the travel of Dagestani jihadists to Syria and specifically to JaN and JKhI.[71] The large Dagestani element within the JKhI might signify a certain ethnic division among North Caucasians fighting in Syria, with Dagestanis largely oriented towards JaN and JKhI and Chechens more towards the ISIS and JMA.

Amir Muslim Shishani (Margoshvili) and Jund al-Sham Split with the JMA

Jund al-Sham (JS) broke with the JMA months later. Previously, it had developed into perhaps the JMA’s largest North Caucasian, CE-tied jamaat before or after Machaliashvili’s break with Batirashvili. It might be the successor of a group with the same name formed in Homs on 23 December 2012, initially led by amir Abu Suleiman al-Muhajir (Abu Suleiman the Immigrant), whose real identity is unknown.[72] It is likely that one or more of the Chechen amirs joined JSh shortly after arriving in Syria and took control after Suleiman’s likely death. It then evolved into the abovementioned JMA predecessor group, Kitaib al-Muhajirin, and was dominated by North Caucasians and secondly Europeans.[73]

After Batirashvili’s taking of the bayat to ISIS amir al-Baghdadi in October 2013, amir Margoshvili also broke with JMA and took tens or perhaps hundreds of JSh fighters with him. He then reunited with Machashiashvili, who had left the JMA in summer. The new configuration was variously called Jeish al-Khalifat Islamiya (after Machaliashvili’s JKhI) and ‘Jund al-Sham’ (Army of Sham) or JS. That the JSh defected from JMA as Batirashvili transferred his allegiance to the ISIS suggests that at least some of its leaders had some disagreement about Batirashvili’s direction, perhaps his and the JMA’s increasingly close relationship with the Arabs of the ISIS. While under JMA, JSh appears to have been led by three commanders. Margoshvili led as amir, with Abu-Musaaba or Musa and ‘Seifullah’ Ruslan Machaliashvili serving as his naibs until they broke with the JMA and formed the JKhI.

Amir Margoshvili’s jihadi ventures are featured in a film biography released by ‘Sham Tsentr’, the media wing his jamaat ‘Jundallah Sham’ renamed from ‘Jund Shama.’[74] Margoshvili has been fighting jihad for 14-17 years. He is an ethnic Chechen from Chechnya who “lived for a time” in Georgia and then returned to the then USSR where he was drafted and served in the Soviet air defense forces in Mongolia.[75] After the Soviet collapse in 1991, Margoshvili returned to Dzhokhar Dudayev’s Chechnya, but there is no mention of his activities through the first Chechen-Russian war. In the inter-war period (1996-1999) Margoshvili went to the AQ-funded training camps established by Khattab and Shamil Basaev and “strengthened his religion and military affairs.” Muslim then worked with Khattab’s Turkish jammat and others in running supplies through a transit route running from presumably the Middle East through Turkey and Georgia to Chechnya. During the second war (1999-2002) Margoshvili entered “Khattab’s jamaat” and was wounded during the battle of Groznyi. He was wounded a second time in the ensuing escape from the city and a third time during Khattab’s redeployment from Shatoi to Vedeno.[76]

After this Margoshvili entered the group of another foreign and likely AQ-tied amir Abu Walid, who became Khattab’s successor leading foreign fighters in Chechnya and increasingly elsewhere in the North Caucasus. Abu Walid then requested that Margoshvili join the group of another foreign amir, Abu Jabar, but he returned to Abu Walid after Abu Jafar was killed in combat. Margoshvili reportedly took part in “many” operations with Khattab, Abu Walid and Abu Jafar. The video biography includes many photographs and some film of him with Khattab, Basaev, Maskhadov, Abu Walid and other top foreign and Chechen jihadi-oriented ChRI commanders.[77] His experience with the foreign amirs fighting for the ChRI and then the CE probably inspires his own hijra to Syria today. The same may be true of Batirashvili and other North Caucasus and Georgian jihadists who have gone to Syria. This underscores the continuing role of AQ’s support for the ChRI from the inter-war years in shaping the not just the CE but the global jihad as a whole.

By 2002, after the Chechen of Republic of Ichkeriya’s (ChRI) defeat and move to the underground and guerilla insurgent warfare by late 2001 to early 2002, Margoshvili had been appointed amir for the village of Tsa-Vedeno, a key point on the road running from Shali to Vedeno, two remaining ChRI strongholds. After Khattab’s death in 2002, Abu Walid sent Margoshvili to Sunzha district where he set up a “large jamaat.” Basaev and Abu walid appointed him amir of the Sunzha jamaat, which was “also subordinated to the Ingush jamaat”[78] set up by ChRI President Aslan Maskhadov and took part in the June 2004 attack on Nazran, Ingushetiya.[79] At the same time, Margoshvili also “managed the financing of all of Abu Walid’s groups” and took part in a 2002 operation led by Maskhadov.[80]

In 2003 Margoshvili was captured and remained in prison for two and a half years where, according to the jihadi biography, he underwent “harsh torture.” Upon his release he went to Georgia allegedly for treatment. In 2007, after his health improved, he went to Dagestan and set up a jamaat, called it Didoiskii Jamaat or (audio unclear) ‘Didoiskii Jawal’ (that is, the Dagestani ethnic Didoi or Tsez ‘Jawal’, Arabic for Nomad) in the southwestern district of Tsuntin (Tsuntinskii raion) located on the border with Georgia and comprised in the majority (54%) by the ethnic Didois or Tzezes.[81] It is unclear whether this occurred before or after the October 2007 declaration of the formation of the CE. In 2012, frustrated by his inability to get to Chechnya, Margoshvili and his Didoi Jamaat made the hijra to Syria.[82] They have taken part in operations to ‘liberate’ Jabar in ‘Turkmenia’ meaning Turkmen-populated areas probably including Homs, Latakia, Dar’a and/or Deir Ez Zor. At the end of the film he is seen walking down a road in Latakia in 2013.[83]

Margoshvili seems to possess considerable charisma, and his fighting experience and travels give him substantial resources from which to lead. The number of mujahedin fighting under JSh is difficult to assess. Margoshvili is seen in video accompanied in battle by about 40 mujahedin, but this may be his personal jammat, just one of several under the JS.[84] A somewhat unreliable report claims JSh included 1,500 fighters as of December 2013, but the source cited in the report actually states nothing of the kind.[85] The JSh-affiliated website, Usudu Sham, claims it includes several thousand fighters.[86] Certainly, JSh could have included several hundred fighters when it split with the JMA, and it surely does today after linking up with Machaliashvili’s JKhI.

Margoshvili appears to have been driven away from the ISIS and JMA by their indiscriminate use of terrorism and oppression of the kind displayed by Abu Banat (see below). In a 14 November 2013 Sham Center video with accompanying text and briefly at the end Margoshvili’s December video with Machaiashvili and Abu Mussab, Margoshvili calls for targeted use of terrorism in order to win the support from the population much as jihadi philosopher Abu Muhammed Asem al-Maqdisi has argued. Margoshvili points to several mistakes being made by the mujahedin in Syria. First is going to takfirist extremes to force the obedience of locals to Shariah law. Second is the use of force in instilling such obedience. Third is rivalry and dissension between various jihadi groups. Fourth is inexperienced commanders who frequently devise overambitious operations and regard high casualty rates among mujahedin as a mark of success. Margoshvili notes that these problems, in particular competition and disagreements were common early on in Chechnya but were “overcome.” He concludes by expressing confidence that they are being overcome in Syria as well and points to the formation of joint Shariah courts and joint operations by various groups.[87] It is unclear whether Margoshvili regards Batirashvili as one engaging in excesses and whether this caused JSh’s break with Batirashvili, JMA and ISIS.

JKhI-JS Alliance and Jabkhat Al-Nusrah

In late August 2013 amirs Machaliashvili and Margoshvili met on the outskirts of Latakiya and agreed on unspecified cooperation between JKhI and JSh.[88] Machaliashvili, Margoshvili, and Abu Musaab announced what looks to be a full merger of the JkhI and JS in a 31 October 2013 video. They both again mentioned opaque “disagreements” and “dissent” (“fitna”) apparently with Batirashvili, the JMA and ISIS. Margoshvili spoke of avoiding fitna and referring to Shariah guidelines to prevent and overcome disagreements that arise among the mujahedin in Syria, but it remained unclear from the video if their break with the JMA was more the result of disagreement over joining the AQ-affiliated ISIS or more about giving up the bayat to CE amir Umarov. In closing, Margoshvili seemed to throw down a challenge to the JMA’s predominance among North Caucasians fighting in Syria by calling on “all mujahedin from any corner of Syria” to join them, “whether Chechen, Dagestani, or any other.”[89]

Seifullah retained leadership of the new ‘Jaish al-Khalifatu Islamiya’ (JKhI) as its amir. Machaliashvili and the JKhI broke with Batirashvili slightly earlier than Margoshvili. After the JKhI and JS began to join forces in October 2013, Machaliashvili and the JKhI then took the bayat to Abu Muhammad al-Jolani and joined al-Nusrah in December.[90] Margoshvili appears to have delayed or rejected unification with the JaN.  It is unclear whether Margoshvili’s JS is now independent but allied with the JKhI or continues to retain a separate identity within the JKhI but independent in relation to al-Nusrah. The JKhI began to communicate through the Russian-language page of JaN’s website, Usudu Sham.

In JKhI’s first operation after returning to JaN’s fold, it helped to take Aleppo’s Kindi Baracks hospital in December that utilized two ethnic Kurds (one from Iraq and one from Iran) as suicide truck bombers. In the video highlighting the battle, amir Seifullah laughs over the corpses of infidels and challenges Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov to act on his threat to send fighters to Syria in support of Assad.[91]

The last laugh was on Seifullah, however, and came on 14 January 2014 when he was killed during a siege of Aleppo’s central prison which freed thousands of prisoners and was carried out by JaN and the jihadi group Ahrar Sham.[92] Nusrah’s amir Jolani wrote a brief tribute eulogizing Machaliashvili, noting that they had fought closely together in Guta and elsewhere and that “the Caucasus always will give birth to new heroes, and they will restore the former influence of the Umma.”[93] A videotape from Seifullah’s unidentified Russian-speaking, North Caucasian-appearing successor as amir was posted on the CE’s main website on 26 February 2014. The new amir was not Margoshvili, and the group was now being called the “Jamaat of Seifullah Shishani.”[94] It is unclear to what extent the JMA offshoouts, the JSh and Seifullah Shishani Jamaat, are composed of CE mujahedin – that is, mujahedin who have previously taken the bayat to Umarov – though the amirs openly declare their CE ties.

Amir Salahuddin and the ‘Caucasus Emirate in Shama’

Yet another group led by Umarov’s envoy to the JMA/ISIS, Salahuddin Shishani, broke with the JMA and ISIS in early 2014. In December 2013 Salahuddin and at least 200 JMA mujahedin had followed Batirashvili taking the bayat for life to ISIS amir Baghdadi.[95] However, Salahuddin then appears to have left the ISIS taking with him an unknown number of JMA fighters. Salahuddin began calling his group the ‘Caucasus Emirate in Shama’ (Imarat Kavkaz v Shame or IKS) and the JMA interchangeably, perhaps taking advantage of Batirashvili’s statement that those who left him after he became ISIS military amir have the right to use the JMA name as long as they do not spread lies that Batirashvili abandoned them.[96] The IKS appears to include the JMA’s Crimean Tatar brigade or at least its amir, Abdul-Karim Krymskii, who continues as Salahuddin’s first naib in the IKS.[97] In a March 2014 interview Krymskii alluded to the ISIS’s brutality, noting “tens even hundreds of corpses and mass graves have become kind of the Dovla’s (ISIS) calling card” after said were allegedly found in a section of Aleppo from which the ISIS had just left.[98] This again suggests this is one cause for the various defections and splits.

According to some interpretations that need to be treated carefully, the IKS/JMA joined with JaN temporarily soon after its break with the ISIS.[99] However, in March 2014 Salahuddin issued a video statement taking a neutral position between the ISIS and al-Nusrah, calling for a council of ulema to resolve the various fitnas plaguing the Syrian jihad. Days later it was revealed that 15 mujahedin had quit the IKS/JMA, apparently returning to the ISIS JMA; something ISIS propagandists made ample use of by publishing the statements of the defectors regarding what they ostensibly witnessed upon joining IKS/JMA and JaN.[100]

THE CAUCASUS MUJAHEDIN’S ROLE IN SYRIA: BATTLES AND ATROCITIES

According to JMA Shariat Committee member Abdul-Khalim, the Arab-speaking mujahedin play the leading role in theo-ideological work, while the “Russian-speaking” mujahedin, who are mostly from the North Caucasus, are focused more on military-related activities. Specifically, the latter are for the most part involved in the military training camps and at the front but also in proselytizing.[101] The Caucasus-led foreign units have been the spearhead of numerous battles across northern Syria from Latakiya to Aleppo to Idlib. CE-tied Chechen and Dagestani mujahedin in Syria have been involved in numerous atrocities, especially under the banner of the ISIS, which has most aggressive in establishing strict Shariah law in the areas around Aleppo and Idlib it controls.

The CE and perhaps the other North Caucasian fighters as well are distinguishing themselves in battle, and this helped Batirashvili rise up the ranks of the Syrian jihad and ISIS. They come with combat experience and are battle-hardened. One eyewitness journalistic account notes: “The disparate levels of fighting ability among the men was immediately clear. The Chechens were older, taller, stronger and wore hiking boots and combat trousers. They carried their weapons with confidence and distanced themselves from the rest, moving around in a tight-knit unit-within-a-unit.”[102]

The scope of CE and other Caucasus fighters’ activity suggests a significant presence in numbers and a high level of combat effectiveness relative to other Syrian jihadi sub-groups. In February 2013 just one subunit of the then KaM occupied nine positions inside the city of Aleppo. In the ensuing battle for the Nairob airport the same month, the majority of 36 mujahedin killed in killing tens of Syrian soldiers and capturing tens more were from the CE.[103] The unit was led by amir Abdurrakhman, who was reported to have been killed in early April 2013 in the capture of the Aleppo airport and the capture of hundreds of fighters and hundreds of tons of military arms and equipment.

Batirashvili and the JMA have fought alongside FSA forces; for example, in taking the Menagh airport near Aleppo in a ten-month siege. After their victory in August 2013 a high-ranking FSA commander Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, the head of the U.S.-backed opposition military council in Aleppo, appeared in a video alongside the local ISIS amir Abu Jandal and offered thanks to “our brothers al-Muhajireen wal Ansar and others.”[104]

The JMA has placed special emphasis on seizing prisons in order to free fellow mujahedin and thereby replenish the ranks. From April 2013 Machaliashvili focused on the massive prison complex in Aleppo with its 5,000 “Muslim priosners,” where he met his death in February 2014 still attacking sections of the prison holding out aganst the jihadi seige.[105]

North Caucasus mujahedin have been involved in all manner of atrocities. A Dagestani ethnic Dargin named Abu al-Banat or variously Abu Banat harshly instituted Shariah law and organized several beheadings including those of Syrian Christian clerics, videotaping the act.[106] According to the CE’s main website, Abu Banat was a former MVD officer in Dagestan, and his jamaat consisted of Dagestanis, Azeris, and Tatars. He ordered the 22 April abduction of two priests, and executed them not by beheading them but by detonating grenades strapped to them. This might be inadvertent confirmation of a different execution carried out by Abu Banat.[107] Indeed, there were two separate kidnappings of two Syrian Christian clerics each on 9 and 22 February 2013, with the latter two sent to negotiate the release of the former.[108] Eventually, Abu Banat was forced out of the village he head settled in along with a Syrian he married and had to ensconce elsewhere with his own splinter jammat and then return to Dagestan.[109]

More recently, in late February or early March 2014, ISIS or JaN Russian-speaking North Caucasian fighters appeared to have carried out and videotaped a major summary execution in Aleppo.[110] Given the brutality of the jihad in Syria, it is very likely that CE or other mujahedin coming to the North Caucasus after a stint there will bring back with them a new lvel of brutality.

The Caucasus Emirate’s Relations with Caucasus and Other Mujahedin in Syria

After initially expressing reservations about the hundreds of CE jihadists heading to Syria (since this weakened CE efforts in the North Caucasus), CE amir Umarov approved of the JMA’s activity. Umarov was less than enthusiastic about the first tens and then hundreds of his fighters who have abandoned the CE’s fight in the Caucasus for Syria, even if temporarily. In November 2012 Umarov offered reluctant approval on the condition that mujahedin going there were doing so to carry forth jihad. In a video missive “to the mujahedin of Syria” he announced the CE’s support for those CE muhajirin but emphasized that it extended only to “those brothers who make Jihad in Syria in order to establish Allah’s Word” and not to those who “would remove one man-made law (taghut) and replace it with a different taghut, … (those who would) remove Bashar Assad’s taghut and replace it with that taghut which Barack Obama or others establish.” However, he revealed some resentment by saying that he knew some there were there to establish taghut, that others there were saying the jihadi in the Caucasus was finished, and by claiming that jihad in the Caucasus was “more brutal and stronger” than in Syria.[111] Thus, his initial reticence to support the Caucasus hijra to Syria seems to have been based not only on drain of fervent fighters from the CE to Syria but on the fear that they would be thoroughly lost to the jihad if they joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which at the time was dominated more than it soon would be by non-jihadi Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood along with democrats, socialists and Syrian nationalists.

The growth of the jihadi element within the Syrian rebel forces through 2013 and the CE Syria-based mujahedin’s commitment to, and later success in finding a jihadi-oreinted, indeed, AQ-affiliated group that would allow rotation of cadres back to the Caucasus played no small role in Umarov’s change of heart. Indeed, in explaining why the JMA joined the ISIS, Batirashvili noted several months later on his VKontakte page ‘Sham Today’ that the Caucasus mujahedin had been in several groups before joining the ISIS and found them wanting because of their refusal to let allow the CE mujahedin in Syria to rotate fighters to and from the North Caucasus in order to assist the CE jihad.[112]

Thus, Umarov and his successor Sheikh Dagestani came to accept the hijra. In summer 2013, Umarov acknowledged that given Russian military capabilities, the CE’s too few resources, and too many North Caucasians seeking jihad that it was to be expected that many were leaving to carry out jihad abroad. There was an implicit recognition that the CE jihad was not going well; a fact he connected to the situation in the world and global jihad, forst and foremost in his mind seemed to be the flood of Caucasus jihadists to Syria. He noted: “Most of them go to Syria, and many are becoming Martyrs there. They go to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.”[113] Umarov’s successor, Sheikh Dagestani, described the CE leadership’s decision to support the desire of CE mujhaedin to make the hijra to Syria in both ambiguous and ambivalent terms, noting that given the hadiths’ emphasis on jihad in Sham in the last days, the CE’s amirs “encouraged our brothers to go to Sham, and we allowed them to go there when they requested it from us, despite our extreme need of them (in the North Caucasus).”[114]

Umarov even appointed a liaison to the JMA. By mid-2013 his liaison, amir Salahuddin, amir of a JMA jamaat called ‘az-Zubair’, appears to have found an arrangement suitable to both CE and JMA. Speaking from Syria in a July 2013 video, Salahuddin called on CE mujahedin and North Caucasus residents to make jihad in their homeland and only make the hijra to Syria if absolutely necessary. He urged them not to leave Russia if jihad in the North Caucasus proved too difficult but rather first explore the option of taking jihad to Moscow or, during the Winter Olympic Games, to Sochi, echoing CE amir’s call a month earler to attack the Olympic Games.[115]

On 21 November 2013 the JMA issued a statement announcing that Batirashvili and all the JMA mujahedin, except those who had given the bayat to CE amir Umarov, took the ‘bayat’ to ISIS amir Baghdadi.[116] In an undated interview that appeared about the same time, Batirashvili states that “we came here on the orders of Amir Abu Osman (Dokku Umarov)” and that Umarov financed the CE and North Caucasian fighters in Syria “for a time.” According to the JMA amir, Umarov wanted them to give the bayat to ISIS amir Baghdadi because, as I have noted for seven years, any CE amir “is also fighting for the establishment of an Islamic State” – that is, for a global caliphate. However, Batirashvili promises that after victory in Shama, the CE and North Caucasian mujahedin in Syria “will come to (Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov) stronger and better prepared.” [117]

In the November 21 statement and a videotaped interview with Batirashvili posted on December 11th, it is stated that Batirashvili, the JMA, and its CE fighters were waiting for CE amir Umarov’s “consent” to let the CE members take to the oath to Baghdadi.[118] In another December video Batirashvili and ISIS Northern Front military amir Abu Jihad confirm this with a twist that he and the CE mujahedin had taken the “small bayat” to battlefield amirs when they took the loyalty oath to Umarov but took the big bayat to “an imam” when they did so to Baghdadi. They both emphasize that the former automatically expires when a mujahed leaves the theatre of jihad where he made the small bayat.[119] Batirashvili’s successor as JMA amir, Salahuddin, clarified the relationship between the taking of the bayat by Batirashvili and a portion of the JMA’s mujahedin and the ensuing JMS split in a December statement. He explained that the ISIS proposed that the JMA mujahedin make the bayat for life and some did not want to do this.[120] This might explain why some of the CE and North Caucasus mujahedin sought CE amir Umarov’s permission.

In his October 2013 video announcing the merger with Machaliashvili and Abu Mussab, Margoshvivli reiterates the same point regarding the expiration of a bayat once a mujahed who has taken it leaves a particular jihadi front under the sovereignty of the amir to whom the bayat was taken. However, he also said that when controversy arose regarding whom JMA fighters could be giving the bayat to, Umarov and/or Baghdadi, he and amir Abdul Aziz (CE amir Umarov’s representative to the JMA) convened a shura of scholars (ulema) and through them obtained the noted interpretation that seemingly resolves the issue. Margoshvili suggested that something more lies behind the issue of where the allegiance of CE forces in Syria lies, when he noted that his mujahedin were fighting for something “more than an emirate,” alluding thereby to the greater ambition of establishing the caliphate of which any emirate would be a part.[121]

Batirashvili reflected the same overriding ambition of the ISIS and amir Baghdadi when he noted in the December 2013 interview: “(A)fter the creation of full-fledged state, we will ask everyone ‘why not join up with us?’ This problem, you see, is not exclusively a problem for Syria or Iraq; it is a problem for the umma as a whole. In the declaration of the State (ISIS) is a great good. Glory to Allah, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made this declaration. I want to ask a question of All the Umma: ‘Is it not an Islamist State our common goal? Why are you not joining up with us?’”[122] As Abu Jihad noted in his video with Batirashvili, the strategy is to establish a Shariah law state “even on one square meter” and rally the umma to that refuge from where, like the riders of Khorosan, they can gather strength and spread out across the globe.[123] In part 2 of this video, Abu Jihad calls for all Muslims to unite under the ISIS and al-Baghdadi as “the imam” of the would-be caliphate by virtue of his stature in terms of both “knowledge” and “deed.” Baghdadi’s doctoral degree in Shariah law, his status as a hafiz of (one who has memorized) the Koran, and his conduct reflective of a strong oberserver of Islamic norms testify to his knowledge. Baghdadi’s combat and leadership experience in “the war against America in Iraq” testify to his deeds. And the most important qualification, according to Abu Jihad, is Baghdadi as “a descendant of Allah’s messenger.”[124]

The predominance in their thinking of the caliphate based in Sham is a product of the millenarian strain in jihadist thought tied to the region and being reinforced by the ‘romantic’ experience of fighting jihad on that land and by amirs of more localized emirates, like CE amir Sheikh Dagestani. Ultimately, however, this vision could conflict with those seeking to establish their own power in an emirate on their own jihadi fronts.

At any rate, perhaps as a courtesy and in order to avoid tension in their relations with Umarov and the CE, the ISIS decided to allow the CE mujahedin to wait for Umarov’s approval of their bayat to Baghdadi before formally merging with the ISIS. It is unclear if his approval was given before his death in late 2013. Umarov and/or his successor, Sheikh Dagestani, could condition any approval of the subordination of CE mujahedin in the JMA to Baghdadi and the ISIS on a pledge to assist the CE with financing, weapons, or rotating fighters betrween Syria and the Caucasus.

The CE and other North Caucasus mujahedin have not forgotten about the CE’s jihad in their homeland. In July 2013 CE amir Umarov’s envoy to the JMA and ISIS, Salahuddin, then heading a group calling itself ‘Az Zubair’ under the JMA, encouraged mujahedin from Russia to stay in the North Caucasus and “prepare for the so-called Olympic Games in Sochi.”[125] Margoshvili, for example, insisted that he and his men had not abandoned the CE and intend to return home at some point.[126] Even Batirashvili promised that after victory in Shama, the CE and North Caucasian mujahedin in Syria “will come to (Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov) stronger and better prepared” and “will continue to battle with America and other enemies who continue to suck the blood of Muslims.”[127] Indeed, some CE and North Caucasus fighters are returning, and Russian security and North Caucasus police forces on occasion arrest them.[128]

With some balance struck, CE-affiliated websites now report daily and enthusiastically on the Syrian jihad and post JMA and others’ propaganda videos, most taken from FISyria.com. Many show the bodies’ of dead mujahedin and even their final moments as they lie wounded and then die.[129] Thus, it appears that the CE and the ISIS are coordinating on organizational questions and, one suspects, much else, and the CE, JMA and AQ-affiliated ISIS appear to have found a modus vivendi of sorts in order to cooperate in making the global jihadi revolution.

Umarov’s policy towards the split and violence within the Syrian jihad between the ISIS and al-Nusrah was somewhat muted since it had not reached violent proportions before his last public statement was issued in July 2013. The CE’s websites posted the statements of both sides of the dispute throughout 2013 and early 2014. Its main website, Kavkaz tsentr, issued an official statement only in March 2014. It supported ISIS’s goal of creating an Islamist state in Sham now but criticized its methods (presumably their harsh nature). However, it ultimately maintained neutrality by calling on both sides to form a joint Shariah Court to settle the dispute.[130]

The importance to the CE of the Syrian jihad and ISIS-Nusrah split was underscored when its new amir, Sheikh Dagestani, made it the first issue he addressed after taking over the reins from the fallen Umarov. In a video ‘Message of Advice to the Mujahedin in Sham,’ Dagestani reaffirms the CE’s continuing support for the jihad in Syria, emphasizing its historical importance to Islam, and warns against the dangers of dissent or divisions (fitna) between jihadi groups in Syria. He specifically urges the leaders of the ISIS’s amir Baghdadi and the JaN’s Jolani to negotiate their differences in order to ensure that Shariah law is implemented appropriately across Sham and they “do not betray (the CE’s) hope in (them).”[131] In short, the CE now places great stock in the success and therefore unity of the Syrian jihad and among groups like Seifullah Shishani’s Jamaat JKhI, the JMA, ISIS, and JaN.

CONCLUSION

For a decade voices resonated in U.S. media and think tanks asserting that Chechen separatists and the Caucasus Islamists such as those who forged the CE had nothing to do with Al Qa`ida and the global jihadi revolutionary movement, despite a plethora of contrary evidence. Some of those same voices still can be heard today. Contrary to those voices’ claims and expectations, we now see CE mujahedin and their fellow travelers carrying out insurgent and terrorist attacks across the Eurasian supercontinent from Waziristan in the east to Boston in the west. But nowhere does the CE’s de-territorialized orientation resound with such large, global implications as it does in Syria.

North Caucasian mujahedin, especially those affiliated with the CE in the past and present, are playing the leading role among foreign mujahedin fighting in Syria. Batirashvili’s rise to the ISIS’s top ranks and the eulogy to Machaliashvili by al-Nusrah amir Jolani testify to this fact. Greater testimony comes from the CE-affiliated amirs’ leading command role and their North Caucasian-dominated jamaats’ combat role in almost all of the key battles surrounding the key front at Aleppo.

The Caucasus mujahedin’s important role in the Syrian jihad has at least nine implications for the the global jihadi revolutionary movement and the struggle against it in Russia and the West. First, the the flood of many hundreds of CE mujahedin and other North Caucasian and Russian Islamists to the jihad in Syria is having a debilitating effect on the CE’s capacity in the North Caucasus and Russia. Even if only several hundred CE fighters have gone to Syria, this is a relatively large number to take away from CE in the Caucasus which only reached some 1,000 fighters. Thus, the Caucasus-Russian hijra to the Syrian jihad is having a debilitating effect on the CE’s four networks, including the spearhead Dagestani network, the so-called Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV). But all three other vilaiyats – the OVKBK, Chechnya’s Nokchicho Vilaiyat (NV) and Ingushetiya’s Galgaiche Vilaiyat (GV) – are seriously crippled by the hijra to Syria. Since it began in 2011, the number of insurgent and terrorist attacks in Russia (99 percent of them in the North Caucasus) has declined steadily. By my own estimate there were 583 in 2010, 546 in 2011, 465 in 2012, and 439 in 2013. According to CE-affiliated figures, in the second Arabic month of 2014, the decline in the number of attacks in Russia reached a nadir, declining to 10 from 31 during the same period in 2013.[132] This and CE Umarov’s death late last year go a long way towards explaining the CE’s failure to attack the February-March Sochi Winter Olympic and Para-Olympic Games, despite its leaders’ many threats going back many years to do so.

Second, the high profile of the CE and other North Caucasus and Russian mujahedin in the Syrian jihad relative to their actual numbers raises the CE’s ties to, and profile within the overall global jihadi revolutionary movement. The CE now has stronger ties to AQ and other global jihadi groups and fighters from across the globe, including those from countries in the immediate region such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Iraq. These stronger ties to the global jihad open opportunities for greater access to recruits, financing and weapons.

Third, JMA/CE fighters in Syria could acquire some of Assad’s chemical weapons and manage to transport them into Russia for WMD attacks. On the eve of the Sochi Olympics one amir Umar of a CE DV “diversionary group” called ‘Ansar al-Sunni’ not only claimed responsibility for the December 2013 Volgograd sucide bombings in Volgograd, but warned Sochi that “attacks up to and including chemical attacks” were ready to be approved by CE amir Doku Umarov.[133] Umarov’s death may have delayed this attack, or perhaps the chemical materials had not yet been acquired or transported to the Caucasus. Moreover, there is some evidence that rebels in Syria may have acquired chemical agents from Bashar al-Assad’s stockpiles. On 30 May 2013, Turkish authorities arrested a JaN fighters in possession of about two kilos of sarin nerve gas, but no information has been made public about their nationalities.[134] Days later, on June 1, Iraqi officials announced that they interdicted an AQ cell plotting to launch sarin gas attacks in Iraq, Europe and possibly North America.[135] A recent article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh contends that CIA analysts reported to the Obama administration in the spring of last year that Syrian rebels may well have acquired some of Assad’s stockpiles of chemical agents.[136] Certainly, with the chaos of an ongoing civil war in Syria and the more than 40 sites at which Assad’s chemical weapons have been reported to be located, it is possible that one or more jihadi groups could have acquired chemical materials.

The first three implications plus the advent of a new era in the CE with Umarov’s death and his replacement in March by Sheikh Ali Abu Mukhammad ad-Dagestani’ (born Aliaskhab Alibulatovich Kebekov), an ethnic Avar from Dagestan and the CE’s Shariah Court qadi (chief judge), raises a fourth possible implication: a shift in CE tactics, strategy and/or goals. The goals of building the global caliphate and its affiliate in the North Caucasus, the Caucasus Emirate, will remain. However, the more religiously-steeped Dagestani, who will surely seek to leave his mark both on the local CE and global jihad, could turn to even greater reliance on suicide bombings, mass casualty attacks, and joint operations with foreign jihadi groups perhaps beyond Russia’s borders as ways of compensating for lost capacity and maintaining a higher profile given the drain of potency to Syria. He may also change strategy by trying to expand operations more aggressively into the predominantly ethnic Russian North Caucasus regions of Stavropol, Krasnodar, and Rostov and to Volga Tatar regions as an ethnic and cultural bridge to the Crimean Tatars.

A fifth implication could be the expansion of CE and North Caucasian mujahedin involvement on many of the global jihad revolutionary movement’s various fronts; something we have already seen as summarized briefly in this report’s introduction. For example, Chechens fighting in Syria were reported to be among a flood of extremists, including also Egyptians, Tunisians, and Syrians, heading to the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon Lebanon and joining the Abdallah Azzam Brigades’ Ziad Jarrah Brigades and Lebanon’s Jund al-Sham in order to carry out attacks in Beirut, the Bekaa valley, and Tripoli.[137]

This sixth implication raises a possible sixth – the formation of a more closely linked Eurasian network of jihadi organizations with a second pillar after the CE in the North Caucasus becoming Central Asia’s jihadi groups on the eve of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan and the possible return to power of the Taliban. There are significant numbers of Central Asian mujahedin who have arrived in Syria from the homelands and from AfPak where a series of Central Asian jihadi organizations – the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, Tajikistan’s ‘Jamaat Ansarullah’, and Kazakhstan’s ‘Jund al-Khalifat’ – are on their own hijra in AfPak. The CE and these groups already exchange personnel, especially the travel of North Caucasians to these AQ-tied groups’ training camps in AfPak, as well as video propaganda messages for mutual support. More recently, a group calling itself the ‘Caucasus Emirate in Khorosan’ and its amir Abdullah announced their presence somewhere in AfPak.[138] Now these groups are mingling using their common, if often weak Russian-language knowledge and their peoples’ common colonial experiences with Russia that will build bonds beyond those forged in combat.

Seventh, Azerbaijan is increasingly vulnerable to jihadi terrorist activity given its geographical proximity to Turkey, Syria and Iraq and its use as a travel route by militants traveling to and from the Syrian and North Caucasus/Russian jihadi fronts. As noted in the introduction the CE already attempted a major plot in Azerbaijan in 2012. Azerbaijan also has been plagued, if rarely, by jihadi terrorist attacks and CE incursions into its northern regions.

Eighth, there is the possibility of disaster for the CE in Syria. In a major routes of the jihadis by Syrian forces, the bulk of its fighters could be wiped, or CE mujahedin may be so discouraged by the divisions and bloodshed between jihadi groups that they abandon their caliphate and emirate dreams.

Ninth, given the CE’s even greater integration into the global jihad and Russia’s support for the Bashir Assad regime against which the jihadists are fighting, Russia is likely to move higher on the global jihadi revolutionary movement’s target list. One Syrian ISIS commander told a Western journalists that Russia would be a target of the ISIS: “Russia is killing Muslims in southern Muslim republics and sends arms and money to kill Muslims in Syria as well…. I swear by God that Russia will pay a big price for its dirty role in the Syrian war.”[139] 

Implications for Russian Foreign Policy

Russia’s greater vulnerability to attacks by global Sunni jihadi groups as a result of the CE’s growing ties with the global jihadi revolutionary movement raises several foreign policy implications.

First, all else remaining equal, Moscow will have greater reason to maintain its relationships with Iran and Syria hoping against hope that the Shiites can at least absorb and contain the Sunni jihadi threat.

Second, this likely will complicate non-proliferation efforts in both Iran and Syria and make it more difficult to remove Assad from power and secure Israel’s national security.

Third, any major attack emanating from CE or other jihadi groups in Syria could raise tensions in a Russo-Turkish relationship potentially burdened by Istanbul’s pan-Turkish impulse to protect Crimea’s Tatars from real or perceived Russian transgressions. Fourth, the same is true regarding Russia’s relations with the Arab Gulf and Western states supporting the Syrian rebels.

In sum, the Syrian civil war and jihad is reshaping the geopolitical and security landscape across Eurasia. For the CE, the Syrian jihadi crucible could provide the CE new momentum through a pivotal jihadi victory in the region or swallow up the CE’s mujahedin in a grand jihadi failure. Either way, this will have important implications for Russian national security and foreign policy and for Eurasian and international security as well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Footnotes

[1] Gordon M. Hahn, “The CE and the Belgium Terrorist Plot,” Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (from here on cited as IIPER), No. 30, 30 November 2010, CSIS, http://csis.org/files/publication/101130_Hahn_IIPER_30.pdf; Gordon M. Hahn, “CE-Related Belgian Plot Update,” IIPER, No. 31, 17 December 2010, CSIS, http://csis.org/files/publication/101217_Hahn_IIPER_31.pdf; Gordon M. Hahn, “Dagestan Vilaiyat Cell Uncovered in Czech Republic,” IIPER, No. 40, 15 May 2011, CSIS, http://csis.org/files/publication/110515_Hahn_IIPER_40.pdf; Gordon M. Hahn, “CE Dagestan Vilaiyat-Global Jihad Plot to Attack Eurovision-2012 and Other Targets in Azerbaijan Fioled,” IIPER, No. 58, 21 June 2012, http://csis.org/files/publication/120621_Hahn_IIPER_58.pdf; Gordon M. Hahn, “Checnya Native Lors Dukaev (Doukaev) Sentenced in Denmark for Terrorism,” IIPER, No. 42, 22 June 2011, CSIS, http://csis.org/files/publication/110622_Hahn_IIPER_42.pdf; Gordon M. Hahn, “Two allegedly Al Qa`ida-tied Chechens and one Turk arrested on terrorism charges in Spain,” IIPER, No. 60, 31 August 2012, CSIS, http://csis.org/files/publication/120831_Hahn_IIPER_60.pdf; and Gordon M. Hahn, “The Caucasus Emirate Comes to America: The Boston Marathon Bombing,” Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation White Paper, October 2013, www.geostrategicforecasting.com/products-page/whitepapers-studiesandreports/boston-marathon-attack/.

[2] “Fatva Sheikha Abu Mukhammada al’-Makdisi (da ykrepit ego Allakh),” Kavkaz tsentr, 10 September 2010, 20:55, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/09/10/75149.shtml and “Fatva Sheikha Abu Mukhammada al’-Makdisi o fitne v Imarata Kavkaz,” Islam Umma, 9 September 2010, 10:44, http://islamumma.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1253:2010-09-10-07-35-03&catid=130&Itemid=485.

[3] Kavkaz uzel, 20 September 2013, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/230371/.

[4] See “Amir IK Ali Abu Mukhammad: Poslanie s sovetom mudzhakhidami Shama VIDEO,” Kavkaz tsentr, 20 March 2014, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/03/20/103638.shtml. For the Arab language video see the same link or VDagestan.com, http://dagestan.com/obrashhenie-amira-ik-k-bratyam-v-sirii.djihad. Simlarly, the posting announcing the loyalty oath or ‘bayat’ to the amir of the Al Qa`ida-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) taken by a jamaat of foreign mujahedin dominated by CE and North Caucasus mujahedin cited the hadith of Amr bib al-As: “The Caliphate is with the kuraishites right up until the Hour (Judgement Day) ‘Kitab as-Sunna,’ 1109, Sheikh al-Al-bani called this hadith ‘good’.” “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi,” FISyria.com, 21 November 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1586.

[5] See Buryatskii’s ‘Shiites – Who Are They?’ at http://vdagestan.com/said-buryatskij-shiity-kto-zhe-oni.djihad and http://seyfullah.tauhid.biz/.

[6] Zelimkhan Merdzho, “Oglyanemsya nazad (Nekotorye zamechaniya po povodu poslednykh disputov na saite),” Hunafa.com, 24 December 2009, http://hunafa.com/?p=2640.

[7] For example, in mid-2010 Tartusi issued a fatwa published encouraging the CE mujahedin. International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Periodical Review’s Jihadi Websites Monitoring Group, IDC Herzliya, Israel, September 2010, http://www.ict.org.il/Portals/0/Internet%20Monitoring%20Group/JWMG_Periodical_Review_September_2010_No_1.pdf, p. 20.

[8] For example, the CE’s Ingushetiya network, the Galgaiche Vilaiyat (GV) mujahedin’s website, Hunafa.com, posted in October 2010 a translation of a Tartusi article or fatwa titled “The Causes of Failures of Several Jihadi Movements” and linked to the original Arabic version. “Prichiny neudach nekotorykh dvizhenii dzhikhada,” Hunafa.com, 13 October 2010, 9:21, http://hunafa.com/?p=3699. Islamdin.com, the website of the CE’s network in the republics of Kabardino-Balkariya and Karachaevo-Cherklessiya, the United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya, and Karachai (OVKBK) posted in November 2010 a biography of Tartusi on November 19th. “Biografiya sheikha Abu Basyra At-Tartusi,” Islamdin.com, 19 November 2010, 08:04, www.islamdin.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=974:2010-11-19-08-21-49&catid=20:2009-02-08-20-35-36&Itemid=27.

[9] Abdu-l’ Mun’im Mustafa Khalima Abu Basyr at-Tartusi, “Prichiny neudach nekotorykh dvizhenii dzhikhad,” Usudu Sham, October 2013, http://usudusham.com/2013/10/причины-неудач-некоторых-движений-дж/.

[10] Almost immediately after the NV schism occurred in August, supporters of Umarov at the website IslamUmma.com appealed to Tartusi to issue a judgment, and he endorsed Umarov. Tartusi is cited in the introduction by the editors as saying that he “loves” and “supports the Mujahedin in the Caucasus” and “values Amir Dokku Umarov” as “a major Mujahed.” “Fatva Sheikha Abu Basyra At-Tartusi o Dzhikhade na Kavkaze i o Amire IK Dokku Abu Usmane,” Islam Umma, 24 August 2010, 06:18, http://islamumma.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1223:2010-08-24-04-19-53&catid=111:2010-07-19-23-59-00&Itemid=302 and “Fatva Sheikha Abu Basyra At-Tartusi o Dzhikhade na Kavkaze i o Amire IK Dokku Abu Usmane,” Kavkaz tsentr, 24 August 2010, 11:00, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/08/24/74744.shtml. In a more detailed fatwa issued 12 days later and published two weeks after that Tartusi again urged all mujahedin to back CE amir Umarov. “Fatva Sheikha At-Tartusi ob Amire Imarata Kavkaz Dokku Abu Usman i o fitne vokrug nego,” Kavkaz tsentr, 5 September 2010, 12:10, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/09/05/75043.shtml. See also “Sheikh Abu Basyr At-Tartusi: Neskol’ko slov otnositel’no dzhikhada v Chechne i na Kavkaze,” Kavkaz tsentr, 20 September 2010, 07:46, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/09/20/75360.shtml (the original Arabic-language version was published at www.abubaseer.bizland.com/hadath/Read/hadath%2073.doc); “Sheikh Abu Basyr At-Tartusi: ‘Eto moi Khukm, i eto moe slovo na dannyuyu pozitsiyu” IslamUmma.com, 2 October 2010, 16:19, http://islamumma.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1273:-l-r&catid=130:2010-09-09-18-17-05&Itemid=485; and “Obrashchenie Sheikha At-Tartusi k Mukhannadu: ‘Libo pokaisya i pochinis’ Amiru Abu Usmanu, libo pokin’ Kavkaz i ezzhai domoi’,” Kavkaz tsentr, 4 October 2010, 2:30, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/10/04/75622.shtml..

[11] Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad,” The Guardian (London), 23 September 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/23/syria-foreign-fighters-joining-war.

[12] Kavkaz uzel, 20 September 2013, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/230371/ and “FSB provodit ‘aktivnoe meropriyatie’ protiv kavkazskikh modzhakhedov v Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 25 October 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/10/25/101362.shtml. When Batirashvili decided to head for Istanbul and offer his services to Islamists, “(m)embers of the Chechen diaspora in the Turkish capital were ready to recruit him to lead fighters inside Syria, and an older brother had gone there months before, his father said.” Alan Cullison, “Meet the Syrian Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear,” Wall Street Journal, 20 November 2013.

[13] “Kto travitsya soldatskim paikom/’Kavkazskie’ shtrikhi siriiskoi voiny,” Interpress, 5 November 2013,

www.interpressnews.ge/ru/2010-05-25-09-04-13/53746-05112013.html.

[14] Thomas Grove and Mariam Karouny, “Militants from Russia’s North Caucasus Join ‘Jihad’ in Syria,” Reuters, 6 March 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/06/us-syria-crisis-russia-militants-idUSBRE9251BT20130306.

[15] “SIRIYA. Modzhakhedy Imarata Kavkaz v Sirii. Brigada ‘Kataib Mukhadzhirin’ (VIDEO), Kavkaz tsentr, 23 February 2013, 2:24, http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/02/23/96386.shtml; Umma News, 23 February 2013, 10:48, http://ummanews.com/news/last-news/9973——–l-r-.html; and Sodiqlar.info, 23 February 2013, http://sodiqlar.info/rus/index.php?newsid=1203.

[16] “VILAIYAT NOKHCHICHO: Glavar’ murtadov Kadyrov uvolil marionetochnogo chinovnika iz-za togo, chto ego doch’ vyshla zamuzh za modzhakheda,” Kavkaz tsentr, 21 November 2013, http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/11/21/101816.shtml.

[17] “Ob’edinenie i obyasnenie po povod raznoglasii,” YouTube, 31 October 2013, Youtube.com/watch?v=ZsB8CMT8RIo&feature=youtu.be.

[18] “Mujahideen from Dagestan Arrived in Aleppo 29-10-2013,” The Daily Motion, 29 October 2013, www.dailymotion.com/video/x16m5u7_mujahideen-from-dagestan-arrived-in-aleppo-city-29-10-2013_webcam.

[19] “Shakhidy Dagestan v Shame,” VDagestan.com, 29 April 2013, http://vdagestan.com/shaxidy-dagestana-v-shame.djihad and https://twitter.com/northkavkaz/status/328949110004666369; “Reshayushee srazhenie za aeroport,” FISyria, 5 August 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=791; and “…Turetskaya armiya vmeshalas v voinu v Shame,” FISyria.com, 31 January 2014, http://fisyria.com/?p=2467.

[20] “Na shakhadu Amira Abdully al-Shishani,” Hunafa.com, 12 February 2013, http://hunafa.com/?p=14078#more-14078. A video, 1 minute and 23 seconds in duration, apparently showing Abdullah’s death or Abdullah shortly after death, was posted on the CE’s main website Kavkaz tsentr. “SYRIA: Shakhada chechenskogo (sic) modzhakheda v Syrii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 21 February 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/02/21/96364.shtml.

[21] Irina Razafimbahiny, “An In-Depth Look at Chechen Fighters in Syria – Part I: Sayfullah Al-Shishani and His Circle,” MEMRI, 6 December 2013, http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/7638.htm.

[22] “Pryzyv iz Shama. Dzhama’at ‘Katibatu Mukhajirin KBK’,” Islamdin.com, 18 October 2012, 04:25, www.islamdin.com/video/1415–q-q-.html and Dzhama’at ‘Katibatu Mukhajirin KBK’ na karachaevskom yazyke,” Islamdin.com, 20 October 2012, 02:51, www.islamdin.com/video/1416–q-q-.html.

[23] “Abu Umar – Podgotovka k poezdka v Siriyu,” YouTube, 12 March 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9ioNBSHizw, last accessed 13 December 2013. For more on Sasatlinskii see www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2Wa2-dB3JU.

[24] “Foreign Fighters from Western Countries in the ranks of rebel organizations affiliated with Al Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria,” The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Terrorism-Info.org, January 2014, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/Data/articles/Art_20616/E_208_13_409304481.pdf, pp. 2-5.

[25] Nicholas Miletich, “Russian rebels in Syria ‘pse threat to Olympics’,” AFP, www.foxnews.com/world/2013/09/19/russian-rebels-in-syria-pose-threat-to-olympics/.

[26] Kavkaz uzel, 20 September 2013, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/230371/.

[27] Ilya Arkhipov and Henry Meyer, “Obama Joins Putin War as Syria Jihadists Stalk Olympics,” Bloomberg, 25 October 2013 citing RIA Novosti.

[28] “Ob’edinenie i obyasnenie po povodu raznoglasii,” Usudu Sham, November 2013, http://usudusham.com/ru/2013/11/1004/#more-1004. According to a report published in June 2013 by the Middle East Media Research Institute and Flashpoint Global Partners, only 17 of the 280 foreign mujahedin killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war were from Russia. In response to that report the CE’s website claimed “the total losses of the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, fighting in Syria, do not exceed a few dozen fighters.” “17 Mujahideen of Caucasus Emirate martyred in Jihad in Syria,” Kavkaz tsentr, 6 June 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2013/06/06/17864.shtml. Such low casualty figures might suggest relying on the low-end estimates. However, any reported low number of Caucasus casualties relative to overall émigré casualties among the Syrian mujahedin could be due to the former’s greater fighting skills.

[29] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 12 December 2013.

[30] Abdul-Ahad, “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad” and Bill Roggio, “Al Nusrah Front claims suicide attack at hospital, joint operation with Chechen fighters,” Long War Journal, 23 November 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/11/al_nusrah_front_clai_8.php.

[31] “Pryzyv is Shama,” Islamdin.com, 18 October 2012, 02:25, www.islamdin.com/video/1415–q-q-.html and “Dzhama’at ‘Katibatu Mudzhakhirin KBK,” Islamdin.com, 00:51, 20 October 2012, www.islamdin.com/video/1416–q-q-.html.

[32] On Tatars from Mordovia fighting in Syria, see Stolica-s.su, http://stolica-s.su/new/node/1716.

[33] Abdul-Ahad, “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad.”

[34] “Syria. Appeal of Emir of Brigade of Emigrants Abu Omar al-Chechen,” Kavkaz tsentr, 7 February 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2013/02/07/17333.shtml.

[35] “Brigada ‘Kataib Mukhadzhirin’ pod komandivanie Abu Omara Shishani uspeshno voyuet v Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 22 February 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/02/22/96378.shtml

[36] “Siriya: K brigade ‘Kataib Mukhadzhirin’ prisoedinilis’ dva siriiskikh podrazdeleniya,” Kavkaz tsentr, 22 March 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/03/22/96932.shtml.

[37] “Siriya: Prisyaga siriiskikh modzhakhedov Amiru Armii mukhadzhirov i ansarov Umaru Shishani,” Kavkaz tsentr, 26 March 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/03/26/97014.shtml.

[38] Alan Cullison, “Meet the Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear,” Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2013.

[39] Will Cathcart, Vazha Tavberidze, and Nino Murchuladze, “The Secret Life of an ISIS Warlord,” The Daily Beast, 27 October 2014, www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/27/the-secret-life-of-an-isis-warlord.html and author’s interview with Voice of America journalist Natalya Mozgovaya, 9 September 2014. Mozgovaya cited several Georgian contacts confirming Batirashvili’s training under the U.S. ‘Train and Equip’ program.

[40] Cullison, “Meet the Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear.”

[41] Cullison, “Meet the Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear.”

[42] “Kto travitsya soldatskim paikom/’Kavkazskie’ shtrikhi siriiskoi voiny,” Interpress, 5 November 2013,

www.interpressnews.ge/ru/2010-05-25-09-04-13/53746-05112013.html.

[43] Abdul-Ahad, “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad.”

[44] Abdul-Ahad, “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad.”

[45] See “Guardian o chechenskom otryade Abu Omara al-Chechena, voyuyushem v Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 24 September 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2012/09/24/93274.shtml.

[46] “FSB provodit ‘aktivnoe meropriyatie’ protiv kavkazskikh modzhakhedov v Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 25 October 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/10/25/101362.shtml.

[47] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 12 December 2013.

[48] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 12 December 2013.

[49] Alan Cullison, “Meet the Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear,” Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2013.

[50] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaate, 5 safar 1435g. po khidzhre (8 December 2013g.)” FISyria.com, 11 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1644 and https://archive.org/download/Doulya1/doulya1.mp4.

[51] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 10 December 2013. See also the interview with a member of the JMA’s Shariah Committee on takfir for the FSA’s support for Western political models in “Interv’yu s chlenom Shariatskogo komiteta pri ‘Dzheish Muhadzjirin va Ansar’ Abdul-Khalim,” Kavkaz tsentr, 14 September 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/09/14/100567.shtml.

[52] Abdul-Ahad reports: “The men were also secretive, especially when dealing with the Free Syria Army. When the Syrians asked them where they were from, a blond French-speaker said they were Moroccans, the Chechens said they were Turks and the Tajiks said they were Afghans.” Abdul-Ahad, “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad.”

[53] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 10 December 2013.

[54] “Glavar’ murtadov Kadyrov ob”yavil voinu modzhakhedam Sirii, na storone shiitov,” Kavkaz tsentr, 4 December 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/12/04/102061.shtml.

[55] “Interv’yu s chlenom Shariatskogo komiteta pri ‘Dzheish Muhadzjirin va Ansar’ Abdul-Khalim,” Kavkaz tsentr, 14 September 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/09/14/100567.shtml. On Maqdisi’s influence within and connections with the CE, see Gordon M. Hahn, “The Caucasus Emirate Jihadists: The Security and Strategic Implications,” in Stephen J. Blank, ed., Russia’s Homegrown Insurgency: Jihad in the North Caucasus (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, October 2012), pp. 1-98, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB1116.pdf.

[56] Vakhitov fought under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1999-2000 and was one of six Russian citizens captured and sent to Guantanamo. He was released and returned to Tatarstan where he participated in an attack on a gas pipeline. He maintained contacts with the ‘Bulgar Jamaat’ in AfPak and later began recruiting mujahedin on the Internet for jihad in Syria, where he himself ensconced sometime in 2011-12. Andrei Ivanov, “Yedu v Siriyu – na dzhikhad,” Svobodnaya pressa, 18 May 2013, http://svpressa.ru/war21/article/68211/. He has written several articles from Syria on the situation there. See, for example, “Salman Bulgarskii: Moe mnenie o prisoedinenii Dzhabkhat an-Husra k Al’-Kaide,” Kavkaz tsentr, 23 April 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/04/23/97522.shtml.

[57] “Siriya. Obrashchenie Amira Krymsko-tatarskogo dzhamaata Abdul-Karim (Video),” Kavkaz tsentr, 29 May 2013, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/05/29/98206.shtml.

[58] “Obrashchenie Amira azerbaidzhanskogo dzhamaata v ‘Dzheish Mukhadzhirin va Ansar Abu Yakh’i al’-Azeri k musul-manam (Video),” FISyria, 8 May 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=393 and Kavkaz tsentr, 8 May 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/05/08/97823.shtml.

[59] See the ‘About Us’ page at Beludasham.com, www.beladusham.com/o%20nas.html.

[60] “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi”.

[61] “Operatsiya ‘Fatikh’,” FISyria.com, 7 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1630.

[62] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu Dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaate, 5 safar 1435g. po khidzhre (8 December 2013g.)” and “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi.”

[63] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu Dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaata,” FISyrai.com, 11 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1644 (or https://archive.org/download/Doulya1/doulya1.mp4) and “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi,” http://fisyria.com/?p=1586.

[64] “Ob”edinenie mukhadzherov i ansarov,” Usudu Sham, August 2013, usudusham.com/2013/08/мухаджири-и-ансары-шама/, last accessed 11 December 2013.

[65] See YouTube, 3 September 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF4LQ_TVpzc, last accessed 31 October 2013.

[66] “Amir Amir Saifullakh Shishani razoblachaet boltuna Abu Umara Shishani,” You Tube, 5 August 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wZHsfKRSNA, last accessed 10 January 2014.

[67] “Amir Amir Saifullakh Shishani razoblachaet boltuna Abu Umara Shishani,” You Tube, 5 August 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wZHsfKRSNA, last accessed 10 January 2014.

[68] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu Dzhikhad. Otvety na voprosi, Chast’ 2,” FISyrai.com, 17 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1751.

[69] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu Dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaata,” FISyrai.com, 11 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1644 (or https://archive.org/download/Doulya1/doulya1.mp4) and “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi.”

[70] “Mujahideen from Dagestan Arrived in Aleppo 29-10-2013,” The Daily Motion, 29 October 2013, www.dailymotion.com/video/x16m5u7_mujahideen-from-dagestan-arrived-in-aleppo-city-29-10-2013_webcam.

[71] “Na samom dele Zapad i SShA podderzhivayut rezhim Asada,” Usudu Sham, August 2013, http://usudusham.com/2013/08/на-самом-деле-запад-и-сша-поддерживают/.

[72] Bill Roggio, “New jihadist group emerges in Syria,” Long War Journal, 27 December 2012, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2012/12/new_jihadist_group_emerges_in_1.php.

[73] Bill Roggio, “Japanese reporter befriends jihadists in Syria,” Long War Journal, 2 November 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/11/a_globetrotting_japanese_freel.php.

[74] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani,” YouTube, 5 November 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ5R42RcT8Q, last accessed on 17 December 2013.

[75] A MEMRI report mistakenly translates ‘Mongolia’ as ‘Moldova.’ See Irina Razafimbahiny, “An In-Depth Look At Chechen Fighters In Syria – Part II: Junoud Al-Sham Commander Muslim Abu Al-Walid Al-Shishani,” MEMRI, 18 December 2013, www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/7676.htm.

[76] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani,” YouTube, 5 November 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ5R42RcT8Q, last accessed on 17 December 2013.

[77] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani,” YouTube, 5 November 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ5R42RcT8Q, last accessed on 17 December 2013.

[78] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani.”

[79] See Gordon M. Hahn, Russia’s Islamic Threat (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007).

[80] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani.”

[81] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani.”

[82] That Margoshvili and the Didoi Jamaat made the hijra to Syria because of unidentified difficulty in getting to Chechenya is reiterated by Margishvili in an October 2013 video. See “Ob’edinenie i obyasnenie po povod raz noglasii,” YouTube, 31 October 2013, Youtube.com/watch?v=ZsB8CMT8RIo&feature=youtu.be.

[83] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani.”

[84] “Biografiya Amira Muslima Shishani.”

[85] See Mairbek Vatchagaev, “Chechens Among the Syrian Rebels: Small in Number, but Influential,” Jamestown Foundation Eurasia Daily Monitor, 12 December 2013, Volume 10, Issue 223, www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=41748&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=685&no_cache=1#.UrEc_PRDuuw citing “VILAIYAT NOKCHICHO: Glavar’ murtadov Kadyrov uvolil marionetnogo chinovnika iz-za togo, chto ego doch’ vyshla zamuzh za modzhakheda,” Kavkaz tsentr, 21 November 2013, http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/11/21/101816.shtml.

[86] “Ob’edinenie i obyasnenie po povodu raznoglasii,” Usudu Sham, November 2013, http://usudusham.com/ru/2013/11/1004/#more-1004.

[87] “Nasikha Amira Muslima ‘Dzhudu sham’ mudzhakhidam Shama,” Shamcenter.info, 14 November 2013, http://shamcenter.info/насиха-амира-муслима-муджахидам-шама.

[88] “Vstrecha amirov i mudzhakhedov,” Usudu Sham, August 2013, usudusham.com/2013/08/встеча-амиров-и-муджахедов/.

[89] “Ob’edinenie i obyasnenie po povod raznoglasii,” YouTube, 31 October 2013, Youtube.com/watch?v=ZsB8CMT8RIo&feature=youtu.be.

[90] See the announcement in “Dzheish Khilafa Al-Islamiya ob’yadenilas s Dzhabkhat an-Nusra,” Usudu Sham, December 2013, http://usudusham.com/2013/12/джейш-хилафа-ал-исламия-обьядинилса-с-дж/.

[91] “Modzhakhedy Islamskogo Fronta i Jabkhat an-Nusra vzyali krupnyi opornyi punkt,” Usudu Sham, December 2013, usudusham.com/2013/12/моджахеды-исламского-фронта-и-джабх/ and Joanna Paraszczuk, “Syria: Seyfullakh al-Shishani On Capture of Kindi Barracks & Truck Bombing,” EA WorldView, 23 December 2013, 13:31,

http://eaworldview.com/2013/12/syria-seyfullakh-al-shishani-capture-kindi-barracks-truck-bombings/.

[92] “V khode shturma vzyata tsentral’naya tyurma Aleppo, tysyachi zalozhnikov osvobozhdeny,” Kavkaz tsentr, 6 February 2014, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/02/06/103071.shtml. The battle for the prison is covered in a 46 minue videotape at the end of which Machaliashvili is killed by artillery or mortar fire. See “Poslednii boi amira Seifullakh Shishani (Video),” Kavkaz tsentr, 14 February 2014, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/02/14/103170.shtml.

[93] “Amir ‘Dzhabkhat an-Nura’ Abu Mukhammad al’-Dzhavlani ob amire Sefullakh Shishani,” Kavkaz tsentr, 10 February 2014, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/02/10/103115.shtml.

[94] “Siriya: Obrashchenie novogo Amira Dzhamaata Seifullakh Shishani (VIDEO),” Kavkaz tsentr, 26 February 2014, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/02/26/103343.shtml.

[95] “Obrashchenie Amira Salakhuddina Shishani po itogam soveshchanie komandnogo sostava modzhakhedov Dzheish Mukhadzhirin va Ansar,” You Tube, 25 December 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roWTooT_Lf4, last accessed 24 March 2014.

[96] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu Dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaata,” FISyrai.com, 11 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1644 (or https://archive.org/download/Doulya1/doulya1.mp4) and “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi,” http://fisyria.com/?p=1586. Indeed, Salahuddin claimed both group names in a March 2014 video, with the title of the video using the JMA nomenclature and showing Salahuddin and five other mujahedin sitting behind an ‘Imarat Kavkaz’ banner written in the Latin alphabet. See, for example, “Obrashchenie mudzhakhedov ‘Jeish Muhadzhirin va Ansar’ v svyazi s fitnoi v Shame (Video),” Kavkaz tsentr, 4 March 2014, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/03/04/103419.shtml, last accessed 12 March 2014.

[97] The second naib is one ‘Matasim.’ All three leaders appeared in both the December 2103 and March 2014 videos. See “Obrashchenie Amira Salakhuddina Shishani po itogam soveshchanie komandnogo sostava modzhakhedov Dzheish Mukhadzhirin va Ansar” and “Obrashchenie mudzhekhedov ‘Jeish Muhadzhirin va Ansar’ v svyazi s fitnoi v Shame (Video),” respectively.

[98] “Intervyu c naibom amira ‘Dzheish Mukhadzhirin va Ansar’ Abdul-Khalimom Krymskim,” Sham News, 3 March 2014, http://shamnews.tv/archives/394.

[99] Mairbek Vatchagaev, “Has the Number of Chechens Fighting in Syria Peaked?”, Jamestown Foundation Eurasian Daily Monitor, Number 11, Issue 14, 23 January 2014, http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=41861&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=756&no_cache=1#.UzCzNvldWuw.

[100] See the vidoes at “Mudzhakhidy o prichinakh vykhoda iz ‘Dzeish Mukhadzhirin val Ansar’,” Parts 1-4, FISyria.com, 11, 12, 14 and 23 March 2014, http://fisyria.com/?p=2934, http://fisyria.com/?p=2943, http://fisyria.com/?p=2961, and http://fisyria.com/?p=3279.

[101] “Interv’yu s chlenom Shariatskogo komiteta pri ‘Dzheish Muhadzjirin va Ansar’ Abdul-Khalim.”

[102] Abdul-Ahad, “Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad.”

[103] “SIRIYA. Modzhakhedy Imarata Kavkaz v Sirii. Brigada ‘Kataib Mukhadzhirin’ (VIDEO)”.

[104] Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt, “As Foreign Fighters Flood Syria, Fears of a New Extremist Haven,” New York Times, 9 August 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/world/middleeast/as-foreign-fighters-flood-syria-fears-of-a-new-extremist-haven.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130809&_r=0.

[105] “SIRIYA. Modzhakhedy Dzheish al/-Mukhadzhirin va Ansar gotovyatsya k osvobozhdeniyu alavitskoi tyur’my s musul’manskimi uznikami (VIDEO),” Umma News, 24 April 2013, www.ummanews.com/news/umma/10350-2013-04-24-15-31-02.html and “Boi za Aeroport,” FISyria.com, 23 April 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=342.

[106] The poor quality video of the beheadings shows a North Caucasian-looking ringleader speaking some Russian with broken Arabic and an audience from which can be heard some speaking in Russian such phrases as ‘let’s sit’ (davai saditsya) and ‘stop the film’ (plenka ostanovitsya). For the gruesome video, see “Syrian rebels beheads bishop François Murad,” Live Leak, 27 June 2013, www.liveleak.com/view?i=ead_1372329728. See also Alan Cullison, “Meet the Rebel Commander Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear,” Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2013.

[107] “Russkii sled v Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 3 July 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/07/03/98960.shtml.

[108] Bill Roggio and Linda Lundquist, “Syrian jihadists behead catholic priest, 2 others,” Long War Journal, 1 July 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/syrian_jihadists_beh.php#ixzz2XuOvSo5S.

[109] “Russkii sled v Sirii.”

[110] For the video of the execution carried out by mujahedin speaking Russian with a North Caucasus accent, see Syrian Center for Documentation, Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=681637788565647, last accessed on 9 March 2014 or http://tundratabloids.com/2014/03/chechens-executing-prisoners-in-bombed-out-building-near-aleppo.html, last accessed on 9 March 2014. The Syrian Center for Documentation reported that the ISIS was responsible and that the video was shot recently in Hretan just north of Aleppo. Others claimed that it was carried out by a JaN unit commanded by ‘Abu Muslim al-Shishani’, likely meaning Margoshvili, and took place in spring 2013. But that would be the period when Margoshvili and the JMA were under the ISIS. See Bill Roggio, “Russian-Speaking Jihadists in Syria execute Syrians in Aleppo,” Long War Journal, 7 March 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/03/isis_executes_civili.php.

[111] “VIDEO: Obrashchenie Amira Imarata Kavkaz k modzhakhedam Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 13 November 2012, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2012/11/13/94315.shtml.

[112] “Obrashcehnie Umara Shishani n kavkazskikh boitsov k siriiskomu narodu,” ShamToday, 16 January 2014, 1:20pm, http://vk.com/shamtoday?w=wall-61198210_2218.

[113] “Amir Imarata Kavkaz Dokku Abu Usman: Otvety na voprosy,” Kavkaz tsentr, 8 August 2013. http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/08/08/99752.shtml.

[114] “Amir IK Ali Abu Mukhammad: Poslanie s sovetom mudzhakhidami Shama VIDEO.”

[115] “Obrashchenie mudzhakhidov Sirii k musul’manam IK,” YouTube.com, 31 July 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoZDxCw5bvk&list=PL24221F2798D6EF9B&index=26, last accessed 11 March 2014.

[116] “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi.”

[117] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 12 December 2013.

[118] “Umar al-Shishani prisyagnul Abu Bakru al-Bagdadi.”

[119] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaata,” FISyrai.com, 11 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1644 and https://archive.org/download/Doulya1/doulya1.mp4.

[120] “Obrashchenie Amira ‘Dzheish Mukhadzhirin va Ansar’ Salakhuddina Shishani (Video),” Kavkaz tsentr, 25 December 2013, 01:59, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/12/25/102448.shtml.

[121] “Ob’edinenie i obyasnenie po povod raznoglasii,” YouTube, 31 October 2013, Youtube.com/watch?v=ZsB8CMT8RIo&feature=youtu.be.

[122] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 12 December 2013.

[123] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh sobytiyakh v Sirii, Chast’ pervaya: Umar ash-Shishani i Abu dzhikhad o poslednykh izmeneniyakh v dzhamaata,” FISyrai.com, 11 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1644 and https://archive.org/download/Doulya1/doulya1.mp4.

[124] “Umar ash-Shishani i Abu Dzhikhad. Otvety na voprosi, Chast’ 2,” FISyrai.com, 17 December 2013, http://fisyria.com/?p=1751.

[125] “Obrashchenie mudzhakhidov Sirii k musul’manam Imarata Kavkaz,” YouTube.com, 31 July 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoZDxCw5bvk and http://eaworldview.com/2013/09/syria-video-chechen-fighter-wage-jihad-against-sochi-olympics-not-here

[126] “Ob’edinenie i obyasnenie po povod raznoglasii,” YouTube, 31 October 2013, Youtube.com/watch?v=ZsB8CMT8RIo&feature=youtu.be.

[127] “Interv’yu s Abu Umarom Ash Shishani,” Beladusham.com, http://www.beladusham.com/0392.html, accessed 10 December 2013.

[128] For example, see “V Krasnodare arestovan boevik proshedshii podgotovke v lagere terroristov v Sirii,” Itar-Tass, 25 March 2014, http://itar-tass.com/proisshestviya/1073094.

[129] See, for example, “Esho odin modzhakhed iz Chechny stal Shahkidom, inshaLlakh, v Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 7 March 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/03/07/96651.shtml and “SIRIYA. Neskol’ko modzhakhedov Imarata Kavkaz stalo Shakhidami, inshaLlakh,” Kavkaz tsentr, 7 July 2013 http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/03/07/96650.shtml.

[130] “Raz”yasnenie pozitsii Kavkaz-tsentra v svyazi s prodolzhayusheisya fitnoi v Sirii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 6 March 2014, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/03/06/103446.shtml.

[131] “Amir IK Ali Abu Mukhammad: Poslanie s sovetom mudzhakhidami Shama VIDEO.”

[132] Compare the CE’s own data for those Arabic calendar months in 2013 and 2014 in “IMARAT KAVKAZ. Svodka boevikh operatsii modzhakhedov za mesyats rabbi as-sanii 1434 goda po khidzhre (12 fevralya – 12 marta 2013 g.),” Umma News, 13 March 2013, http://ummanews.com/news/kavkaz/10099————1434—-12—12–2013-.html and “Svodka Dzhikhada za mesyats Rabi as-Sani 1435 g. kh. (02.02.2014 – 02.03.2014g.),” Kavkaz tsentr, 10 March 2013, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/03/10/103490.shtml, respectively.

[133] For more on the potential chemical threat, see Gordon M. Hahn, “Considering the Caucasus Emirate Chemical Threat to Sochi,” Russia and Eurasia Program Blog, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 7 February 2014, http://csis.org/blog/considering-caucasus-emirate-chemical-attack-threat-sochi.

[134] Karen Hodgson, “Reports claim Al Nusrah Front members in Turkey were planning sarin gas attacks,” Long War Journal, 31 May 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/05/on_may_30_the_turkish.php.

[135] Thomas Jocelyn, “Crisis in Syria: Implications for Homeland Security,” Testimony of Thomas Joscelyn (Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Senior Editor, The Long War Journal) Before the House Committee on Homeland Security, United States Congress, September 10, 2013, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM00/20130910/101297/HHRG-113-HM00-Wstate-JoscelynT-20130910.pdf.

[136] Seymour M. Hersh, “Whose Sarin,” London Review of Books, Volume 34, Number 24, 13 December 2013, www.lrb.co.uk/2013/12/08/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin.

[137] Linda Lundquist, “Extremists, including Chechens, Egyptians, Tunisians, and Syrians, are reportedly flocking to the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp,” Long War Journal, 8 February 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/today-in/2014/02/security_forces_in_zahle_detai.php.

[138] “Obrashchenie Amira mudzhakhidov Imarata Kavkaz Abdullakha k mudzhakhidam Kavkaza i musul’manam Rossii,” Kavkaz tsentr, 20 March 2014, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/03/20/103616.shtml.

[139] Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt, “As Foreign Fighters Flood Syria, Fears of a New Extremist Haven,” New York Times, 9 August 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/world/middleeast/as-foreign-fighters-flood-syria-fears-of-a-new-extremist-haven.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130809&_r=0.

5 thoughts on “The Caucasus Emirate and Other North Caucasus Mujahedin in Syria: Implications for Russia, Eurasia, and the Global Jihadi Revolutionary Movement

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About Gordon M. Hahn