Russia & Syria Spotlight: A Split In Loyalties & Ideology For Syria’s Chechen Fighters

Last month, EA reported that some members of the Chechen-led faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Helpers) moved to swear allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), Abu Bakr al–Baghdadi.

The move led to a further ideological split in the ranks of the faction, which is dominated by fighters from the North Caucasus region.

Those fighters who had previously sworn allegiance to Dokka Umarov, the leader of the North Caucasian Islamist militant group Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate), did not take the oath to Baghdadi.

Prior to the decision of some fighters to swear the oath to Baghdadi, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar or Army of Emigrants and Helpers, led by Abu Umar Al Shishani, had been the largest group of Chechen militants fighting in Syria, and had cooperated with ISIS. Indeed, Abu Umar, Jaish’s Emir, acted as the leader of ISIS’s northern branch as well as leading Jaish.

According to Kavkaz Center, a Chechnya-based, pro-jihad website that supports Dokka Umarov and the Caucasus Emirate, Abu Umar al-Shishani has also sworn allegiance to Baghdadi.

As a result, those members of Jaish who pledged the oath to Baghdadi have left Jaish and have joined the ranks of ISIS, Kavkaz Center asserts.

Meanwhile, those fighters (all from the North Caucasus) who previously swore allegiance to Dokka Umarov have remained within Jaish.

The new leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar is Salahuddin al-Shishani, another ethnic Chechen. Some Chechen sources have named Salahuddin as the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate jamaat in Syria.

New recruits from the North Caucasus who previously swore allegiance to Dokka Umarov join Jaish, while others join ISIS or other factions.

The ideological split among jihadis from the North Caucasus began before the decision by some members of Jaish to pledge an oath to Baghdadi, with some of the fighters splitting off from the group, then led by Abu Umar al-Shishani, in September because they disagreed with the group’s affiliation to ISIS.

See: Insurgent Split — The Dispute Between Abu Umar al-Shishani & His Deputy, Seyfullakh the Chechen

The leader of the splinter group was Abu Umar’s then-deputy, a Chechen fighter named Seyfullakh, who said he wanted to keep Jaish independent from ISIS. Seyfullakh explained in a video statement last month that he wanted to create unity among North Caucasus fighters in Syria, and that the fighters must remain independent rather than swearing allegiance to any local Emir, provided that Emir did not hold sway over an entire area.

WHO IS SALAHUDDIN AL-SHISHANI?

The new leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, Salahuddin al-Shishani, was previously emir of one of the factions smaller brigades, the Sariyat az-Zubeir. Sariyat az-Zubeir was the largest of the brigades within Jaish.

Salahuddin gave an interview to the Russian-language pro-jihad site, FiSyria, in August, when he was still leading Sariyat az-Zubeir, which we translated at the time.

See the full translation here:

Chechen Insurgent Leader Explains Living Conditions For New Jihadi Recruits

(Featured image: Seyfullakh the Chechen calls for unity in video statement)

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