By Gordon M. Hahn
In March, Abdul-Karim Krymskii, the ethnic Crimean Tatar naib (deputy amir) of Jeish al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar’s (JMA) ethnic Chechen Kist amir from Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, Salahuddin al-Shishani, gave an interview published on the JMA’s website Akhbar Sham in which he is highly critical of the Islamic State (“Interv’yu s Naibom Amira ‘Dzheish al’-Mukhadzhirin val’-Ansar’ Abdul-Karim Krymskii,” Akhbar Sham, 2 March 2015, www.akhbarsham.info/2014/03/02/15/).
Krymskii is from Russia’s (formerly Ukraine’s) Crimea and arrived to the jihad well before Moscow’s incorporation of the peninsula into the Russian Federation. The JMA, sometimes referred to as the ‘Caucasus Emirate in Sham’ is tied, indeed an affiliate in Syria of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) based in Russia’s North Caucasus. Salahuddin maintains his bayat to CE amir Ali Abu Mukhammed ad-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Kebekov), which he had also given to Dagistani’s predeccessor, Dokku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov, who dispatched him to Syria as the CE’s envoy to the Syrian mujahedin. Both the JMA and CE leaderships have taken the side of Al Qa`ida (AQ), Jabhat al-Nusrah, and other groups in the global jihadi revolutionary alliance in their conflict with an expanding IS. Amirs potentially controlling a strong majority of CE mujahedin defected to the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIL and ISIS) in December.
Responding to a question in which it is stated that after IS was forced to withdraw from areas around Aleppo, the JMA found “mass graves” and “signs of torture,” adding that 200 people are missing and 130 corpses have been found, Krymskii acknowledges this as true, calling the presence of hundred of corpses, IS’s “business card.” He states that numerous times they caught IS mujahedin looting and reported them to their amirs so they would be tried according to Shariah law only to have their amirs do nothing. Krymskii criticizes IS for an “enormous cavern” between their words and actions in which there is “no common sense, no less sincerity.” IS actions, he adds, “raise suspicion that the goal of Dovla (IS) is to isolate the émigré mujahedin, deprive them of support, and stop the flow of émigré mujahedin to Syria” and that things become “even more interesting” when on considers that “all of Dovla’s actions are against Muslims.”
Krymskii says that despite IS efforts to sow suspicion among the locals regarding the émigré fighters the population remains well-disposed towards the JMA mujahedin. Krymskii notes that IS mujahedin asked prior to their departure from the area whether JMA mujahedin were not afraid the population would retaliate against the JMA, but this did not happen. It is a suggestion perhaps that IS tried to blame its atrocities on the émigré JMA mujahedin.
Krymskii condemns IS’s extreme takfirism. He recalls that when JMA and IS mujahedin were negotiating, the latter accused them of allying with infidels in order to fight infidels and agrees with his interviewer that IS kujahedin carry out sentences without trials and that those “young mujahedin” defecting to IS are aware of this.
Responding to a question about the rumor that AQ’s late Abu Khaled al-Suri was preparing to join IS prior to his death and was therefore killed with his own gun, Krymskii calls this a “dirty lie” and says “only Shiites and Rafidites” (misguided Mulsims) lie more. He adds that Suri “met with IS amirs numerous times, read them kind lectures, and asked them to stop the bloodletting and the undermining of (jihadi) unity” but to no avail. IS responded only with a “lie” about which Suri “spoke many times and, in particular, publicly.”
Krymskii concludes by noting that present divisions among mujahedin “very much sadden one” and cause special concern for those mujahedin who sincerely joined the jihad but were “deceived by slogan and flags into chaos…turning their weapons away from the infidels and on Muslims.”
There are at least two Crimean jamaats fighting in Iraq and Syria. One is under Krymskii’s command and is a subunit of the JMA in Syria. A group broke from this jamaat creatind another, smaller Crimean Tatar jamaat, Krymskii Jamaat, fighting independently at present but perhaps seeking acceptance into IS.
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.