By Gordon M. Hahn
On February 18th a group of no less than five mujahedin representing what they called the “Nogai Steppe Vilaiyat of the Caucasus Emirate” (NSV CE) issued a video on ‘Akhbar Sham’ the website of the Jeish al-Muhajirin val-Ansar (the Army of the Emigres and Helpers) in which the mujahedin called on Muslims in the North Caucasus to join the jihad in Syria. Akhbar Sham identified the VSV CE as a subunit of the Jeish al-Muhajirin val-Ansar (the Army of the Emigres and Helpers) or JMA, which is allied with Jabhat al-Nusrah, and led by Salahuddin al-Shishani. The video, taped in Aleppo, called on North Caucasus Muslims to join the jihad in Syria and greeted CE amir Ali Aby Muhammad ad-Dagistani, born Aliaskhab Kebekov (“Obraschenie modzhahidov Nogaiskaya Step’ Imarata Kavkaz v sostave Dzheish al-Mukhadzhirin val’ Ansar,” Akhbar Sham, 18 February 2015, www.akhbarsham.info/2015/02/18/109/).
When the CE was founded in October 2007 one of its territorial subunits for the envisioned future Islamist state was called the Nogai Steppe Vilaiyat. From maps the CE has published, the NSV was to cover large parts of the Krasnodar and Stavropol Krais and Rostov-na-Donu Oblast in the western North Caucasus. These areas are largely populated by ethnic Muslims. A small Circassian Adygei region, the Republic of Adygeu is imbedded within Krasnodar Krai. The Adygeis are a Muslim people fraternal to the Circassian Kabardins in Kabardino-Balkariya and the Cherkess in Karachaevo-Cherkessiya. No further mention of this particular vilaiyat ever emerged after the initial announcement, whereas all others developed networks and leadership cadres repeatedly referred to and appearing in various CE videos, audios, declarations, and articles. In other words the NSV never developed. No amir or jamaat of the NSV has ever been mentioned in the CE’s now nearly eight years of existence.
Salahuddin al-Shishani was sent by the previous CE amir, Dokku Umarov, to Syria as the CE’s envoy to Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qa`ida, and other groups initially fighting in Syria along with several other amirs, including the infamous amir of the ISIL’s northern front, Umar al-Shishani (born Tarkhan Batirashvili). Salahuddin first joined Batirashvili in shifting to the ISIS, would soon form an autonomous group in response to the growing divisions among the mujahedin in Syria and the JMA split. By July 2013 Salahuddin was leading a group calling itself ‘Az Zubair’ under the non-ISIS JMA. As part of the JMA split, Salahuddin and at least 200 JMA mujahedin followed Batirashvili taking the bayat for life to ISIL amir Baghdadi in December 2013 (“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). However, Salahuddin left the ISIS in 2014 taking with him an unknown number of JMA fighters and began calling his group the ‘Caucasus Emirate in Shama’ (Imarat Kavkaz v Shame or IKS). Increasingly, he has reverted to the name ‘Jeish Muhajirin va Ansar’ (JMA), 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. (“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). 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 (“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). The IKS might still exist as a separate jamaat within the new JMA or the names might be used interchangably. The JMA (IKS) appears to include the original JMA’s Crimean Tatar brigade or at least its amir, Abdul-Karim Krymskii, who continues as Salahuddin’s first naib in the new JMA (IKS).
It appears that the CE and North Caucasus hijra or emigration to the Levant has led to the formation of a small NSV CE under the JMA. Whether it can grow and ever return to the North Caucasus to help the CE establish its NSV at home in the North Caucasus remains to be seen.