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Meet the Russian-Speaking Al-Qaeda 'Publicist' Who Openly Fundraises Online

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

Abu Rofik remains highly visible at a time when many Islamist militants have gone underground.

Abu Rofik remains highly visible at a time when many Islamist militants have gone underground.

"My name is Abu Rofik, I am a publicist and blogger and an independent military instructor, I cover events in Syria and have spent quite some time here."

The author of those lines -- made in a Facebook post on October 18 -- is a 23-year-old Russian-speaking militant from Central Asia who has attached himself to Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, in Aleppo province.

At a time when a number of Islamic State (IS) militants have gone underground, deleting their social media profiles for fear U.S.-led anti-IS coalition bombers will track them down Abu Rofik remains highly visible, even giving an interview last week to a Norwegian newspaper, Verdens Gang.

Abu Rofik has maintained a consistent and prolific presence on social media for more than 18 months. He currently has multiple accounts on the Russian social networking site VKontakte, and at least one account on both Facebook and Twitter.

When his accounts are banned, he opens new ones, usually under a pseudonym. But Abu Rofik always identifies himself in his posts including via a Russian hashtag, "Soldier of the Levant." He also posts large numbers of "selfies" -- photographs of himself dressed in military fatigues and posing with guns -- although he always covers part of his face.

Fundraising & Recruiting

Abu Rofik makes frequent appeals via social media, asking supporters of "jihad" and Al-Qaeda to donate to help Al-Nusra purchase military equipment.

He has also issued calls to would-be militants in Russia to join the Al-Nusra Front in Syria, suggesting that potential Al-Qaeda recruits contact him via private message for advice on how to travel to Syria.

"We are waiting for you! Will you not come? The most favored thing that a slave can do for the Almighty is to be zealous in the path of Allah with his property and soul," Abu Rofik wrote on his VKontakte page on October 17.

In a Facebook post on October 18, Abu Rofik called on Al-Qaeda supporters to give generously to "help brothers who want to come [to Syria]."

Training Nusra

Abu Rofik is part of a foreign fighter group within the Al-Nusra Front. Named Katiba Sayfullah after its original leader, an ethnic Chechen from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge named Sayfullakh Shishani, the group is now led by a 24-year-old ethnic Uzbek who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Ubayda al-Madani.

According to his social-media posts, Abu Rofik's "job" is to train new Al-Nusra militants in rifle and sniper shooting.

Although he recruits, trains, and fundraises for Katiba Sayfullah, Abu Rofik has said in his social-media postings that he has not given an oath of allegiance to the Al-Nusra Front.

Abu Rofik also does not fight in battles, despite his penchant for posing in military gear.

Ethnic Uzbek Or Meskhetian Turk?

Abu Rofik is thought to be from Uzbekistan and to have lived in Russia before coming to Syria.

The Russian-speaking militant told a pro-Nusra Turkish website last year that he was an ethnic Uzbek, which is consistent with the Uzbek-accented Russian he speaks in various videos he has published online.

In his social media profiles, Abu Rofik claims to have lived in Kazan in Russia.

The militant has also claimed to be a Meskhetian Turk, an ethnic Turkish people who formerly lived in the Meskheti region of Georgia, but who were dispersed throughout the former Soviet Union, including Uzbekistan.

Deadbeat Dad

Abu Rofik claims to have been married several times.

In a post on October 3, signed with his identifying hashtag, Abu Rofik complained that people had criticized his numerous marriages.

"'He was married several times, he's a womanizer etc.', I hear these words sometimes," Abu Rofik wrote in a post in which he called on his "brothers" to marry "righteous" women.

The militant has also posted photographs of a young child he says is his son, whom he abandoned in Russia two years ago when he went to Syria.

A screen shot of a social-media post by Islamic militant Abu Rofik about his son

A screen shot of a social-media post by Islamic militant Abu Rofik about his son

Abu Rofik's current marital status is unclear. He has said he does not have a wife in Syria, but has conducted an online romance on VKontakte with a woman who calls herself Muslima Abdullaeva.

It is not clear, however, whether "Muslima Abdullaeva" is a real person, or yet another alias of Abu Rofik.

'Helping Syria'

In his interview with Verdens Gang, Abu Rofik said he came to Syria to "defend and help liberate" the Syrian people from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Abu Rofik, who posted his original comments to Verdens Gang in Russian on one of his VKontakte pages, said that the "lying media" in the West had misunderstood the Al-Nusra Front.

"Do not believe the media," Abu Rofik wrote, adding that Al-Nusra Front's goal was not "the murder of Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims who are not fighting against us."

"Our goal is the liberation of Muslim lands from tyrants and occupiers and their regimes, which are foreign to Muslims and which oppose Islam. And our goal is to build a real Islamic state."

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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