Photo 1– August 2013, Foreign fighters under the leadership of Abu Omar al Chechen, Emir of Jaysh al Muhajireen

Photo 1– August 2013, Foreign fighters under the leadership of Abu Omar al Chechen, Emir of Jaysh al Muhajireen

This pic was taken during Abu Omar al Chechen interview on al Jazeera, right after the seizing of Minagh airbase in Syria. It’s interesting because underlines the conspicuous presence of foreign fighters inside ISIS and Jaysh al Muhajireen: From left to right: an African, a Saudi (he is an ISIS emir, Abu Jandal), a Chechen (Abu Omar, leader of Jaysh al Muhajireen), an Egyptian, a Libyan, a Turkish and an Afghani.

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Video 9 – August 2013, ISIS beheads an Alawite captain after seizing Minagh airbase in Syria

Minagh execution

Video from Minagh airbase in Syria. Islamic state in Iraq and Syria executes an Alawite captain of the Syrian army with a machete.

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Video 8 – August 2013, three ISIS targeted assassinations of Iraqi officers

Video from Iraq. An assassination unit of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria executes three officers using silenced weapons. This kind of operation in broad daylight on the streets is getting common in Iraq. The group probably collects good information and has compiled a killing list.

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How close is US government to order drone strikes in Syria against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?

1 – “You should kill these people. We’ll do it if you don’t” – December 2012

Five months before the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in December 2012, US intelligence officers were openly discussing drone strikes against Jabhat al Nusra with Syrian rebel commanders during meetings in Jordan (excerpts from The National, May 9, 2013). JAN was then the only al Qaeda-affiliate Syrian group. The Americans began discussing the possibility of drone strikes on Al Nusra camps inside Syria and tried to enlist the rebels to fight their fellow insurgents. “The US intelligence officer said, ‘We can train 30 of your fighters a month, and we want you to fight Al Nusra’,” the rebel commander recalled.

Opposition forces should be uniting against Mr Al Assad’s more powerful and better-equipped army, not waging war among themselves, the rebel commander replied. The response from a senior US intelligence officer was blunt. “I’m not going to lie to you. We’d prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight Assad’s army. You should kill these Nusra people. We’ll do it if you don’t,” the rebel leader quoted the officer as saying.

Other meetings with Western and Arab intelligence services have shown a similar obsession with Al Nusra, the commander said.

“All anyone wants is hard information about Al Nusra, it seems to be all they are really interested in. It’s the most valuable commodity you can have when dealing with these intelligence agencies,” he said.

 

2- A new Cia unit to target Al Qaeda operatives in Syria and Iraq – March 2013

In March 2013, the Los Angeles Times (March 15, 2013) reported that Cia was collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, President Obama has not authorized drone missile strikes in Syria, however, and none are under consideration. The Counterterrorism Center, which runs the CIA’s covert drone killing program in Pakistan and Yemen, recently shifted several targeting officers to improve intelligence collection on militants in Syria who could pose a terrorist threat, the officials said.

 

The targeting officers have formed a unit with colleagues who were tracking Al Qaeda operatives and fighters in Iraq. U.S. officials believe that some of these operatives have moved to Syria and joined Islamic militias battling to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

The targeting officers focusing on Syria are based at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., officials said. The agency has not deployed many American operatives into the war zone, but it works closely with Saudi, Jordanian and other regional spy services active there. CIA officers meet with Syrian rebel leaders in Turkey and Jordan, current and former officials say.

The increased U.S. effort comes as radicalized Islamic fighters have won a growing share of rebel victories. The State Department says one of the strongest militias, Al Nusra Front, is a terrorist organization that is indistinguishable from the group Al Qaeda in Iraq.

CIA targeting officers normally assemble bits of intelligence — including agent reports, cellphone intercepts, video footage, public records, tips from foreign spy services — to create folders known as “targeting packages,” for a variety of reasons.

They can be used if policymakers determine further surveillance, arrest or other action is warranted. The CIA has created nonlethal targeting packages, for example, for drug cartel leaders in Mexico and nuclear scientists in Iran. The agency views skilled targeting officers as critical to almost any current intelligence operation.

 

3 – Iraq asks for American drone strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on the border – April 2013

 In April 2013, Associated Press (April 2, 2013) reports that Iraqi Army also is requesting American drone strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

Two Iraqi intelligence officials said the cooperation [between Syrian and Iraqi jihadi groups] reflected in the attack on the wounded Syrian troops prompted their government to request U.S. drone strikes against the fighters. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to talk to reporters about the subject.

A U.S. official confirmed that elements within the Iraqi government had inquired about drone strikes. But the official said the U.S. was waiting to respond until the top level of Iraqi leadership makes a formal request, which has not happened yet.

The two Iraqi intelligence officials said the jihadi groups are sharing three military training compounds, logistics, intelligence and weapons as they grow in strength around the Syria-Iraq border, particularly in a sprawling region called al-Jazeera, which they are trying to turn into a border sanctuary they can both exploit. It could serve as a base of operations to strike either side of the border.

 4 – “US government ready to confront Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” – August 2013

After a day of coordinated attacks in Iraq, US State Department notes that the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is now based in Syria and that the United States is prepared to work closely with the Iraqi Government to confront soon the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups.

From this US State Department Press statement (August 10, 2013)

Most of these attacks have been perpetrated by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. He is also listed at the United Nations Security Council 1267/1989 al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee.

 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu D’ua, is now based in Syria and has changed the name of AQI to the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). He has taken personal credit for a series of terrorist attacks in Iraq since 2011, and most recently claimed credit for the operations against the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, the suicide bombing assault on the Ministry of Justice, among other attacks against Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi citizens going about their daily lives.

The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information that helps authorities kill or capture Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This reward is second only to information leading to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief of Al Qaeda’s network, and symbolizes our ongoing commitment to helping our partners in the region eliminate this threat from their territory.

In this regard, the United States is prepared to work closely with the Iraqi Government to confront the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups. We look forward to discussing bilateral cooperation in this and other areas, pursuant to the Strategic Framework Agreement between our two countries, during the upcoming visit of Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari next week in Washington.

 5 – Islamic State in Iraq and Syria “is the greatest threat to US national security” – August 2013

In August (excerpts from the Wall Street Journal: August 6, 2013) the Central Intelligence Agency’s second-in-command warned that Syria’s volatile mix of al Qaeda extremism and civil war now poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security.

Michael Morell says the risk is that the Syrian government, which possesses chemical and other advanced weapons, collapses and the country becomes al Qaeda’s new haven, supplanting Pakistan.

Supplanting Pakistan, huh? The US government has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004, using drones controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency. But now Al Qaeda in Syria (number 1 on the list) is most dangerous than the global Al Qaeda leadership based in Pakistan (numer 3 on the list), says the Cia Second in Command (he left the job last week, after 30 years):

Mr. Morell detailed his strategic assessment of Syria and al Qaeda in an outline of the top threats facing the U.S. in an interview in his office at Langley as he prepares to end his 33-year tenure at the agency on Friday. Second on his list was Iran, followed by the global al Qaeda threat, North Korea, and cyberwarfare.

 And this is a remarkable passage from the New York Times (August 8, 2013): The stakes are high. American intelligence officials said this week that Ayman al-Zawahri, the overall leader of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, has had regular communications with the Nusra Front in Syria, reflecting how favorably the Qaeda leadership views the long-term potential for Syria as a safe haven.

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Video 7 – April 2013, “Abu al Banat”, Dagestani leader of a rogue group of Caucasus fighters in Syria

April 2013, Northern Syria, “Abu al Banat”, a Dagestani national, Dargin ethnic, leader of a rogue group of foreign fighters from Caucasus, speaking on camera. He became notorious later, in July, when a pro-Assad propaganda site published a video of Abu al Banat and his men beheading two men as scores of onlookers, including children, cheered and recorded the event on their cell phones (the site falsely stated that one was a Christian priest, they were both Syrian regime collaborators). You can find the graphic video here: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ead_1372329728

 
“Abu al Banat” already left Syria. His group disbanded after its men declared each other “takfir”. They were disliked by the main group of Chechens fighters in Syria under the leadership of Emir Abu Omar al Shishani, the Jaysh al Muhajireen wa Ansar, and not allowed to stay with them. That’s why the Arabic title of this video, “Jaysh al Muhajireen wa Ansar”, is probably misleading. They were disliked by Syrian rebels as well, because they didn’t fight against Assad army. The location of the beheadings video is the village of Mashhad Ruhin, province of Idlib, less than 3 kilometers from the Turkish border, very far from the frontline.

 
After the beheadings, Emir al Banat was forced to leave Syria on the orders of Abu Omar Shishani, who considered al Banat’s actions provocative and harmful to the North Caucasian fighters cause (see here: https://iraqsham.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/article-1-minor-split-in-the-ranks-of-jaysh-al-mujahireen/ )

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Video 6 – July 2013, ISIS convoy in Atmeh, Syria, few kilometers from Turkish border

Tens of vehicles of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria parade on a road in Atmeh, Syria, less than 3 kilometers from the border with Turkey

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Minor split in the ranks of Jaysh al Muhajireen

The situation in Syria this past week developed in now typical fashion, with each of the conflicting sides claiming victories. Two events that occurred, however, should be noted. First, the armed Syrian opposition took over the strategically important Minakh military airport in the area of the city of Aleppo. Second, there was news of a split in the Chechen jamaat, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (The Army of Emigrants and Helpers).

The siege of the airport lasted for three months and finally succeeded on August 5 after it was attacked by suicide bombers (http://ummanews.com/news/last-news/11008-2013-08-06-09-35-13.html). The group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is in charge of the insurgent operations in this area and the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar jamaat is part of that group. Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar is led by Emir Abu Umar Shishani (www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/world/middleeast/rebels-gain-control-of-government-air-base-in-syria.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0). In the battle for the airport, the members of the North Caucasian jamaat suffered losses, including four deaths among the Chechens (www.kcblog.info/2013/08/blog-post_59.html). Although the media normally considers this jamaat as purely Chechen, it in fact includes members of other North Caucasian ethnic groups. So far, estimates of the numbers of fighters in the jamaat have been fairly inaccurate, ranging from several hundred to 1,700 fighters, half of whom are reportedly Chechen (www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/fehim_tastekin/samilin_torunlari_yolunu_sasirdi_kuresel_cihat_yolculugu-1145185).

It became known recently that reportedly an Azeri jamaat is also fighting in the ranks of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar. The leader of Azeri fighters in Syria, Emir Abu Yahya al-Azeri, who made a statement, calling on people to join his group (http://fisyria.com/?p=393). Naturally, the Azeri militant group is made up of members of Azerbaijan’s Sunni minority.

Even the long expected takeover of the Minakh airport in Aleppo did not overshadow the news about a split among the Chechens in Syria. In a surprise announcement, the emir of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, Umar Shishani, made a statement explaining his decision to expel Emir Seifullah along with his 27 men from the group (http://fisyria.com/?p=775). According to Emir Shishani, the decision to distance Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar from Emir Seifullah and his small group was taken at a meeting of the top- and mid-level commanders of the jamaat. Emir Abu Umar Shishani accused the splinter group of embezzlement and stirring up resentment against the North Caucasians among the local population. The jamaat leader said that the splinter group indulged in takfir (apostasy). Most likely, the expelled group members were enriching themselves and shielding their acts from criticism by using dubious arguments from the era of the Islamic conquests. These are serious accusations that will prevent the splinter group from receiving any assistance from other groups.

In a video response, Emir Seifullah rejected the accusations of takfir and of being a troublemaker (www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU6K1mq38jw&feature=youtu.be). In his ten-minute address, he intermittently denied takfir, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, tried to prove that he commanded a far greater force than 27 men. In the video, little more than 30 people can be seen. If Emir Seifullah had more men, he would not have missed the opportunity to show them off in the video. Emir Seifullah is one of the best known people in Syria because he was busily publishing online the videos about the military operations of the jamaat under the command of Umar Shishani. So the splinter group leader had functioned as the press secretary for the jamaat. Speaking in broken Russian, abundantly interspersed with exclamations of “Inshallah,” Emir Seifullah asserted that many people were joining his group, which he insisted was growing quickly.

However, the dissenting emir’s claims are probably not well-founded. Responding to concerns about fueling the local population’s negative attitude toward the North Caucasians, the splinter group leader said that he would never be someone like Emir al-Banat, the Dagestani national suspected of murdering two priests. Emir al-Banat was subsequently forced to leave Syria on the orders of Umar Shishani, who considered al-Banat’s actions provocative and harmful to the North Caucasian jamaat’s cause. That is why Emir Seifullah compared himself to al-Banat and repeatedly said that he would not be like him. The dissenting emir also said that he was slandered by those who had not fought for a single day themselves but, being around Emir Umar Shishani, uttered calumnies against him. Emir Seifullah did not name the people he accused of framing him, but, knowing his character, it is easy to guess that he is likely to name them in upcoming videos.

Emir Seifullah was known only as a press secretary, and, as a military emir, he will soon be forgotten by everyone. Many of those who knew Seifullah in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge thought that he was in Syria for self-serving purposes. The emir took his wife and nine-year-old son with him to Syria, and his son was also considered a member of the jamaat.

Both emirs, Umar Shishani and Seifullah, come from the Pankisi Gorge, where ethnic Chechens reside. Several dozen members of Umar Shishani’s jamaat come from this area in Georgia. This close relationship, and the personal character of Emir Seifullah, will probably help resolve the conflict in the near future. If the conflict is not resolved, Emir Seifullah is likely to end up like Emir al-Banat, who left Syria and is hiding from everyone.

Peculiarly, this split in the North Caucasian jamaat in Syria does not signify that the influence of Emir Umar Shishani is plummeting. Indeed, quite the contrary: he will now be known for his intolerance of financial fraud and takfir. This will strengthen his position and make him a figure of greater prominence than simply the emir of the North Caucasian fighters in Syria. Umar Shishani is rapidly becoming an equal to the high-ranking Syrian opposition commanders. That will make the Chechen factor an influential one in the changing political landscape of Syria’s civil war.

Author:  Mairbek Vatchagaev

You can find the original article here: goo.gl/3d4q04 

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