Islamist North Caucasus Rebels Training a New Generation of Fighters in Syria

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 3

February 7, 2014 09:43 AM  By: Murad Batal al- Shishani

Chechen (Ichkerian) seal bearing a wolf, the n...

Chechen (Ichkerian) seal bearing a wolf, the nation’s symbolic embodiment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Syria’s bloody conflict enters its fourth year in March, it continues to provide a battlefield that attracts jihadists from all over the world. North Caucasians, including Chechens, are no exception. Previously, many reports alleged that Chechens were present in jihadi battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places; however, these claims were never proved. Syria is the first place where Chechen jihadists are indisputably taking part in fighting outside the North Caucasus.

Chechens and other Caucasians in Syria operate in four major groups, each of which is commanded by one of four prominent Chechen leaders: Omar al-Shishani, Saifullah al-Shishani, Amir Muslim and Salahudeen al-Shishani (the mujahideen announced the death of the latter via Twitter on February 6). These commanders are not related but all use al-Shishani (Arabic – “the Chechen”) as a surname.

Divisions and Unifications

Omar al-Shishani, born Tarkhan Batirashvili, comes from the remote Pankisi Gorge in northeast Georgia, populated by ethnic Chechens who emigrated from their homeland in the 19th century. Before making his way to jihad, Omar served in the Georgian military in the disputed republic of Abkhazia between 2006 and 2007. He later signed a contract in 2008 to join the Georgian army as a rifleman, but this came to an end when he was dismissed due to tuberculosis. In September 2010, he was arrested for the illegal purchase and storage of arms. Continue reading