While the media's attention is primarily on foreign fighters within the Islamic State, it is important to note that foreign fighters are in many other groups and even on different sides of the war in Syria. Several of these groups are from Central and South Asia with most fighting on the side of the rebels; however, some of these groups fight on the side of the Assad regime. In this post, my friend and colleague Aymenn al Tamimi and I will take a look at some of these and where their ties and/or allegiances lie.
Video released by Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad from Jisr al Shughur
Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, a small Uzbek group affiliated with al Qaeda, is taking part in the recent jihadist-led offensive at Jisr al Shughur in Idlib province. The group released a video on its YouTube page showing the group's participation.
The group appears to be fighting alongside Junud al Sham, the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) and possibly the Imam Bukhari Jamaat. Junud al Sham is a Chechen-led al Qaeda-affiliated group led by Muslim Shishani, a veteran of the jihad in Chechnya and a US-designated foreign terrorist. The Turkistan Islamic Party is another al Qaeda-affiliated group comprised of ethnic Uyghurs. The Imam Bukhari Jamaat is the largest Uzbek group in Syria and has bayah (allegiance) to Mullah Muhammad Omar of the Taliban.
Several scenes shown in the video have been previously seen in videos released by Junud al Sham, which also featured "Katibat Turkistani," which is another name for the TIP in Syria.
The aforementioned groups are fighting under the "Battle of Victory" coalition, which also includes the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, Ansar Sham, Jaish al Islam, the Jabhat Ansar al Din coalition of Harakat Sham al Islam, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar and Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiyya, and Jamaat Ansar al Islam fi bilad al Sham (the Syrian remnant faction of Ansar al Islam), along with many other groups--many of which are Free Syrian Army units.
The Turkistan Islamic Party, which also operates alongside al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and also operates in China, took on a large role in the initial offensive. One jihadist account on Twitter suggested the group captured two regime checkpoints in the city, but this has not been confirmed. However, in a video released by the group, the viewer can clearly see the group took part in some heavy fighting. In a tweet, the TIP also confirmed it lost 20 fighters in the initial assault. (For more, see my reporting at The Long War Journal on this here)
While the coalition has been successful in taking the majority of the city, fighting still rages at the national hospital and the sugar factory. Al Nusrah recently publicized two suicide bombings at the national hospital and are reported to have made gains there but a full capture has not yet been reported, while the Syrian Army still appears to be in control of the sugar factory at the time of this writing.
The coalition was also able to make gains made gains in the surrounding areas. Harakat Sham al Islam, as part of Jabhat Ansar al Din, has released a video showing its forces taking Al Ghani village in Latakia near Jisr al Shughur. The 1st Coastal Division of the Free Syrian Army, which is also in the coalition, has posted many videos of its spoils after overrunning regime positions in the Al Ghab plain in Hama. Ahrar al Sham has also released footage of its gains in the Al Ghab plain.
Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ)
The group was formerly an Uzbek jamaat within the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. However, sometime in late 2014, the group split with Al Nusrah to become its own group. Despite splitting with Al Nusrah, the two groups enjoy close cooperation. KTJ also appears to enjoy close cooperation with the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, Junud al Sham, and the TIP. Based on the video above, it is now known the group operates in Idlib, as well as Aleppo provinces.
KTJ is led by one Abu Saloh, who has been featured in several KTJ videos. Abu Saloh has also been featured in several Imam Bukhari Jamaat videos. The group has publicized working with Al Nusrah and other jihadist groups near Zahraa and Nubl in Aleppo province. The group has also published photos showing the same collection of weapons that Sayfullah Shishani's Jamaat, a Chechen jamaat within Al Nusrah, captured at Al Misaat in Aleppo last year.
KTJ also operates a training camp, which is likely in Aleppo province. In a video released by the group, recruits are shown learning how to operate technicals, learning how to conduct kidnapping operations, as well as undergoing basic weapons training.
The group is likely separate from the Seyfuddin Uzbek Jamaat, which is an Uzbek jamaat within Al Nusrah led by a jihadist named Abu Hussein. According to The Long War Journal, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al Qaeda-affiliated group in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has recruited for the Seyfuddin Uzbek Jamaat in the past. It is unsure if the IMU did the same for the jamaat that became KTJ.
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