Abdul Hakim al Tatari, as seen in the Islamic State’s Al Naba newsletter
In the Islamic State’s most recent edition of its Al Naba newsletter, the jihadist group eulogized a Russian Tatar fighter who died fighting for the group in Baiji, Iraq, just days after arriving on the battlefield. Prior to joining the Islamic State, however, he had a long career with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
According to the newsletter, Abdul Hakim al Tatari (seen above), was a 53-year-old fighter with a wife and kids who joined the IMU nearly 15 years ago after leaving Russia. It is not clear where in Russia he was from, however, his kunya suggests he was an ethnic Tatar. Most of Russia’s Tatars live in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
The Islamic State’s newsletter claimed Tatari was a “big force” behind many Russians joining jihadists in the Caucasus and elsewhere, but this cannot be independently confirmed by FDD’s Long War Journal. Tatari reportedly fought alongside the IMU in Pakistan’s tribal areas before he joined the Islamic State in 2015 alongside a large portion of the group.
IMU’s emir, Usman Ghazi, pledged his and his group’s loyalty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and joined the Islamic State’s Wilayat Khorasan. Shortly after siding with the Islamic State, Ghazi’s followers joined with other Islamic State fighters in Zabul province, Afghanistan, and were defeated by the Taliban. Many of the Islamic State-loyal fighters, including Ghazi, were killed in battles with the Taliban. But splinter of the IMU still exists and supports the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Turkistan Islamic Party leader criticizes the Islamic State’s ‘illegitimate’ caliphate and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan faction emerges after group’s collapse.]
Not long after joining Wilayat Khorasan, Tatari made his way to Islamic State-held territory in Syria with his wife, kids, and a group of other members. Offering details on how some jihadists get from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to Syria, the group traveled from Waziristan, Pakistan, to Afghanistan, and then back to Pakistan before entering Iran to Turkey. From Turkey, Tatari entered Syria and ended the two month-long trip.
It cost the group approximately $2000 per person to facilitate the travel and documents needed to make the journey. The group reportedly changed vehicles nearly 50 times and also walked dozens of miles during the migration.
According to Al Naba, Tatari asked to be transferred to Iraq just four days after arriving in Syria and joined the jihadists fighting in the central city of Baiji and was subsequently killed in battle. The newsletter does not give an exact date of his death, but the city was retaken by the Iraqi military and various Iranian-supported militias in Oct. 2015.
Tatari’s story is the latest of several militants who had previously been members or leaders of groups based in Afghanistan or Pakistan and died in Iraq or Syria. For instance, earlier this year, Abu Omar al Turkistani, a former commander in the IMU splinter group Islamic Jihad Union, was killed in a US drone strike in Syria after joining an al Qaeda-affiliated Central Asian unit in Idlib.
Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.