Omar al Chechen. FISyria.com posted this picture along with a statement confirming his allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.
A Chechen-led group of fighters in Syria has sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who heads the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), an official al Qaeda affiliate.
Jaish al-Muhajireen wa Ansar, or Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, is led by a jihadist known as Omar al Chechen. On Nov. 21, Abu Omar’s group released a statement confirming its allegiance to al Baghdadi on FISyria.com, which is the official website for the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers.
The statement is titled, “Omar al Chechen swears allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,” according to a translation obtained The Long War Journal.
The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers “has sworn an oath” to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the statement reads. However, “the brothers from the Imarat Kavkaz (Islamic Caucasus Emirate) who have sworn an oath to” Doku Umarov, the emir of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate, are awaiting approval before confirming their formal allegiance to al Baghdadi.
“At the current time, consent to the oath is awaited from the Imarat Kavkaz emir,” the statement reads.
Umarov was added to the American list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2010. The US also added the Islamic Caucasus Emirate to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in May 2011.
The statement goes on to praise al Baghdadi, claiming that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Al Baghdadi has claimed this lineage in order to boost his credentials within the jihadist world.
The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers’ allegiance to ISIS is not surprising, as the Chechen-led fighters have long fought under ISIS’ command in Syria. And the ISIS has frequently featured Omar al Chechen and his group’s operations in their propaganda. Still, the statement highlights the fluid nature of al Qaeda’s global network. Fighters who first swore allegiance to an al Qaeda-linked jihadist in the Caucasus now readily seek formal integration into the ranks of another al Qaeda branch in Syria.
The Kavkaz Center, a media arm of the Caucasus Emirate, posted a video appeal from Abu Omar on its website on Feb. 7.
Then on Mar. 26, the Kavkaz Center announced the creation of Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, reporting that it was a merger of Abu Omar’s brigade with several other Syrian jihadi brigades.
The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers has not only fought alongside ISIS, but has also regularly taken part in joint operations with the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, the other official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. [See LWJ report, Chechen commander leads Muhajireen Brigade in Syria.]
In coordination with both of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria, The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers also reportedly took part in atrocities against civilians in Latakia in August. [See LWJ report, Report highlights al Qaeda affiliates’ role in Syrian atrocities.]
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.