by Gordon M. Hahn
The Caucasus Emirate-tied group of foreign mujahedin fighting in Syria known as Jeish al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (Army of the Emigrants and Helpers or JMA) was a key force in the Syrian mujahedin’s captures of several key cities in March. The JMA is led by an ethnic Chechen Kist amir from Georgia, Salahuddin al-Shishani (born Feizullah Margoshvili), who was sent as the envoy of the late amir of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) Dokku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov to the Syrian mujahedin in 2012 along with several other amirs, including the Islamic State’s (IS) northern front amir Tarkhan Batirashvili (aka Umar al –Shishani). The JMA fights alongside Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), with which present CE amir Ali Abu Mukhammad ad-Dagistani (Aliaskhab Kebekov), has sided, along with Al Qa`ida (AQ), in the struggle for leadership of the global jihadi revolutionary alliance against the IS. The number of JMA fighters was put at 750 in a June 2014 JMA report (http://www.akhbarsham.info/2014/06/18/62/).
In early March, JMA mujahedin and its jihadi allies played a major role in the capture of Handarat located in Syria’s western province of Aleppo not far from Damascus. The JMA reportedly turned the tide in the battle for Handarat by seizing a dominant high ground, after which Hanadarat was taken. The JN engineered a vehicle-born suicide bombing using a ton of explosives in Handarat’s center. The JMA also fought off a Syrian counterattack in which a mujahedin from Dagestan was killed, a second lost his hand in an explosion, and “several” other mujahedin were wounded. The JMA’s operation was commanded by Salahuddin’s naib, the ethnic Crimean Tatar, Abdul-Karim Krymskii. Along with the JMA, another North Caucasus-dominated jamaat ‘Seifulah al-Shishani’ (named after late amir Machariashvili, who came to Syria with Salahuddin and Batirashvili) as well as the jamaat ‘Imam Bukhari’ and the JN jamaat ‘At-Tawhid val-Jihad’ led the final storm of the city, in which 10 mujahedin were killed, including one Chechen and one Belgian from the JMA (http://www.akhbarsham.info/2015/03/10/119/ and http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2015/03/10/108326.shtml).
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.