Friday, January 24th, 2014 | Posted by WorldTribune.com
The Sochi Olympics terror threat has links to camps in Syria that are supported by the U.S.
Special to WorldTribune.com
By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs
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.
A suicide bomber killed 14 people on a Volgograd bus on Dec. 30, the second attack in the city in two days. /AP/Dennis Tyrin
A bomber killed 14 people on a Volgograd bus on Dec. 30. /AP/Dennis Tyrin
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.”
But all this was about to change drastically.
“Praise be to Allah, Emir Dokka Abu-Usman reconsidered his decision and ordered the resumption of the war in this way,” Emir Umar asserted. “And we promise that it will not last long [before the jihadists strike], Allah willing. … Neither Putin nor any other damned politician who beats on his chest and promises you security can guarantee it to you. And Volgograd was a vivid example of that.”
Emir Umar chided the people of Russia for what he considered a disastrous turn of events for Russia. “You started this war in Chechnya, in the 1990s. At that time, Putin promised you victory, but what did he achieve? By the grace of Allah, this war was the cause for jihad spreading throughout the Caucasus. And now we extend it to all of Russia.” The spread of jihad will soon become the instrument expediting the irreversible decline of Russia. Emir Umar made here an important distinction between the forthcoming and imminent jihadist strikes and the overall decline of Russia due to jihadism. He stressed the point for the Russian people. “You still have time, residents of Russia. You have still have some time to halt what comes next to you [that is, terrorism], although you are already unable to reverse [the decline of Russia].” Addressing the possibility of preventing the imminent strikes, Emir Umar explained the Russian people that “now you cannot do it [prevent jihadist strikes], your government did not leave the choice to Muslims, but we give it to you today. Make a decision [to withdraw completely from all lands claimed by the Emirate of the Caucasus]. The order for another attack to destroy Russian crusaders is already under consideration. The choice is yours,” Emir Umar concluded.
Since the Kremlin is not about to vacate the Northern Caucasus and is adamant on conducting both the Olympic Winter Games and the G-8 Summit in Sochi, Emir Umar’s jihadist forces will soon strike repeatedly.
The jihadist network exposed by Israel points out to the new structure of jihadist networks which will also be used in Russia.
The Jerusalem-based cell was built like a Jamaat [a concept derived from an Islamic council or assembly; from Arabic jama’at group, or congregation]. The three members were recruited via the Internet by a Gaza-based Syria veteran who went by the name Arib al-Sham [the Unique One from the Greater Syria]. He claimed to be a senior commander in the global jihadist movement. He conducted a series of examinations and testing via the Internet (including Facebook and Skype) of the three candidates’ knowledge of jihadist theology and basic organizational skills. Only after Arib al-Sham was convinced that the three were indeed committed to the cause he conducted a formal acceptance via the Internet. When the three committed to martyrdom, Arib al-Sham assured the cell members that they now had the endorsement and blessing of Ayman al-Zawahiri for the conduct of their operation, sacrifice, and martyrdom.
At no time, however, did the three see the face of Arib al-Sham or learn his real name.
On instructions of Arib al-Sham, on behalf of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the main responsibility of the Jerusalem cell was to prepare the ground for a series of spectacular martyrdom operations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. If possible, cell leader Iyad Abu-Sara of East Jerusalem would be sent to Syria via Turkey in order to undertake terrorism and clandestine operations training, as well as get some combat experience. However, he would not be responsible for the actual attacks so that preparations could continue even if he did not go to Syria. Once the Jerusalem cell was deemed ready by Arib al-Sham, four or five operatives, all of whom were Russian speakers originally from the North Caucasus and/or Central Asia, would arrive from Syria via Turkey with Russian passports (not clear whether genuine or forged). This would be easy because there is no need for visa for travel between Israel and Russia. These jihadist operatives would build the bombs and then be directed to their targets by the Jerusalem Jamaat-type cell.
Unlike the situation in the North Caucasus, the high-explosives for the Israeli operations were to be received from HAMAS networks in the West Bank.
This new type of cell is optimized for the evolving situation in the North Caucasus.
The new Jamaats which have evolved in the last five to seven years — that is, after the Russian victory in Chechnya and the emergence of the jihadist Emirate of the Caucasus — are nearly impossible to identify and penetrate. Like the Jerusalem cell, these Jamaat’s are minuscule cells operating in isolation from society. They can, and frequently do, launch crude martyrdom operations in their immediate vicinity. However, the Jamaat-based cells exhaust themselves in such a flurry of activities. For example, all but one of the members of the Jamaat that carried out the recent series of bombing in Volgograd died as martyrs.
However, the level of professional expertise of the Jamaats is limited, at best, to crude self-made martyrdom-bombs. Moreover, they do not have access to sophisticated explosives, fuses and other weapons, as well as secure communications. Therefore, the new modality of jihadist operations was formulated, most likely in the jihadist bases in Syria. The main role of the Jamaats is now to prepare the ground, collect target intelligence, maintain support system, and arrange for transportation. The expert operatives, including the would-be martyrs, arrive at the last minute, utilize the preparations of the Jamaats and strike out as quickly as possible.
Recent reports about jihadist activities between Syria-Iraq and the North Caucasus clearly indicate that the jihadists prepare for such Jamaat-based operations. Since early January, there have been reports of dozens of expert terrorists, including West European converts, making their way from Syria and gathering in northern Georgia in preparation for linking up with the Jamaats inside Russia. They are bringing with them sophisticated equipment. These jihadists are expected to spring into action at the last minute, cross into Russia, link-up with their support and guidance cells, and commit their martyrdom strikes before the Russian security services can catch them.
As has always been the case, the Georgian intelligence services are doing nothing to interfere with these activities. (Tbilisi did forewarn Washington, prompting the recent U.S. preoccupation with the safety of the Sochi Games. However, the Obama White House has so far failed to pressure the Georgian security services to do anything.)
Ultimately, however, the forthcoming attempts to strike in Russia — way beyond the North Caucasus — are not the primary goal of the jihadist system organized by Emir Umar and his allies in Syria. Presently, the main schools are located in the jihadist Emirate along the Euphrates Valley mainly between Ar-Raqqah and Deir-az-Zour. Smaller and highly specialized camps are located further along the road to Baghdad all the way to Fallujah. For example, a school in the Ramadi-Fallujah area specializes in training on U.S.-made weapons and systems left behind by the U.S. military. Significantly, the jihadist schools in the jihadist Emirate focus primarily on training and preparing jihadists for spectacular strikes in Western Europe and the United States.
A discernible distinct group of students in these camps are recent Western converts who did not advertise their conversion and who arrived clandestinely in Syria (usually via Bosnia-Herzegovina where they get false papers for the trip to and from Turkey). These jihadists will be able to travel back in the West using their non-Muslim names and EU/U.S. passports until called upon to strike out.
Although Western officials periodically cite the growing numbers of European and U.S. volunteers in the ranks of Syrian jihadists, the leading Western “Friends of Syria” do not seem to care.http://www.worldtribune.com/2014/01/24/the-sochi-olympics-terror-threat-has-links-to-camps-in-syria-that-are-supported-by-the-u-s/
The first terrorism school for Western volunteers was opened in spring 2012 near Idlib; that is, where it is easy to cross from Reyhanli, Turkey. Even at the height of fratricidal fighting between local opposition forces and the jihadists there has never been a real attempt to close/destroy the foreigners’ camp. This camp is presently located in an area claimed by the SNC/FSA (Syrian National Congress/Free Syrian Army); that is, the West’s allies whom the U.S. would like to see in power in a post-Assad Syria.
But the real reason the foreigners’ camp in Idlib continues to function and process a large number of the volunteers arriving to join the jihadists is because the jihadist forces control the area, and not the SNC/FSA. As the U.S.-led West continues to sponsor the SNC/FSA in Geneva, the mere existence of the Idlib camp should serve as a reminder of the true irrelevance and impotence of the West’s allies.