By Laurent Vinatier, researcher from the Thomas More Institute, Paris
Sunday 3rd March 2013, Istanbul
Nobody doubts today that fighters of Caucasian origin, particularly Chechen, participate in Jihad in Syria alongside salafist-jihadist structures opposing Assad’s government forces. Through its websites, especially Kavkaz Center and Hunafa, both proving the most resistant to hacking and technical blockages, the Caucasus Emirate communicates quite extensively on this phenomenon. Letters of support sent from Syria are published online regularly. Interviews with group leaders are posted. Tributes are paid when leading figures disappear. Actually, those stories offer insightful war video reports, made and later released on the internet, among groups of Caucasian fighters locally engaged.
One post, for example, focuses on Abdullah ash-Shishani or Kartsinsky, from Ingush origin, killed on February 14, 2013 at Kasab in the region of Latakia. Engaged with the Chechens in the Caucasus in the early 2000s, he was arrested in 2004. Freed after some years he left then to fight in Syria in 2012. Another story reports a victory against an Assad’s military base by the Kata’ib Muhajirin brigade, consisting mainly of Caucasians and active in the area of Aleppo. That group appears to be headed by Emir Abu Omar Shishani who may be related to the late Abdullah (but the information is unconfirmed). The video spares no details of the loyalist soldiers lying dead or of a few dozens of prisoners sitting in a large room, all hooded and blinded, but apparently held in rather decent conditions. These documents echo previous podcasts released earlier, at the end of 2012, by another jihadist group in Syria, affiliated to the Kabardia-Balkaria insurrectional Jamaat. The guys here were calling their compatriots to join them, even blaming those who prefer doing nothing when in Syria women and children suffer so violently.
It is very difficult to distinguish, within these groups, those of the fighters who left the Caucasus to participate in this another Jihad, namely Syria, to those already present in the Middle East through an old and apparently radicalized diaspora. On the Caucasus Emirate’s websites, the possibility of leaving the battle has been discussed, letting think that those Caucasian fighters have defected and moved to Syria. On the principle, it seems anyway that such transfers have been accepted, since Doku Umarov himself in a message published in the fall of 2012 has stated his support for jihadist Islamist groups in Syria.
More generally, the Emirate through the media it controls, continually strives to renew the relationship with foreign jihadist movements. If Syria is now the focal point and the most popular destination, the lawless AfPak tribal areas, straddling over Afghanistan and Pakistan, are also objects of sustained attention. A connection with the Jund al-Khilafah group which claimed killings in Toulouse (France) in 2012 by Mohammed Merah and bombings in Kazakhstan in late 2011 is already established. Similarly, homage is paid to Abu Yahya (al-Libi). There is no evidence however that militants from the Emirate travel through Central Asia to go and fight in Afghanistan. Links are primarily ideological. They also still operate mostly one-way. Fairly revealing is the Emirate announcing the publication in Russian of the latest issue of the salafist “Inspire” magazine, but the journal so far has never mentioned the Caucasian long-lasting up-rising.