MILITARY
“We will turn Russia’s time in Syria into another Grozny!” - An exclusive interview with Abdurahman Al-Shishani
16 October, 2015
After four years of armed conflict in Syria, a new player has emerged on the stage – Russia. Putin is now insisting that a new phase of fighting against the so-called “Islamic State” has begun. However, it very quickly became apparent that Russian air strikes target not only posts and training camps of ISIS, but also those of other anti-Assad forces, the so-called “moderate rebels” who dissociate themselves from ISIS. Kviris Palitra newspaper managed to talk to Abdurahman al-Shishani, a
former fighter for one of the more well known groups, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters).

“We are fighting our own war in Syria, against Assad! Americans know thisgeotv.ge very well; we do not pose any threat to them. We do not kill in peacetime, only in war... And we do not cut off heads. They helped us with weapons and training and now suddenly we are the terrorists?”

Abdurahman, a Kist (Georgian Chechen) who has been commanding one of the militant wings of Usud l-Sham (Lions of the Sun) since 2013, was also part of the inner circle of the armed group’s commander-in-chief, Muslim al-Shishani (Murad Margoshvili, another Kist). He turned out to be quite forthcoming with information:

– I came to Syria in the winter of 2013, since the Caucasus Emirate wouldn’t leave Margoshvili and me alone. You see, we did time at a Russian prison together, and thus younger emirs treated us with suspicion. I went to Turkey for treatment after I took two bullets in the leg, and there we – 14 of us, actually – decided to come here, to Syria. It was in Turkey that I first heard the name Tarkhan geotv.geBatirashvili (Abu Omar al-Shishani, currently a notorious ISIS commander – though he is reported dead every few months). Although he also was from the Pankisi Gorge, I did not know him.

Upon crossing the Syrian border, we were introduced to the now deceased field commander Seifullah al-Shishani (Ruslan Machalikashvili), and it was thanks to him that we ended up in Kataib al-Muhajireen (Emigrants’ Brigade). In a few months we were joined by two more groups and this is how Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar was created. However, regardless of all these transformations, we always kept fighting against Assad, who to us is the same as Russia. The Caucasus Emirate did not give us a chance to fight against Russia in the Caucasus, so we came here instead. Here, the suffix “-Shishani” (Chechen) means “enemy of Russia” and commands a lot of respect. We fight bravely. People often ask us where we get weapons and vehicles. Tell you what: When you yearn for war, both will come along in due course.

“If Kadyrov outmaneuvered Batirashvili and killed him, it is our duty to do the same to Kadyrov.”

– Have you crossed paths with Abu Omar – Tarkhan Batirashvili – since then?

– No. When ISIS went on the offensive and captured the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, rumors had it that Tarkhan was the mastermind behind the operation and planned to attack Baghdad next. At the time of ISIS declaring itself a caliphate, Tarkhan, as head of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, controlled the northern part of Syria and wanted to pledge allegiance to ISIS together with his fighters. But they rebelled against the idea and he ended up joining ISIS alone.

– People say he isn’t even alive today… Among them is the Chechen President Kadyrov.

– This is a question to his enemies, not me; they know better. If Kadyrov outmaneuvered Batirashvili and killed him, it is our duty to do the same to Kadyrov. geotv.ge

– The U.S. put Muslim al-Shishani, your leader, on the list of most dangerous terrorists worldwide alongside Tarkhan. But according to you, your group has no ties with ISIS whatsoever. Can you explain?

– We are fighting our own war in Syria, against Assad! Americans know this very well; we do not pose any threat to them. We do not kill in peacetime, only in war... And we do not cut off heads. They helped us with weapons and training and now suddenly we are the terrorists?

“Everyone kept saying that we must go to Russia after Syria, but Russia itself ended up coming to us.”

– Can you comment on the Kurdish armed groups opposing you?

– In Syria, your allies and enemies change by the hour, depending on where you are. Yesterday’s friends might fire at you tomorrow, and vice versa. I did not take part in the battle for Kobani, but word goes around that some Georgian-speaking Kurds were fought against there. I don’t know the details – there is little time for chit-chat during war. In Syria everyone has their own interests and fights for them.

– It seems that Russia has decided to join the free-for-all in Syria. Is it really interested in destroying ISIS?

– It is hard to see the big picture from the battlefield, but... Everyone kept saying that we must go to Russia after Syria. And now Russia ended up coming to us. It aims to destroy all powers working against Assad, and its airstrikes have targeted our allies’ positions several times already. Let them fly. If they end up actually bringing their foot soldiers here, we will turn their time in Syria into another Grozny!

Print