As I have covered previously, KTJ is an independent jihadist group that closely operates alongside the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Indeed, the group was once a jamaat within Nusrah, before splitting with the parent organization sometime late last year. KTJ is led by one Abu Saloh, who also used to lead the group when it was still in Nusrah.
The group is known to operate in Aleppo, as well as in Idlib. It is unlikely the group operates in Qalamoun as originally speculated. During the Jisr al Shughur offensive in Idlib earlier this year, KTJ operated closely alongside Junud al Sham, led by the Chechen Muslim Shishani, and the Syrian-wing of the Turkistan Islamic Party. The group also closely coordinated with Al Nusrah in the fight for Musibeen, as seen below:
In Aleppo, the group has long fought alongside such groups as Al Nusrah, the Jabhat Ansar al Din coalition (includes the Chechen/Syrian Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, the Moroccan Harakat Sham al Islam, and the Syrian group Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiyya), and the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, another Uzbek group.
However, in a move that reflects its growing stature, the group recently joined the Ansar al Sharia operations room. The operations room, which was formed on July 2, also includes Nusrah, Ahrar al Sham, Jabhat Ansar al Din, among other groups. In the video announcing the creation of Ansar al Sharia, one of KTJ's military commanders, or its military emir, can be seen behind the speaker in military fatigues (without the face mask):
In another move that raises its stature, Abdullah al Muhaysini, an al Qaeda cleric, recently spoke to the group alongside Abu Ubayda al Madani, the emir of the Chechen Sayfullah Shishani's Jamaat within Al Nusrah. The move was likely a propaganda move and/or for fundraising purposes (Muhaysini is known to fundraise for different groups.) It should also comes as no surprise as close as KTJ is to the al Qaeda network, not to mention that it and the Sayfullah Shishani's Jamaat works closely together in Aleppo and Madani is, himself, an Uzbek.
Muhaysini (left) and al Madani can be seen before KTJ's flag:
Despite only previously thought to only run one training camp in northern Syria, it is now known it runs at least two. In late June, the group uploaded a lengthy training camp video showing a camp in either Aleppo or Idlib province. Unlike its first training camp video, the facility appears to be more permanent and also not in an urban setting.
Also in contrast is the amount of new recruits. In the original video, very few recruits relative to the new video were shown to be training. In one seen in the new video, more than four dozen recruits are seen. While masked, many recruits appear to be Central Asian, however, it is extremely likely that native Syrians or other Arabs were also present.
Additionally, as my friend and college Joanna Paraszczuk put it in a conversation with me, "the video was a show off video." What this mean is that the group was definitely trying to showcase its expansion since the last training camp video.
To avoid having the account shutdown by YouTube, here is a screenshot from the new training camp video:
Over at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Under the Black Flag, Joanna has also covered a recent video where an Uzbek Islamic State militant calls out Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad. The militant does not mention the group by name, but instead mentions Abu Saloh, who led the Uzbek jamaat he was in when he fought with Nusrah. The militant calls on those Uzbeks in Nusrah (and KTJ) to leave and join IS.
Despite KTJ obviously growing in stature, there is no good indication of an estimated size. The group is likely bigger than the Sayfullah Shishani's Jamaat of Nusrah, but it is unknown if KTJ is bigger than the more well-known Uzbek group in Syria, the Imam Bukhari Jamaat.
The Imam Bukhari Jamaat, which was once considered the largest Uzbek group in Syria, has since fallen off of social media after being banned from both YouTube and Twitter. It is unknown if KTJ has surprised the Jamaat, or if the Jamaat is still bigger. However, it should be noted that the two enjoy quite cordial relations with one another. Abu Saloh and his men have been featured in several Imam Bukhari Jamaat videos in the past.
Abu Saloh can be seen in this screenshot from an Imam Bukhari Jamaat video here:
It is also unclear what the status is of the Seyfuddin Jamaat within Al Nusrah. The jamaat is, or was, an Uzbek group within Nusrah. 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 Jamaat in the past. It is unsure if the IMU did the same for the jamaat that became KTJ.
While the world is focused on those foreign fighters flocking to Syria to join the Islamic State, it should always be noted that foreign fighters are also joining al Qaeda and its myriad of affiliated groups within Syria. While many Central Asian countries, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, are worried about their citizens joining the Islamic State, they should also be worried about those who have traveled to join groups like KTJ and al Qaeda.