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Evidence Suggests Chechens Linked To Umar Shishani Fighting For IS In Kobani


Abu Umar al-Shishani (left) is thought to be among IS militants besieging the Syrian town of Kobani. (file photo)

Abu Umar al-Shishani (left) is thought to be among IS militants besieging the Syrian town of Kobani. (file photo)

Fresh evidence has emerged indicating that a Chechen faction with close ties to Islamic State military emir (commander) Umar Shishani is among the IS militants battling Kurdish militias in Kobani.

Photographs posted online claim to show members of the group, known as Katibat Al-Aqsa planning the offensive in Kobani.

Other photographs show the center of Kobani during the fighting and were purportedly taken by members of the jamaat (an Arabic term used by North Caucasians to mean a military unit in a militant group).

Another image shows a camouflaged Toyota Hilux, which one member of the faction claims belongs to Katibat Al-Aqsa.

One of the militants from Katibat Al-Aqsa also posted photographs in July that showed himself to be in Mosul in Iraq.

If these pictures are genuine -- as they appear to be -- they are the first clear evidence that Chechen fighters linked to Umar Shishani are fighting in Kobani.

Katibat Al Aqsa consists of Chechen and possibly other militant fighters from the North Caucasus.

The group is named after the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, the third holiest site in Islam.

Katibat Al-Aqsa has been associated with the Islamic State group's military emir for Syria, Umar Shishani, who is an ethnic Chechen from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge.

On August 15, shortly after the capture of the Syrian Arab Army's 121st Artillery Regiment, social media accounts linked to Katibat Al-Aqsa published a video showing the faction preparing for its assault on the Hasaka military base, including a speech by Umar Shishani. The video shows the faction pledging an oath of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

An image taken from an Islamic State (IS) social media account purportedly showing militants from IS Katibat Al-Aqsa using Google maps on a cellphone to help plan the Kobani offensive.

An image taken from an Islamic State (IS) social media account purportedly showing militants from IS Katibat Al-Aqsa using Google maps on a cellphone to help plan the Kobani offensive.

There is other evidence of close ties between Umar Shishani and Katibat Al-Aqsa. One prominent Katibat Al-Aqsa militant, known as Abdullah Shishani, was previously the military emir of Jaish Al-Muhajireen Wal-Ansar, the faction that Umar Shishani led before he moved to IS.

Previously, Katibat Al-Aqsa has fought in a number of key IS offensives in Syria. In August, the group fought in Hasaka in northeastern Syria as part of an effort to merge the Islamic State group's northern front by connecting communication lines between Raqqa and Nineveh province in Iraq, as well as to gain control over more of Syria's oilfields, a vital source of financing for IS. Katibat Al-Aqsa was among those IS militants who seized the 121st Artillery Regiment in Hasaka, one of the largest military bases in northern Syria.

The faction has also fought in Syria's Deir Ezzor province.

While these images are the first to directly link Katibat Al-Aqsa with the Kobani offensive, evidence has already emerged showing the participation of militants from the North and South Caucasus

There is video evidence showing Russian-speaking IS militants from the North Caucasus outside of Kobani, while social media sources linked to the Islamic State group said that various North Caucasians, including Nogais, are involved in the offensive. Video and other evidence shows that Azerbaijani IS militants are also taking part in the offensive in Kobani.

-- 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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