Chechen commander forms 'Army of Emigrants,' integrates Syrian groups
A commander from the Russian Caucasus known as Omar al Chechen has formed Jaish al-Muhajireen wa Ansar, or Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, and integrated several Syrian fighting units into the ranks. Abu Omar was the commander of the Muhajireen Brigade, which fights alongside al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front.
The creation of the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers was announced on March 26 by Kavkaz Center, a propaganda arm of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group in Russia's Caucasus.
"In March 2013, a unit of Mujahideen of Kataeb al Muhajieen, or Brigade of Emigrants, under the command of Omar al Chechen was joined by several brigades of Syrian Mujahideen, including Kataeb Khattab, or the Brigade of Khattab, and Jaish Muhammad, or the Army of Muhammad, after which it was decided to reorganize the structure of Kataeb," Kavkaz Center reported.
"As a result, Jaish al Muhajireen wa Ansar, or the Army of Emigrants and Helpers, was created," Kavkaz Center continued.
The Army of Emigrants and Helpers "is fighting primarily in the province of Aleppo." Kavkaz Center describes the group as "one of the most prominent groups in the Syrian Jihad."
Kavkaz Center claimed that the Army of Emigrants "has more than 1,000 Mujahideen, Muslim volunteers from different countries, including the Caucasus Emirate," who "are fighting under its banner." The claim appears to be true; just one week ago, a Swedish fighter known as Albu Kamal As Swedee was reported to have been killed while fighting with the Muhajireen Brigade.
A video showing Syrian jihadists swearing an oath of loyalty to Omar al Chechen, who is seen in the background, was also published on YouTube. Hundreds of jihadists are seen in the video, and some are flying al Qaeda's flag.
In the video, another commander, who is identified as "Emir Saifullah" said, "We came here to establish God's law .... We have a purpose: to establish sharia [Islamic law], God's law."
Saifullah also said that no distinctions should be made between the different theaters of the jihadists' war.
"To us, there is no difference between Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Caucasus, any place," he said.
Another video shows the takeover of a military base in Handara in Aleppo. Again, al Qaeda's banner is shown flying in the background.
Chechen jihadists in Syria
Omar al Chechen first appeared in a videotape that was released by Kavkaz Center on Feb. 7 [see LWJ report, Chechen commander leads Muhajireen Brigade in Syria]. He was seen surrounded by 19 heavily armed fighters and seated behind al Qaeda's flag.
"Chechen fighters," often described as fighters from the Caucasus and southern Russia, have been spotted on the Syrian battlefield for months. In October 2012, a group of "Chechen emigrants" is known to have fought, along with an element from the Free Syrian Army unit, under the command of the Al Nusrah Front to take control of a key Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo. The Long war Journal speculated at the time that the group included members of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front commanded Free Syrian Army unit, 'Chechen emigrants,' in assault on Syrian air defense base].
The Muhajireen Brigade is known to have participated in two other major assaults against Syrian military bases since the October operation in Aleppo.
In mid-December, the Muhajireen Brigade teamed up with the Al Nusrah Front to overrun the Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111. Arab and Central Asian fighters are reported to have participated in the battle.
And in mid-February, the Al Nusrah Front, together with the Tawhid Brigade and the Muhajireen Brigade, stormed the base of the Syrian military's 80th Regiment (or Brigade), which is situated near the main airport in Aleppo in eastern Syria.
Doku Umarov, the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, has praised the "mujahideen" in Syria as well as the fighters from the Caucasus. In November 2012, Umarov released a speech on the Kavkaz Center website that addressed the jihad in Syria.
"I appeal to the brothers, and I want to stress that we, the Mujahideen of the Caucasus, pray for you, make Dua [supplication to Allah], ask Allah to help you with His angels, that Allah helps you in every way,' he said.
In the speech, Umarov warned the Syrian jihadists not to "replace the regime of Bashar al-Assad, using Turkish, or Saudi, or Egyptian, or American, or English money, with another idol under the guise of democracy."
Umarov was added to the US's list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2010. The US added the Islamic Caucasus Emirate to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in May 2011.