Chechen Leader Spotted in Bakhmut, Fighting Against Russia

Chechen Leader Spotted in Bakhmut, Fighting Against Russia

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On October 22nd, 2022, Ajnad al-Kavkaz leader Abdul Hakim al-Shishani was reported to have arrived in Ukraine after departing the Idlib Governorate, Syria to fight against Russia. According to al-monitor al-Shishani and his fighters “left Idlib for Ukraine to escape the crackdown led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and to seek revenge against Russia and the forces of President Vladimir Putin’s ally, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.”

In fact, upon departing Syria, al-Shishani told press that: “We go to Ukraine to fight the Russians who killed and committed the most heinous crimes against our people in the 1990s. Through Kadyrov, the Russian agent, they (Russian forces) continue to practice violence against every Muslim who shows hostility to Russia, which killed the Syrian people that we came to support.”

He added, “We had hoped to clash with the Russian forces in Syria, but that, unfortunately, did not happen. Russia is fighting in Syria through planes, but in Ukraine, we can confront the Russian army [on the ground]. Every enemy of Russia is a friend of ours. Also, the Ukrainian people are oppressed, and Islam commanded us to support the oppressed, let alone if the oppressor is a common enemy to us.”

Today, he was pictured in Bakhmut, reportedly taking up arms with the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the key city where Ukrainian President Zleneksy visited before departing for the United States a few weeks ago.

Ukraine and the Russian Federation are pouring troops into Bakhmut and Soledar in what is probably the most consequential battle of the war. Since August, the Ukrainians have traded space for time in this city, where approximately 45,000 Russian troops have been tied down with more than 20,000 casualties here alone. In the last 96 hours, repeated mass infantry attacks have sought to dislodge the Ukrainians from Soledar, where a pitched battle is still raging for the administrative building in the center of the town. If forced to retreat from there, the Ukrainians could still fortify the Salt Mines, which present a formidable obstacle to Russian troops. These Chechen fighters not only provide force of arms but also an information warfare advantage, showing that Chechen Leader Kadyrov and his band of Chechens do not speak for the entire ethnic groups.

Ajnad al-Kavkaz (Soldiers of the Caucasus’;short: AK or AAK) is a Chechen-led Jihadi Islamic fundamentalist rebel group active in northern Syria, primarily in the mountainous, forested areas of northern Latakia Governorate. Although formed by former Caucasus Emirate fighters and tentatively linked to the organization, Ajnad al-Kavkaz operated fully autonomously from the beginning and later cut its links with the Caucasus Emirate. By September 2016, Ajnad al-Kavkaz had become “the largest of the Muslim factions from the former Soviet Union fighting in Syria.” However, the activity of these factions dwindled in the following years. (wiki) This group in particular, was part of the Chechen cells exiled from Russia after seeking respite in Turkey and Northern Syria during the Second Chechen War in 2009.

According to Humam Issa, an Idlib-based journalist, who told Al-Monitor, “The Ajnad al-Kavkaz is a moderate, albeit jihadist group that did not interfere with the internal Syrian fighting and did not interfere in the affairs of the Syrian local community. Its main focus was on fighting the Syrian regime forces in the mountains and forests of the countryside of Latakia based on its fighting experience in rugged geographical areas.”

He added, “The group practices no advocacy activity within Syrian society as it does not speak the Arabic language. The group’s forces did, however, play a role in revealing the codes shared among the Russian forces in Syria given their knowledge of this language. These forces have experience in martial arts, in dealing with Russian planes, in digging trenches and in working to prevent Russian airstrikes.”

He continued, “HTS has tightened the noose around this group, especially between 2020 and 2021, as it arrested some leaders close to it. This group included Syrian members and commanders who left the group following the clampdown by HTS. Most of its leaders are now getting ready to go to Ukraine and leave Idlib to escape HTS’ crackdown and to fight the Russian forces in Ukraine.”