The planned wave of jihadist terrorism against the Sochi Winter Olympics (Feb. 7-23) is likely to be more extensive than was earlier considered, and with broader ramifications.
It also has a strong linkage back into the jihadist groups functioning in Syria with the support of the U.S. and some of its regional allies.
The arrest in Jerusalem around the first of this year of a small jihadist cell provides proof of the long-reported emergence of the jihadist-controlled parts of Syria and Iraq as a bastion of a new generation of international terrorism which is getting ready to strike out.
Although the first unearthed network was to strike in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a primary objective of the new jihadist buildup is the North Caucasus, and especially Sochi: both for the February 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the 40th G-8 Summit scheduled to take place there on June 4-5. (This would not be the first time the Chechen/Caucasian jihadists attempted to strike at an international summit in Russia. Shamil Basayev was target-killed on the night of July 9/10, 2006, preparing to strike the G-8 Summit in that would start in St. Petersburg on July 15, 2006.)
Should the Chechen/Caucasian jihadists attempt to strike out against a major event in Sochi, the perpetrators will be members of a new élite force called Ansar al-Sunnah [Supporters of the Sunnah] trained and prepared by, and presently under the command of, Emir Umar or Abu-Umar al-Shishani [the Chechen]. Significantly, this new élite force has been trained and prepared in jihadist camps in Syria during the current upheaval.
The real name of Abu-Umar al-Shishani is Tarkhan Batirashvili.
He was born in 1986 in northeastern Georgia to a Georgian father and a Chechen mother. He grew up in the Pankisi Gorge and from early age became involved in smuggling and supporting mujahedin, both Chechens/Dagestanis/Caucasians and Arab volunteers. When Batirashvili was 18, he joined the Georgian Army and rose to become a Special Forces NCO. He fought in the August 2008 war against Russia. Batirashvili was arrested in September 2010 for smuggling weapons to Chechnya and Dagestan. Soon after his release in early 2012, he escaped to Chechnya and then to Syria where he joined the fledgling jihadist forces.
In Syria, Batirashvili linked up with the senior Chechen commanders already operating in the jihadist ranks. Most important was Muslim Abu al-Walid al-Shishani, the Emir of Junoud al-Sham [The Armies of al-Sham] who was one of the first jihadists to arrive in Syria. Muslim Abu al-Walid al-Shishani is a veteran of Ibn al-Khattab’s unit of foreign (predominantly Arab) mujahedin which operated in Chechnya and the Pankisi Gorge in the 1990s. Muslim Abu al-Walid al-Shishani knew Batirashvili, now Abu-Umar al-Shishani, as a youth in the Pankisi Gorge, vouched for him, and helped his quick ascent in the jihadist ranks in Syria. They were joined by Sayfullah al-Shishani who arrived in February 2013 and would soon become the Emir of Jaysh al-Khilafat al-Islamiya [The Islamic Caliphate Army] and a close collaborator with Abu-Umar al-Shishani.
Significantly, the three senior commanders swore allegiance to Dokka Umarov (aka Dokka Abu-Usman) and the Emirate of the Caucasus before heading to Syria.
Abu-Umar al-Shishani rose quickly in the jihadist hierarchy of the foreign volunteers and special units. In March 2013, he became the Emir of Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar [The Army of Emigrants and Supporters] when the three predominantly Chechen/Caucasian battalions — Kataeb al-Muhajireen, Kataeb Khattab, and Jaysh Muhammad — were merged into a single unit dedicated to special operations in Syria and overseas. The Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar is the only jihadist force in Syria which is comprised solely of non-Arabs and non-Syrians; that is, predominantly of Chechens/Caucasians, but also of West Europeans and Central Asian and possibly even a few Americans. At that time, Abu-Umar al-Shishani also pledged allegiance to DI’ISH (aka ISIS: the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria) leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In late 2013, Abu-Umar al-Shishani suddenly disappeared. He was officially succeeded by Salahuddin al-Shishani who delivered his first speech as the Emir of Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar around Dec. 25, 2013. In his speech, Salahuddin al-Shishani reiterated the oath of allegiance to DI’ISH and Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.
However, in early January 2014, jihadist sources in Syria reported that a major truce was declared between the ISIS and the Ahrar ash-Sham on the eastern front of Aleppo Province. The handwritten document codifying the truce was signed by Abu-Umar al-Shishani on behalf of DI’ISH and Abu-Khalid al-Suri on behalf of Ahrar ash-Sham.
The direct involvement of Abu-Khalid is of immense importance.
Abu-Khalid is the closest confidant of Abu-Musab al-Suri, one of the greatest luminaries of global jihad, and was released with him from Syrian jail between late-December 2011 and early-January 2012 at the direct intervention of Iran’s Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, one of Iranian Supreme Leader “Ayatollah” Ali Hoseini-Khamene‘i’s closest confidants and the commander of Jaysh al-Quds.2 Since then, Abu-Khalid has been one of the principal allies of Iran’s Pasdaran Intelligence and Jaysh al-Quds in the ranks of the jihadist forces in Syria. Hence, even Abu-Umar al-Shishani did not have exposure to Iranian Intelligence until this point; his dealings with Abu-Khalid al-Suri must have brought him to the attention to the highest echelons of Iranian Intelligence. Significantly, the truce document is undated and could have been signed in mid-December 2013.
In early 2014, the jihadist commanders responsible for the implementation of this agreement were Abu-Bakr al-Shami for the Ahrar al-Sham and Surak al-Tabuki — a Libyan commander — for the DI’ISH.
Meanwhile, around the first of the year (2014), jihadist sources reported that Abu-Umar al-Shishani and a group of close confidants crossed the border into Turkey. They received new documents and traveled on land into the North Caucasus via Turkey and Georgia. According to these sources, Abu-Umar al-Shishani was ordered to Chechnya by Dokka Umarov in person in order to assume command over the special operations and spectacular terrorism forces of the Emirate of the Caucasus.
On Jan. 19, 2014, Abu-Umar al-Shishani resurfaced as Emir Umar, the Commander of the Sabotage Unit of Ansar al-Sunnah. In this capacity, he is responsible for all sabotage and special operations for the Dokka Umarov’s Emirate of the Caucasus.
Emir Umar issued a communiqué warning the people of Russia against a forthcoming escalation of sabotage and martyrdom operations as revenge against Russia’s overall presence in the Northern Caucasus. “You have sent your troops to our land, [and] we have sent to you our own with a return visit. And every one of our soldiers is waiting for Emir’s orders to blow up your calmness as it was happened in Volgograd. It is in your interests to leave our land, to leave immediately the Caucasus, and it is in the interests of your relatives and friends to assist you in it.”.................
Emir Umar emphasized that the recent lull in jihadist terrorism at the heart of Russia was the result of a decision by Emir Dokka Umarov and not the success of the Russian security forces. “Until recently, the Caucasus Mujahedin did not carry out such attacks, but it is in no way because of your ‘omnipotent security services’. Clear your brain, we did not do this only because of the order of our Emir, Dokka Abu-Usman, but none of you understood and appreciated this noble move! Rather, you took it as our weakness, believing in your omnipotence, and you intensified the oppression of Muslims, amusing in your homes and enjoying your impunity. You are deeply mistaken.”