(Editor’s Note: This post from February 1 has been updated with video footage and more information about the joint operations between Jaish al-Muhajireen Wal Ansar and Nuraddin Az-Zinki)
Last week, we noted reports that Chechen-led faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA) was alongside other insurgent groups, including fighters from the Islamic Front (IF) and from the Nuraddin az-Zinki Brigade, in battle against Syrian forces.
The reports support our original analysis that, while JMA is joining other factions against the regime, it is not participating in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham.
Claimed footage, posted on January 27, of JMA fighting a joint operation with Nuraddin az-Zinki in Kafr Hamra:
The description with the video:
The assault began at 09:00 am on January 26, 2014. The final position of the Shias was captured by the Mujahideen at 21:30 local time. The operation lasted just over 12 hours. The enemy suffered heavy losses. Dozens of Shia and Assadis were annihilated. The exact number of wounded is unknown.
The enemy occupied the high ground and was entrenched in concrete buildings and structures. Previous attempts to assault these positions were not successful.
At this time, Allah answered the prayers of the Mujahideen. The operation was commanded by Amir Salahuddin Shishani.
As a result of the 12-hour assault, the enemy was dislodged from its fortified positions in Kafra Hamra, suffered heavy losses, and fled….
We recall that the core of JMA consists mainly of Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, and a Crimean Tatar Jamaat, and some fighters from different parts of Russia.
In addition, the group includes a few immigrants from CIS countries, Europe, and Arabs.
The positions of the various Chechen and North Caucasian factions in Syria:
WHAT IS JAISH AL-MUHAJIREEN WAL ANSAR, WHO LEADS IT & WITH WHOM IS IT ALIGNED?
JMA is now led by Salahuddin Shishani, an ethnic Chechen who has sworn allegiance to the Caucasus Emirate, the major jihadi group in the North Caucasus, led by Dokku Umarov.
Salahuddin took over the faction in November after its former leader, Umar Shishani, swore an oath of allegiance to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi, provoking a split in the predominantly Chechen faction between those who looked to ISIS and those who remained loyal to the Caucasus Emirate.
Those who remained in JMA, after the departure of Umar and his followers, are predominantly fighters from the North Caucasus who remain loyal to Dokku Umarov.
Salahuddin has denounced fighting between ISIS and other insurgents, vowing to stay out of the conflict. Salahuddin says he prefers to fight the Assad regime, because that is why he and other fighters came to Syria.
This image of JMA shows the group with a Caucasus Emirate flag:
WHICH OTHER CHECHEN FACTIONS DO NOT BACK ISIS BUT DO NOT SUPPORT THE FIGHT AGAINST IT?
In condemning the fighting against ISIS, Saladhuddin has taken a similar view to other Chechen insurgents, most notably his former comrade-in-arms and Umar’s former second-in-command in JMA, Sayfullakh Shishani.
Sayfullakh, an ethnic Chechen from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia who came to Syria via Turkey, did not swear an oath to Chechen leader Dokku Umarov before he began fighting in Syria. Instead, he recently pledged allegiance to the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra. S
Sayfullakh also condemned the infighting, amid reports that he has taken part in battles against the regime.
WHERE IS JMA FIGHTING, AND WITH WHOM?
Russian-language sources close to Chechen and North Caucasian fighters in Syria report that fighting between regime troops and the Free Syrian Army has renewed in Ma’aret Artik, between Kafr Hamra and Babis north of Aleppo city.
Map showing Ma’aret Artik (click for a larger and clearer view):
Ma’aret Artik is described as the “ribat” or frontline of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA). The reports say that “this is what JMA managed to repulse in recent days”, presumably a reference to the regime forces.
The situation around Ma’aret Artik is complex. Factions of insurgents, including the Islamic Front and Nuraddin az-Zinki, are fighting the regime around that area, near Kafr Hamra and Babis. The same factions have also fought against ISIS, though JMA has not fought ISIS directly.
Pro-ISIS and pro-Umar Russian-language sources reported Friday that insurgents had attacked ISIS in Kafr Hamra, heading towards the south of Hraytan:
The report includes a map showing the location of the factions attacking ISIS and describes them as “the cowards with whom Muhajireen wal Ansar are working”. The term “cowards” has been used to describe those insurgent factions who have joined the battle against ISIS.
(Featured image: Salahuddin Shishani in a Caucasus Emirate T-Shirt)