In a video released by ‘Amaq News, an unofficial news organization affiliated with the Islamic State, several Russian-speaking fighters are shown taking positions overlooking the Kurdish city of Kobane (or Ayn al Arab in Arabic). The fighters, according to the video’s title, are Chechen and more than likely belong to a group loyal to Omar al Shishani, a senior military leader in the Islamic State. The Islamic State has been battling forces from the PKK-linked People’s Protection Units, or YPG, for control of the Syrian town. [See Threat Matrix report, Islamic State advances near Kobane.]
According to Joanna Paraszczuk of From Chechnya to Syria, a website that tracks Russian-speaking fighters in Syria, this group is known as the al Aqsa Brigade. The group is comprised of those fighters who left the Chechen Jaysh al Muhajireen wal Ansar (Muhajireen Army) with Omar after he swore allegiance to the Islamic State. The Muhajireen Army is a Chechen-led group that considers themselves to be the Syrian branch of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate. The US State Department added the Muhajireen Army to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations on Sept. 24. [For more on the Muhajireen Army, see LWJ report State Department adds Chechen, Moroccan-led jihadist groups to terrorist list]
Omar al Shishani, whose real name is Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvilic, was added to the US list of Specially Designated Global terrorists on Sept. 24. He is a senior military leader in the Islamic State, and may be the group’s overall military commander.
Shishani’s Al Aqsa Brigade is often spearheading the Islamic State’s advance in key areas of Syria, so it is no surprise that his experienced fighting unit is on the front lines of the Islamic State’s offensive in Kobane.
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