Salahuddin Shishani, the former emir of the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar who now leads a group of jihadists from the Caucasus in Syria, swore allegiance to the new leader of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate. Shishani and his deputy, Abdul Karim Krymsky, were removed from the leadership of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, or Muhajireen Army) just last month.
Shishani announced his pledge to Muhammad Abu Usman in a short video, nearly three minutes long, that was released by Akhbar Sham, a Russian-language website that previously promoted Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar’s activities and leaders in Syria. The video was also published by Kavkaz Center, which supports the Islamic Caucasus Emirate. A translation of the video was obtained by The Long War Journal.
The video is titled “Emir Salahuddin Shishani and mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate in Syria pledge allegiance to the emir of the Caucasus Emirate Abu Usman Gimrinski.” Shishani has called his group of fighters “the Caucasus Emirate in Syria” in the past, and even has been photographed with a flag emblazoned with the words “Imarat Kavkaz.” [See LWJ report, Terrorism in the Caucasus and the threat to the US homeland.]
In the video, Shishani is seen with a group of masked fighters who are armed with an assortment of assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades. An anti-aircraft gun is also seen in the background.
Shishani begins by lamenting the “various kinds of discord that has [sic] been recently sown among mujahideen that inflicts huge damage on the jihad,” which he notes has occurred “on all fronts of jihad,” even in Syria. He is likely referring to divisions caused by the Islamic State’s rise, but may also be referring to the incident that led to his removal as the emir of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar. But, he argues, “discord is not the reason to abandon jihad.”
“In order not to stray away from this path, we shall orient ourselves to the unanimous opinion of jihad theologians,” Shishani continues. “We, the Caucasus mujahideen, are pleased to have received the news of appointment of Abu Usman Gimrinski as emir of the Caucasus Emirate…. I, the representative of the Caucasus Emirate in Sham, Shishani, pledge allegiance to Abu Usman Gimrinski and I will obey him as long as he follows the Koran and Sunnah. We also urge all Muslims of the Caucasus to follow suit and consolidate around Sheikh Abu Usman.”
Shishani’s pledge to the Islamic Caucasus Emirate is a much needed boost to the al Qaeda-linked jihadist group, which has been plagued by a string of defections to the Islamic State. However, it is unclear how many fighters Shishani still commands. [See LWJ report, Amid defections, Islamic Caucasus Emirate publicly recognizes new leader.]
Shishani and his deputy, Abdul Karim Krymsky, were removed from their leadership positions in Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar and ordered to leave northern Idlib in Syria in mid-June. The two were accused of threatening members of the group with force and with rejecting sharia, or Islamic law.
A judicial official close to Shishani denied the charges. Akhbar Sham interviewed Sheikh Abd al Mahdi Razziq, originally appointed to serve as a judge who would review the decision to remove Shishani and Krymysky; Razziq described Shishani’s dismissal as a “mistake” and denied that he rejected sharia. A transcript of the interview was published by Kavkaz Center. Razziq also claimed that the judges had already decided to support Shishani’s dismissal, so he resigned.
It is unlikely that either group will defect from al Qaeda’s camp and join the Islamic State anytime soon. Shishani’s oath to the Islamic Caucasus Emirate puts him in al Qaeda’s sphere of influence. In the past, Shishani denounced the Islamic State for creating divisions in Syria.
The new leadership of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar also appears to remain loyal to al Qaeda. The Al Nusrah Front was involved in the decision to remove Shishani and Krymysky, and that decision was favorable to Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar’s new leadership. According to a translation of the judicial decision by From Chechnya to Syria’s Joanna Paraszczuk, “both parties did agree that Jabhat al Nusra shall enter into the role as an additional partner in this question.” This is supported by Razziq, who noted that Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, an influential cleric who is closely aligned with al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, was also involved in settling the dispute.