Foreign jihadists advertise role in Latakia fighting

As the fighting in Syria’s northwestern Latakia Province continues, several foreign jihadist groups have released media highlighting their roles in the fighting. Many of the groups are Russian speaking, while all are within al Qaeda’s network inside Syria.

Among the foreign jihadist groups, two are directly within the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. The first, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), is a predominately Uzbek group that has fought in many battles across northwestern Syria. In its most recent video, KTJ shows its fighters advancing against the Assad regime in the mountains of Latakia. Liwa al Muhajireen wal Ansar (LMA), a Russian-speaking brigade within Nusrah, has also released photos from the area.

LMA, which is a collection of Russian-speaking militants formed from different groups that have pledged bayah (allegiance) to Nusrah, published photos showing fighters patrolling in the countryside after reportedly defeating Assad’s soldiers. Earlier pictures from LMA show its fighters scouting regime positions. Yet another Russian-speaking group to have advertised its role is Ajnad Kavkaz, a predominately Chechen group.

Late last month, Ajnad Kavkaz (or Soldiers of the Caucasus) released a video from Ayn Issa in Latakia showing intense fighting with regime soldiers. The Chechen group claimed victory, however, the hills surrounding Ayn Issa have switched hands numerous times in recent months. In other photos, Ajnad Kavkaz claims to have captured “spoils” from the battles and several dead regime soldiers are shown. Other smaller Russian-speaking groups are also present in the fighting in Latakia.

According to From Chechnya to Syria, one such group is Junud al Makhdi, comprised of ethnic Tartars and Bashkirs. The website, which tracks Russian-speaking militants in Syria, reports that Junud al Makhdi is a group comprised of jihadists that fought in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda “for the last 10 years.” Additionally, its emir (leader) trained in Chechnya with Ibn Khattab, the leader of al Qaeda’s International Islamic Battalion in Chechnya before he was killed in 2002. The website also reports that it fights in Latakia alongside Turkmen jihadists, as well as the Turkistan Islamic Party.

The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), an ethnic Uighur faction that also fights alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has released several photos and videos in recent weeks from Latakia. In many of the photos, the jihadists are shown shelling regime positions with mortars and rockets in the Jabal al Turkman region.

In a tweet from a member of the Imam al Bukhari Jamaat (also known as Katibat al Bukhari), a predominately Uzbek group that swears allegiance to the Taliban, the fighter claims that it too is fighting in Latakia. The tweet claims that four members of the jihadist group have been killed in recent days, but no photos or videos have been released by the group. Earlier this year, however, it did produce a video from Jabal al Akrad in Latakia.

The jihadist-led Jaysh al Fateh (“Army of Conquest”) coalition and its allies launched this new assault on Syrian regime positions in Latakia on June 27. The offensive, named the “Battle of Yarmouk,” involves a mix of jihadists, like Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham, and fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Many of these FSA groups, like Jaysh Tahrir, the 1st Coastal Division, and Jaysh al Izzah, are supported by the United States. The latter two groups have even uploaded videos showing their use of US-made TOW anti-tank missiles. (See LWJ report, Jihadists and other rebels attack Syrian regime positions in Latakia province.)

Photos from the different foreign jihadist groups: 

Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad:

Latakia July 2016

Latakia July 2016 2

Liwa al Muhajireen wal Ansar:

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Ajnad Kavkaz:

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425337754_48546_16171254765314242824

Turkistan Islamic Party:

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Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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