Screenshot from Malhama Tactical’s video of its training course for the Uighur group, Katibat Ghuraba al Turkistan.
Earlier last week, Katibat Ghuraba al Turkistan (KGT), a predominantly Uighur jihadist group operating in northwestern Syria, released a run-of-the-mill training video showing its fighters in the Latakia mountains practicing firing drills and maneuvers.
However, this video took on greater importance yesterday when Malhama Tactical, an elite jihadist unit comprised of well-trained fighters from the North Caucasus and the former Soviet Union, released their own video of KGT’s training. By training with Malhama, KGT not only raises its propaganda credentials within the jihadist world, but it also increases its capabilities on the battlefield.
Both videos detail the Uighur militants training in basic firing drills, as well as practicing storming buildings. In both videos, pixelated figures are shown instructing the fighters before the training sequences are shown. Malhama’s video confirms that the pixelated men are members of the elite unit. Additionally, tweets from last month from Malhama’s leader, Abu Salman Belarussi, confirm that his men trained KGT as the background of the photos in the tweets match with the videos.
As reported by Alessandro Arduino and Nodirbek Soliev in Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, Malhama was founded in 2016 by Abu Rofiq, an ethnic Uzbek member of al Qaeda’s then-official branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front. Rofiq had previously been a soldier within the Russian military before joining the jihad in Syria. After he was killed by a Russian airstrike in Feb. 2017, Malhama has been led by Belarussi, himself a veteran of the Belorussian military.
Malhama has trained various well-known jihadist groups in Syria which includes: Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), Ajnad Kavkaz, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and the former Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar. Malhama has also been responsible for training many of HTS’ recent ‘Elite Forces’ units.
KGT was formed last year by predominately Uighur fighters in northwestern Syria. However, it does include a sizeable number of ethnic Arab fighters among its ranks as well. Late last year, it announced the creation of a Palestinian sub-unit led by Ibrahim Khaza’il, also known as Abu Muhammad al Filistini. Khaza’il was also a dual-hatted member of the al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon prior to his death in Syria earlier this year. Following the death of Khaza’il, the sub-unit has ceased to exist and was likely re-integrated into the main fold of KGT.
The Uighur jihadist group has not withheld showing its affinity for al Qaeda in its propaganda. Its videos are littered with scenes from prominent al Qaeda leaders. In addition, footage from official branches, such as Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have also been used in its own content. It is currently unknown what the relationship is between KGT and the other al Qaeda-linked Uighur jihadist forces in Syria, the Turkistan Islamic Party.