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Anti-IS Chechen Militants: We Don't Like Kurds But We're Glad When Anyone Kills IS


The rift between Chechen militants fighting in Syria was prompted in the months leading to Umar al-Shishani's move to the Islamic State group in December 2013, when he swore allegiance to IS.

The rift between Chechen militants fighting in Syria was prompted in the months leading to Umar al-Shishani's move to the Islamic State group in December 2013, when he swore allegiance to IS.

Chechen militants in Syria fighting in factions opposed to the Islamic State (IS) group have expressed positive reactions to this week's Kurdish victory over IS in Kobani, while insisting that they do not support the Kurds.

While these Chechen militants have not been able to praise the Kurds directly for their victory -- like IS, they also consider the Kurds to be "infidels" -- some have conveyed their opinions about the IS defeat in Kobani in more indirect ways.

Social-media accounts linked to the Chechen-led faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), which considers itself the Syrian branch of the North Caucasus-based militant group the Caucasus Emirate, have expressed sympathy for the wives and children of Chechen militants who joined the IS group and who were injured and killed during the extremists' offensives against the Kurdish militias.

One of the largest pro-JMA propaganda accounts on the Russian social-networking site VKontakte, which is run by a woman who uses the pseudonym Bely Sneg (White Snow) published a post on January 28 saying that the group "shudders to think about the fate of those who inadvertently succumbed to that nightingale warbling and turned to [IS group leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi and went there with their families."

Bely Sneg said she recalled one woman who went to the IS group and who confided that she feared an assault by the Kurds after IS militants left her and other IS wives alone with no protection. "We've been told to prepare for everything, tomorrow they are attacking the Kurdish villages, and there are Kurds right nearby, they can attack, they say," Bely Sneg recalls the IS wife as saying.

Another Chechen militant in Syria, Khalid al-Shishani -- a former associate of the IS group's military commander in Syria, Umar al-Shishani -- explained in a Facebook post on January 27 that he and others were not happy for the Kurds because of their victory in Kobani.

Khalid al-Shishani, who fights with the Uzbek-led faction Seyfullakh al-Shishani's Jamaat, which is part of Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, has previously called into question Umar al-Shishani's reputation in the Western media as a military genius.

In his latest post, Khalid al-Shishani said that he and his associates were "not happy for the Kurds. But we are glad whenever Ukrainians kill Kadyrovites [a derogatory term used to describe Chechens who support the Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov] and we are glad when anyone kills the Kharijites," a term used by some Islamic scholars to describe the IS group.

The "Kharijites," according to Khalid al-Shishani, "are worse than all the infidels and apostates in the world, the worst of all creatures.... Neither the Kurdish infidels nor the Assadites [fighters who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] have caused 1 percent of the damage that [the IS group] have caused to jihad."

Although these anti-IS Chechen militants are making use of the Kurdish victory in Kobani as a means to deride the IS group, it has been noticeable in recent days that pro-JMA social-media accounts have increasingly posted reports that bill the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as a force to be reckoned with against the IS group.

The phenomenon of pro-JMA and other Chechen factions praising (however indirectly) the Kurds with relation to the IS group is also indicative of the animosity between these various factions and IS.

There has been a growing rift -- lately expressed in open enmity -- between Chechen militants in JMA, and also those in other factions like Seyfullakh al-Shishani's Jamaat, and the IS group. The rift was prompted in the months leading to Umar al-Shishani's move to the IS group in December 2013, when the former JMA leader swore allegiance to IS leader Baghdadi.

This animosity between Chechens in IS and those in other groups has peaked in recent months. In November, IS group leaders (probably including Umar al-Shishani) in Raqqa refused a truce offer proposed by JMA leader Salakhuddin al-Shishani on behalf of a number of Islamist factions including Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

In the wake of a number of Caucasus Emirate groups in Daghestan pledging allegiance to the IS group, pro-JMA social-media accounts have expressed open hostility to IS.

On January 19, JMA leader Salakhuddin al-Shishani's car was destroyed in a car-bomb attack that killed a Daghestani militant, Ukasha ad-Dagestani. Salakhuddin al-Shishani was not in the car at the time. Pro-JMA social-media accounts initially hinted that the IS group might be responsible for the attack, though no further details have emerged.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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