It’s interesting to see that a video showing Emir Seyfullakh, an ethnic Chechen rebel leader fighting in Syria, proclaiming his group’s separation from Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar has garnered media and Twitter attention today. In reality, there’s little new in the story: Umar al-Shishani, a fellow Chechen who heads Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar – a rebel group operating primarily in Aleppo Province that has a sizable contingent of fighters from the Former Soviet Union and that appears to have become part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – publicly split with Seyfullakh in early August. It is unclear whether the video is new – since the split, Seyfullakh has lost access to Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar’s Russian-language media platform, FIsyria.com and appears to be reliant on new YouTube accounts to release his videos – but the story certainly isn’t.
The two key points of Seyfullakh’s rambling address in broken Russian, translated into Arabic by a faithful sidekick, are: 1) that the group has “left the [Jaysh] al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar” and become the “Mujahideen of the Caucasus and the Levant”; 2) that the group has no links to Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or any other large group. The three-minute-eighteen-second video was uploaded to an Arabic-language YouTube account on 3 September.
Several media outlets and the Twittersphere have picked up on this story. Reuters, for example, declared that “a group of Islamist militants from Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region fighting in Syria have split with a major al Qaeda-linked rebel unit to form an independent battalion.” An Associated Press report similarly announced that “jihadis from the Caucasus have formed an independent fighting force.”
In reality, al-Shishani ejected Seyfullakh’s group from Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar over a month ago. A 3 August statement on FIsyria.com signed by al-Shishani accused Seyfullakh of spreading fitna, causing resentment among the local population, insubordination, and various other misdemeanors. Al-Shishani declared that Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar’s leadership bears no responsibility for the words and actions of Seyfullakh’s group. Seyfullakh denied the criticisms in a video address posted to YouTube on 4 August. The Jamestown Foundation was among those that reported the split at the time. So the only new thing is that Seyfullakh’s group now has a name. Useful, but not exactly earth-shattering.
As Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”
Update: @NCaucasusCaucus has flagged up a relatively new website, usudusham.com, that looks like it has a primary goal of promoting Seyfullakh now FIsyria.com is lost to him. The website was registered on 12 August, but the registration is private. The website carries a different statement to the one mentioned above: slightly longer, sexed up intro and outro but terrible audio, and with a more Russian focus. But equally lacking in anything substantive or new.