Fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party have allegedly been photographed on the battlefields of northern Syria. The picture above was posted to Twitter by Israfil Yilmaz, a popular jihadist figure fighting in Syria. Yilmaz wrote in the tweet: “No passports, undercover through more than 6 countries. Lions from the Turkistan region: Al Hizb Islami Turkistan [Turkistan Islamic Party ].”
Yilmaz is a Dutch citizen of Turkish origin. He is a former member of the Royal Dutch Armed Forces, as well as the Turkish military. On his now suspended Ask.fm account, he claimed to have been in Syria for more than two years and he does not consider himself a member of any group. According to From Chechnya to Syria, Yilmaz has previously fought alongside Sayfullah Shishani’s jamaat, a predominately Chechen faction of the Al Nusrah Front. It is also clear from an interview he conducted with a Dutch channel (the video is in Turkish) that Yilmaz has acted as a military trainer.
The Turkistan Islamic Party operates in China as well as Central and South Asia and is thought to have scores of fighters in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in Afghanistan. Its fighters have been killed by Coalition forces in Afghanistan and by US drone strikes in Pakistan. A senior al Qaeda leader has eulogized Turkistan Islamic Party operatives killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For more information on the group’s operations, see the LWJ report, Turkistan Islamic Party touts suicide bombings in Afghanistan.