Georgia is our homeland – Exclusive interview with Muslim al-Shishani a.k.a Murad Margoshvili
25 February, 2019
Georgia is our homeland – Exclusive interview with Muslim al-Shishani a.k.a Murad Margoshvili
Georgian Journal offers its readers an exclusive interview with Muslim al-Shishani, a commander of Junud al-Sham in Syria. Junud al-Sham is a group of Chechen and Lebanese Sunni mujahideen fighting against the Assad Regime. Muslim al-Shishani is currently fighting in Latakia, Syria. He agreed to be interviewed by Nino Burchuladze from Syria and to provide information regarding the August War 2008, the Lapankuri special operation and Ahmed Chatayev's case.

- You took part in the Chechen war. You had fought against
the “Underground Russia” since then and were arrested for organizing the terrorist acts in Mozdok. Is it true that when the jury found you not guilty, the FSB army aimed to abduct you from the court? The trial was reported by the journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Yes, I did take part in the wars. I was protecting my people from the occupants. However, I am not a terrorist. I have never carried out a terrorist act against the civilians. But on the contrary, I was fighting against those armed people who came to my land and threatened, tortured and killed my fellow citizens.
I was captured and brutally tortured by the Russians in 2003. I was accused of forming an illegal armed group. The punishment for an average fighter involved 5-year imprisonment. I was accused of only taking part in the crime and consequently, I was sentenced two years in prison by the Nazran court. Since the investigation process lasted nearly two years, I was soon to be released. The FSB was not happy with the decision and continued the investigation on banditry. They attributed the Mozdok terroristic acts to me. In short, I was justified again, as I could not be convicted in the same case twice. I was found not guilty after two years and four months by the jury. When the FSB faced the fact that I was released, they besieged the court. Thanks to some of the guards, I got out of prison.

-Together with other Kists, you were allegedly preparing to fight against Russia in the August War 2008.

Yes, we were. When we heard that the Russian army was invading Georgia, we offered our help to the Georgian Government. At first, they told us to wait and promised to call us if needed. After a while, a man came and asked us to enter the war as the situation was extremely tense. We were ready to join the army envisaging the danger. That same night over 200 fighters were gathered and the first group was immediately sent to the war. Then, the rest of the group headed for Tbilisi to reach the capital until the dawn. Late at night, we were informed about the French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s arrival in Georgia. Our fighters backed off and soon the war ended due to the negotiations. There is nothing strange about that, Georgia is our homeland and to take part in the war was our responsibility too. We could not stand aside.

-Time will probably come when we will talk more about the August war. Now I would like to ask about the Lapankuri special operation because of high public interest. What happened in Lapankuri and why was your name connected with the unsolved case? Once you have said that you moved to Syria after the Lapankuri operation. Why did you choose Syria? You could go to Ukraine and continue fighting against Russia there.

In fact, I went to Syria before the operation. The well-known events occurred after a month and a half of my departure. Thanks to god, I had nothing to do with the Lapankuri operation. I do not want to go deep into the details. However, I did try to help my fellow brothers in Chechnya, but that has never caused any harm to Georgia. In the beginning, I controlled the entire process, but then I realized that some of the members of the Caucasus Emirate intended to take everything away from me. Moreover, it became apparent that I was losing control. I talked about its details in one of the interviews. An extract from the interview was published by newspaper Kviris Palitra in 2013. I did not trust the people who took over the control and I knew everything would be attributed to me in the end. That’s why I decided to leave Georgia. At that time, I had no idea they would go this far…. I went to the people in Syria who asked for my help. Ukraine was supported by Europe, while the Assad Regime was killing thousands of their citizens.
- You have mentioned help. What kind of help were Syrians asking for? And could you tell us more about Junud al-Sham (fighters of Syria)?

In 2012 I was asked for help by several Muslims who were living in Syria. They wanted us to teach Syrians how to fight because they were weak in fighting. As soon as I arrived in Syria, they gave me land, where I opened the training center. We started to train local youth. First I thought to choose one of the groups and work under their command, but soon I realized that there was different approach between these groups and if I became affiliated to one, I would not be able to help others. I wanted to help people, not any specific group. That is why I arrived in Syria. After a while, it became clear that our help was necessary on the battlefield. Assad was losing lots of territories, but the loss of soldiers from our side was high as well due to lack of experience.

I arrived in Syria with a small group. We decided to take part in military operations and thus support groups that needed our help. When mujahideens saw that we were experienced and knew how to fight, they started to join us. Among them were both locals and immigrants.

Sometimes we were asked by group leaders not to accept any more from their fighters or they would run out of soldiers. We did not intend to create a large group, compete and alienate others. There were lots of others fighting each other. Because of this, we only used to accept experienced soldiers who were able to help us both on the frontline and in training.

First, we were called the Chechen group. I did not want another name. But soon people from other nationalities joined us and the name could make them feel irritated. That is why we were named Junud al-Sham or Fighters of Syria. Our position has not changed since then – we do not get involved in conflicts among groups. Our aim is to help people! That is why we are appreciated here.

- Why did not you admit volunteers from the Pankisi Gorge? Because of being inexperienced or you did not trust them? Only Zura Alkhanishvili also known as Gray Man was with you…

It is not a matter of trust. I know our people and I have accepted some of them. The thing is we all know each other in Pankisi. When someone arrived in Syria, my relatives were suffering in Pankisi. I did not want my parents to have problems. But of course, support from our valley was vital because in places like this loyal people are necessary.

- What kind of relations did you have with the Caucasus Emirate after arriving in Syria? Once it was said that you would become head of the Emirate, some believed it, including me. I wrote an article then, called “Emir is dead, cheers to new Emir!”

As I have mentioned I tried to help my brothers in Chechnya. I opposed their later policy, but we could still cooperate. But what was happening outside Chechnya, in the Caucasus Emirate was unacceptable. I went to Syria disappointed. I decided to stay at arm’s length from all this. As for being the leader of the Emirate, I have never wanted that.

- Have you known Tarkhan Batirashvili? How do you think, why did he decide to join the ISIS and you abstained? ISIS had large resources then: money, glory, and territories. Was it their methods that were unacceptable for you?

Even in the Pankisi Gorge, I knew Batirashvili as a good person. When the Caliphate was declared, I visited him and tried to persuade him that the Caliphate was not what we arrived for and their brutality had nothing to do with Islam. Unfortunately, Batirashvili made this decision because of being inexperienced and because he was enchanted by the glory of the Caliphate. I could not support brutality they were doing. I think they killed more Muslims than enemies.

- ISIS used to threaten Georgia. What was your reaction?

Caliphate alienated the world against them with that kind of threats and now we see results of their politics. No matter where they are, they start fighting, firstly against Muslims and then each other. That is why we will not stand aside and will do everything to stop them. I think few Georgian Muslims will join them. If we take into account unfairness against Muslims in the world and compare it to Georgia which protects the balance between different confessions, I assure you, countries that make the most statements about democracy and freedom of speech should take after Georgia. Georgia is our only homeland – we were born there, there are our parents and relatives, our loved ones, I have spent my childhood, the best part of my life in Georgia and what I wish today is to visit my relatives there.

- What does it mean to fight against the Assad regime? Have you done everything you could?

It is always bad to fight against others, but God obliges men to protect weakly and if we want to serve God, we should follow these rules. When you see how innocent women, children, elders are being bombed and attacked with chemical weapons, only then you see why men have above-mentioned obligations. 90% of victims are innocent civilians after all! Everything that is happening in Syria, we have experienced in Chechnya, when our loved ones were brutally killed. Who could understand to Syrians better than us?

As for the war and our capabilities, I think we have not done even half of what we could. We are limited in finances and ammunition here. We had to obey to inexperienced ones in battle, as a result, we used to lose our soldiers. Nevertheless, we did not lose people from our fighters. I hope people will get tired of obeying untalented leaders and worthy people will change them. Only after that will we be able to help them.

- Why Jihad in Syria did not bring results and why is the Syrian conflict called “War of all against everyone”? The war started against one common enemy – the Assad regime, nevertheless, even immigrants started slaughter of women, children, and Muslims there.

Yes. In the beginning, when the Syrian people were united against the Assad regime, fight against them was successful, their troops were forced out from many places. But unfortunately, some countries (I do not want to name them) have their specific interests, they launched their own game and used the people as cannon fodder. Sadly, in every nation, there are people who are ready to exchange their people for temporary pleasures. These countries started to use that kind of people and planted division among people, then financed opposing sides. I first saw the scale of the dirty game in Syria. Their countries spread disinformation and pretend to be saviors, but they do the biggest evil.

- What do you think, who will come out victorious from Syria and can mujahideens win?

I hope people will realize what is going on and unify like they used to be in the beginning. I think there still is a chance for that.

- It is said that you were involved in the Turkish military operation in Syria “Olive Branch” that was launched in 2018 against the Kurds in the Afrin region and that you were standing by the Turks. You have denied it in the last interview, but I would still like to ask you the same question…

You are right. There were these talks and I had to deny it several times. But usually, information published about me spreads quickly but my position – does not. There were other rumors about me, but as far as I have limited connections with media, everything stays the same.
I did not participate in the Olive Branch military operation. We were in Hama at the time and the enemy was attacking us.

- What is your opinion about the Chataev Case and events around it in Tbilisi last year? Will this affect the future of our fellow citizens who fight in Syria, even if they are not included among members of the Caliphate?

The Chataev Case is special. I do not know why the Caucasus Emirate did not judge him according to the Sharia Laws. I know that Dokka Umarov ordered to find out what happened during the Lapankuri Operation and strictly punish those who were guilty. Chataev is now dead, I do not want to go into specifics, but I can say this: Chataev broke the order of the main Emir saying that nothing should have done in Georgia that would spoil relations between us. Chataev broke the order that is obligatory for every Muslim, even if the order was given to non-Muslims. Thus he showed ungratefulness to the country which saves him from the [Russian] FSB once. What Chataev did cannot be justified.

- As far as I am concerned, 2 or 3 years ago you were shot in Idlib. Your fellow from the Pankisi Gorge took part in that. He is dead now but is not it sad that fellow citizen fights against you on foreign land?

This information is not entirely true. I was not shot. We had token measures before he could hurt us. It is very sad that you are betrayed by someone you do not expect. But things like that happen and I cannot avoid it. There are stories in history how great friends became enemies to each other.
- Do you have a family, children?

Of course, I do, I was not born with a gun in my hands. I am just like you, soldiers have the same feelings as you. We love life, family, relatives, homeland. We know the worth of all this better than anyone else. That is why I try to spend as much time with my family and children as possible. I do not want them to feel neglected and I want them to know – I will do everything for them.

- What will Muslim Abu Walid al-Shishani do if one day he gets tired of war?

Frankly speaking, I have never thought about that. I do not expect to live that long. I know that Allah has assigned time for everyone and I am not the exception. I would like to help the oppressed while I can. I Allah prolongs my days and time comes when I am not able to help others, I will go somewhere and have beehives, give honey to everyone. As prophet Muhammad says, the least kindness you can do to others is not to hurt them neither with your words or behavior.

Author: Nino Burchuladze

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