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What are the objectives of the Jihadist groups active in Syria?
Not only Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Over the past decade, Syria has been the area that has seen the greatest spread of jihadist groups. The outbreak of the Syrian civil war has allowed the influx of numerous jihadist fighters from other areas into the country. In addition to the large and well-known al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) (in the last two years he now seems to have turned his ideology and operations towards Islamism), numerous jihadist and tactical groups have formed over the years.
After more than a decade, some of them are still active and operational, many maintain propaganda independence but are aligned with HTS or follow the operational and military directions of its “operations room al-Fateh al-Mubin”, some are still independent, many others such as Muslim al-Shisani’s Junud al-Sham, Katibat Junud al-Makhdi, Katibat Imam al Bukhari, have been dismantled and rendered inoperative, or like Malhama Tactical, fully integrated into the HTS brigades (in the Liwa al-Asaib al-Hamrah assault forces), without producing any more propaganda, still others, like Ajnad al-Kavkaz, have left Syria under pressure from HTS and moved into the Ukrainian conflict.
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In terms of risk assessment and security threats, it is important to understand the Syrian jihadist landscape, as the dynamics involving the Syrian theatre risk also affecting the rest of the region and other geopolitical dynamics, as in the case of some jihadist groups that were operating in Syria and that under pressure from HTS moved to the theatre of operations of the Ukrainian conflict to find new opportunities for jihadist struggle, as in the case of Abdul Hakim al-Shishani and Ajnad al-Kavkaz, and smaller groups such as the Ajnad al-Kavkaz cell, operating in Quneitra and known as Jund al-Qawqaz, composed of Circassian fighters, who decided to follow Abdul Hakim to Ukraine, the fighters of Ajnad al-Sham who in 2017 broke away from HTS to join Ahrar al-Sham and have now left the ranks of the latter to go and fight in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, and finally the same has happened to the fighters of the Khurasan Group.
Therefore, below we will look at the groups that are still active, independent, or aligned and integrated with HTS, for which in analytical and security risk assessment terms, it would be important to monitor.
Independent Jihadist Groups
The only jihadist groups that appear truly independent are. Ansar al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham. The groups have had to face several difficult moments, splits, fragmentations, and defeats, but have always managed to reorganize themselves, renouncing the extreme components and reshaping the leadership and the group. Both are actors that should not be underestimated in analytical and security terms when assessing the risk of the jihadist threat in Syria.
With the rise of the Islamic State, the group then operating in Iraq suffered numerous defections within its ranks, and then in February 2015 the leadership decided to create a branch of the group in Syria, specifically around Damascus and Quneitra, absorbing into its ranks some Syrian Islamist brigades operating in the area, later moving between Idlib governorate and the northern countryside of Latakia. The Kurdish-majority group has always been very close to al-Qaeda since its inception, and in Syrian territory, it became part of the various operational and military halls run by the Syrian Qaedist affiliate Hurras al-Din. However, since 2017 it has stopped supporting operations outside Syria since 2020 it has stopped supporting al-Qaeda operations. As of 2021, the group decided to become independent in operational, decision-making, and military terms for reasons of survival and opportunity.
As of mid-2021, Ansar al-Islam began to clash with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, but although HTS arrested some of the group's leaders, it did not dismantle it either because Ansar al-Islam showed resilience and resistance, or because the group fights the al-Assad regime, which is advantageous for HTS, which only decided to keep it under control.
Since January 2022, it has started to strike regime targets and its Russian allies, particularly at Syrian military posts and checkpoints where Russian army cadres or soldiers are present.
Although the initial membership of the group was mainly Kurdish (Iranians, Syrians and Iraqis), in the years of Syrian operations it began to include Iraqis, Turks, Saudis and Yemenis, with a predominance to date of Syrian Arab fighters. Previously, the leadership of the group consisted mainly of Kurdish and Iraqi commanders, but now their leaders are mostly Iranian and Syrian Kurds.
In terms of numbers, Ansar al-Islam consists of between 250 and 350 fighters. These are highly trained fighters, veterans of first the Iraqi and then the Syrian conflict, and other veterans of the war in Syria, many of whom belonged to other jihadist groups such as Junud al-Sham, Hurras al-Din and Ahrar al-Sham.
The leader of the jihadist group in Syria appears to be Abu al-Hassan al-Kurdi, an Iranian Kurd, and his deputies Abu Saeed al-Kurdi, also an Iranian Kurd, and Abu Abdullah al-Kurdi, an Iraqi. The current Emir, who is in Syria, never appears in propaganda or on the battlefield and adopts very strict security measures, interfaces personally with the rest of the top leadership and does not use any electronic devices, to avoid security problems. The organization’s leadership is all in Syria but has maintained contacts and logistical networks with their cells in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The strongholds, leadership headquarters and training camps are all distributed in different areas of Syria, concentrated in the vicinity of the city of Jisr al-Shughour, in the western part of Idlib governorate, in the Kurdish area of Dweir within the Al-Ghab plain area, the western part of Hama governorate, and in Jabal al-Turkman, north-east of Latakia governorate. In the mentioned areas, Ansar al-Islam has built large military fortifications and numerous Ribat points.
Iraqi cells of Ansar al-Islam are in and around the villages of Biyara and Tawela, north-east of the town of Halabja in the Hawraman region of Sulaimaniya province, on the border with Iran.
The lines of contact and operation against the government army and militias loyal to the regime are almost always in the countryside of Idlib, in the governorates of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia. Ansar al-Islam mainly conducts mortar and artillery bombardment and sniper operations. It also often conducts operations behind enemy lines.
In military terms, it combines experience with constant ideological, religious, and military training. Its snipers are among the deadliest in the jihadist theatre. AAI was the first jihadist group to realize the weakness of Damascus’ Russian ally on the Syrian front, particularly after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, and to intensify its attacks against the Russian military.
Jihadist groups aligned with HTS.
These are jihadist groups that are aligned with HTS in the sense that they respect the rules and policies of HTS but are not integrated as its Liwa. These jihadist groups have independent and different leadership, propaganda and objectives but follow HTS compliance rules and guidelines, such as on the supply, procurement and transportation of weapons, social interactions, religious prescriptions, and management and modalities of economic revenues. In addition, they are required to coordinate military operations with the “al-Fateh al-Mubin operations room”.
It is important to monitor these groups as their stated objectives are outside Syria, and they, therefore, aim to move to their “home areas” in the future, shifting the security threat to other operational and geopolitical theatres.
Yurtugh Tactical is a group composed exclusively of Uyghur fighters founded in 2018, founded by highly specialized and trained veteran fighters.
The objectives of the Yurtugh Tactical group are mainly twofold: to provide military knowledge and training to the Uyghur population, to fight the “Chinese oppressor regime” and to form the East Turkestan state. Despite sharing the goals of the Islamic Party of Turkestan (TIP) and collaborating with the Syrian branch of the TIP, the group’s spokesman emphasized in an interview that they are not aligned or linked to the TIP and that Yurtugh Tactical is completely independent.
The group’s name refers to the military term “Yurtugh”, which identifies a special military unit of the army of the Turkish Kanato Kara-Khanid dynasty.
Yurtugh Tactical has no relationship with other tactical groups such as Malhma Tactical, Fursan Tactical and Muhojir Tactical, but instead has operational and support links with Albanian Tactical. Yurtugh Tactical operating in Idlib does, however, have relations with HTS, it follows the directives in terms of operations of the “al-Fathul al-Mubeen Operations Room”, but no other relations with local jihadist groups. Yurtugh’s spokesperson, interviewed by the author, specified that the statement that they are called Contractors is incorrect, as they do not receive money or get paid for what they do, and all their operations are focused only on “liberating our land from the Chinese occupiers”.
Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) in the land of Sham.
In 2015, the Turkestan Islamic Party leadership decided to send the “Katibat Turkistani”, also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party for the Support of the People of the Levant, to fight in the Syrian civil war, taking part in the Jisr al-Shughur offensive.
The branch of the “TIP in the Sham” immediately forged important military links and collaborations with HTS and between 2015 and 2016 its fighters were decisive in numerous battles, such as the North-West Syria offensive (April-June 2015), the Al-Ghab offensive (July-August 2015), the siege of Abu al-Duhur airbase, the North-West Syria offensive (October-November 2015), the Latakia offensive (2015-2016), the Aleppo offensive (October 2015 to May 2016) the siege of Al-Fu’ah-Kafarya (2015), the Hama offensive (2017). In 2018, he was involved in the intra-jihadist infighting in Syria between Jabhat Tahrir Souriya (JTS), the Liberation Front of Syria and Ahrar al-Sham against Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. Between 2019 and 2021, the TIP took part in numerous offensives against the regime of Bashar al Assad and its allies, in the provinces of Hama and Latakia.
In 2022, the TIP published videos and photos to show the training moments of its fighters in Syria. In 2022, it consolidated and strengthened its Ribat points in Jabal Al-Zawiya, Sahl al-Ghab, Jabal al-Turkman and Jisr al-Shughur and supported HTS brigades in several military operations.
It is an ally of HTS, cooperating with the “al-Fateh al-Mubin Operations Room”, but remains an independent group bound by the directives and rules primarily of the TIP's central leadership. The link between the TIP and HTS could grow and expand the already existing Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham networks in Central Asia and provide logistical help should the TIP decide to shift its operations geographically.
Xhemati Alban - Albanian Tactical
The “Battalion of the Albanian Congregation” is a jihadist group that emerged in 2012 consisting of approximately 30-50 Albanian fighters from Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and the Presheva Valley (territory of southern Serbia). The group claims in its propaganda to fight on the 'Way of Allah”.
Since its formation, it has played an important role in the north-western Syrian jihadist galaxy, despite its small numbers, since it manages both the military and operational aspects, conducting offensives and defending Ribat points in the governorates of Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Latakia, and the organization and management of training camps.
It participated in the sieges of the cities of Al-Fu’ah and Kafarya, and in the counter-offensive on Kodra Isa, in which this congregation carried out a sacrifice attack.
It participated in campaigns to defend “liberated areas” in the Russian/Syrian/Iranian offensive by defending Ribat points in the village of Kbene, on the northern outskirts of Hamas.
The group participated in offensives in northwest Syria to liberate Abu Dhuhur, Jisr Shuguri, Keseb, and Mostuma.
The group consists of four units: snipers, miners, artillery and mortars, and a tactical group (Albanian Tactical).
According to recent information retrieved by the author, the group has two factions within it, the one linked to the historical leader Abu Qatada al-Albani who is very close to Abu Muhammad al-Julani and who supports the group's entry into the Liwa of HTS and the one instead led by Musa al-Albani who opposes this choice, who instead wants the group to remain only aligned with HTS and to coordinate with the “al-Fateh al-Mubin Operations Room” but to maintain its leadership and propaganda independence.
The leader and military commander are Abdul Jashari alias Abu Qatada al-Albani was born on 25 September 1976 in Skopje, the current capital of North Macedonia. Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the leader of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, appointed Abu Qatada al-Albani in the summer of 2014 as head of the group’s military operations in Syria. The US Treasury Department designated Abdul Jashari as a terrorist on 10 November 2016. Between 2019 and 2020, he served as a member of the reconciliation committee with Hurras al-Din.
Xhemati Alban and Albanian Tactical have been promoting strong propaganda since 2017, about military operations conducted by their snipers and about military training, planning, and the production and modification of weapons.
Xhemati Alban’s medium to long-term threat assessment is linked to the group’s areas of origin, which could see them decide to move again to operate in the Balkans, an already geopolitically complex and unstable area.
Selahaddin el-Kurdi Hareketi
The “Movement of Salah al-Din the Kurd” is a jihadist group that first emerged in Syria in 2012 but has been truly operational since 2015. The group is composed exclusively of Kurds (Syrians, Turks, Iraqis, and Iranians). Currently, its areas of operation are between the southern countryside of Idlib and the northern countryside of Latakia.
The Kurdish jihadist movement has a training camp in the Jabal al-Akrad area, its members are well-trained, and the leadership is mostly composed of Kurdish fighters from eastern Turkey.
Selahaddin el-Kurdi Hareketi participated in the most important battles in northern Syria, such as the campaigns in the city of Aleppo, Taftanaz, and Raqqa, the liberation of the city of Idlib and the coastal battles in the governorate of Latakia.
The fighters of the Kurdish movement, in the absence of direct military operations against the Syrian governmental army, engage in the defence of Ribat points in the Jabal al-Akrad areas, particularly the Kabinah area, the Al-Ghab plain and Sarmania, sniping operations and sabotage operations behind enemy lines.
The group is aligned with HTS rules and shares the HTS goal of overthrowing the al-Assad government, as well as collaborating with the “al-Fateh al-Mubin operations room”.
As also shown in the widespread propaganda, the group conducts numerous types of activities in addition to military activities, such as military training for both members of the Kurdish movement and HTS brigades, supporting orphans and families of 'martyrs', supporting school education and relief and assistance activities for displaced persons.
In numerous statements, the Kurdish jihadist group has clarified their objectives, which are to “preserve the rights of the Kurds, fight injustice against them, and unite all Kurds in one Islamic State”.
In the short to medium term, however, the main goal is to succeed in recruiting and expanding their influence on the Syrian Kurds. Obviously, in terms of security threat analysis, the group's goals may create further instability in the Levantine region.
This is a recent group compared to the others, born in March 2018, when some leaders of groups that were part of the now dismantled “Jund al-Aqsa” organization in the city of Sarmin announced the formation of Ansar al-Tawhid. In late April 2018, Ansar al-Tawhid decided to start collaborating with the Qaedist Hurras al-Din and Ansar al-Islam. In September 2018, it joined the “Rouse the Believers operations room” together with Hurras al-Din, Ansar al-Tawhid and Ansar al-Din Front, to oppose any attempt to demilitarize northwestern Syria envisaged by the Sochi agreement and with the aim of “establishing Islamic law and repelling the enemy” and overthrowing the al-Assad government. In May 2020, to avoid HTS aggression targeting Hurras al-Din and al-Qaeda-aligned groups, Ansar al-Tawhid declared its full independence and disengaged from all alliances.
The group is stationed in the rural areas and countryside of Idlib governorate, with strongholds located in the towns of Sarmin and Neirab, and has between 300 and 400 fighters, mostly veterans of the Syrian war and experts in military operations conducted with mortars, artillery, tanks, direct military operations, sniping and behind enemy lines. The operations against the Syrian government army and the Russian military are conducted in the southern part of Idlib governorate, in the mountainous areas in the northern countryside of Latakia and the western countryside of Hama.
According to sources in Syria and close to the group, there are currently two currents within the leadership, the first still in favour of an alignment with al-Qaeda and the second in favour of the current operational choice, that of collaborating and being militarily aligned with HTS, as has been the case in recent months. Last week, as proof of this military choice, Ansar al-Tawhid conducted three vast military operations in the Jabal al-Zawiya area of the Idlib military campaign, striking with mortar, artillery, and mortar attacks against Syrian army government forces and its Russian allies.
In terms of analysis and security threat assessment, Ansar al-Tawhid’s collaboration with HTS further increases the military and operational capabilities of the group, which is still among the most well-armed and trained in Syria.
On 23 January 2012, the jihadist Salafist battalions of Ahrar al-Sham were officially announced in Idlib Governorate to fight and overthrow the regime. The group initially operated in the governorate of Idlib, but quickly expanded throughout Syria. In 2013, the group had over 20,000 fighters and was the largest group in Syria, but from 2014 onwards, the organization began to undergo numerous splits and fragmentations. In June 2015, Ahrar al-Sham with the support of Jaysh al-Fatah defeated the Syrian army outside the governorate of Idlib. Between 2015 and 2016, Ahrar al-Sham, with the support of Jabhat al-Nusra, also began conducting military operations against the Islamic State, particularly in the areas of Raqqa in northwestern Syria,
In the same years, the group suffered a severe blow from infighting and fragmentation, losing its strong influence in northern Syria to other jihadist groups, notably the future HTS. In May 2016, it resumed offensives against the Syrian government army in cooperation with Jaysh al-Fatah in the Aleppo governorate. At the end of 2016, Ahrar al-Sham suffered a major fragmentation due to internal disagreements over participation in the Turkish Operation Euphrates Shield and disagreements over merger negotiations with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. In January 2017, fighters from Jaysh al-Mujahideen, the Aleppo Levantine Front and Jaysh al-Islam based in Idlib merged with Ahrar al-Sham.
In May 2017, the already difficult relationship between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham began to sour, due to Ahrar al-Sham's support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), disagreements over the supply of electricity in Idlib, control of transport routes and strategically significant cities, and control of armed opposition factions. Open conflict between Ahrar al-Sham and HTS erupted in July 2017 in eastern Idlib and southern Aleppo. HTS quickly became the dominant force in Idlib, with Ahrar al-Sham quickly losing hundreds of fighters and its political and economic clout.
In February 2018, the Sunni Islamist group Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement merged under the banner of Ahrar al-Sham. In August 2018, the group joined a Turkish-led coalition called the National Liberation Front (NLF), which clashed militarily and repeatedly with HTS until March 2019, when HTS emerged victorious, successfully strengthening its control over most of northwestern Syria
In May 2019, Ahrar al-Sham, through a decision by the military leader began to normalise relations and started to collaborate with HTS to counter Syrian government army offensives in the Idlib governorate. Between November 2020 and October 2021, Ahrar al-Sham underwent a new fragmentation with the following defection of thousands of fighters after Jaber Ali Basha, the group's leader, sacked the head of the military wing Hassan Sawfan for his links with HTS and clashes between the factions over how to take Ahrar al-Sham forward. A new internal crisis within the group occurred in November 2022 when there were numerous 'internal coups' between the different factions/brigades of Ahrar al-Sham over the leadership of the group, splitting into three factions, the one led by Hassan Soufan in favour of an alignment with HTS, the one against HTS led by Youssef al-Hamawi and instead a faction made up of numerous sub-groups that remained neutral to the dispute.
Although Ahrar al-Sham confronts the military operations room of HTS to undertake its military actions (this is also evident in the propaganda), the group remains, albeit with many difficulties and defections, independent in its leadership and propaganda. The rapprochement, however, with HTS is increasingly evident; after all, they share the same objectives, namely, to replace the Assad regime with an Islamic state governed by Sharia law.
In analytical terms and terms of risk and threat assessment, Ahrar al-Sham is a group to be held in high regard because although with great difficulty, it continues to operate, maintains real control over numerous areas, clashes with other factions and groups often causes instability in the areas concerned, and attacks against the Syrian army and its allies are frequent and violent.
Like HTS, Ahar al-Sham also seems to have turned its ideology and operations towards Islamism over the past two years.
Jihadist groups integrated into HTS but with independent propaganda.
Then there are the jihadist groups that are propagandistically and media-wise independent of HTS, maintain their logos and leaderships, and publish their propaganda, but are in operational and military terms fully integrated into the Liwa/Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham Brigades and conduct military operations in coordination and collaboration with them.
Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ)
It is a jihadist group composed mainly of Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz fighters, which today operates as the Liwa/Brigade of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the Liwa “Abu Ubeida al-Jirrah”.
Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad was created in northern Syria in 2013 by Sirojiddin Mukhtarov, alias Abu Saloh, an influential ethnic Uzbek Jihadist Salafist from the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan. Under his leadership, the group swore allegiance to al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al Zawahiri and joined the al-Nusra Front in September 2015. The current leader of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad is Ilmurad Khikmatov, aka Abdul Aziz al-Uzbeki, who was elected as the new leader in April 2019. Interestingly, the previous leader Abu Saloh was removed from leadership under pressure from Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham for openly supporting his jihadist opponent, the qaedist group Hurras al-Din.
Since 2014, it has operated throughout northwestern Syria alongside the al-Nusra Front and then HTS. Its fighters have participated in numerous battles against the regime over the years, such as the offensives in Jisr al-Shughur, Latakia, Idlib, Hama and Aleppo. More recently “Tavhid va Jihod” fighters were seen manning the front lines in Jabal al-Zawiyah and conducting attacks in Idlib's southern countryside (the last two around mid-January ‘23).
In March 2022, the US State Department designated Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) as a global terrorist group.
The group operates mainly in Syria’s Idlib province, collaborates with other jihadist groups such as Liwa al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, and established its tactical group a few months ago called Muhojir Tactical. In addition to engaging in military activities in Syria, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad has previously operated directly and indirectly outside the Middle East.
The group consists of 400 to 500 fighters, specializing in sniping operations, operations behind enemy lines, direct assaults and attacks with artillery and mortars. Its current emir is Ustoz Abdul Aziz, while the imam’s main ideologue is Ahluddin Navqotiy.
The group, although linked to HTS, has its own very strong ideological and doctrinal basis, whose main goal is to overthrow the 'regimes' of Central Asia, overthrow Russian influence and build a single caliphate where Shari'a is applied, and which has its operations centre in the Ferghana Valley. Today, the jihadists of Katibat al-Tawhid al-Jihad act as ideological mentors and protectors of foreign militants from Central Asia and the Caucasus and spread their jihadist and anti-Russian ideology in the Ferghana Valley and among Central Asian migrants living in Russia, which is why, in terms of analysis and security threat assessment, this group should be strongly cautioned and monitored as it evolves.
Liwa al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (LMA)
The “Army of Emigrants and Supporters” was founded in 2012 under the name “Muhajireen Battalion” and was led by Abu Omar al-Shishani. In March 2013, the Muhajireen Battalion merged with two Syrian jihadist groups, Jaish Muhammad and Kata'ib Khattab, to form the Jaish Muhajireen wal-Ansar group. In late November 2013, in an online statement, Abu Omar al-Shishani pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and decided to join the Islamic State. The group suffered a major split, with hundreds of members siding with Abu Omar and joining ISIS. Instead, the original group began cooperating with the al-Nusra Front and actively participated in the Aleppo offensives against the Syrian army and its allies, in 2013 and throughout 2014. On 23 September 2015, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar officially allied with the al-Nusra Front and on 28 January 2017, Liwa Muhajireen wal-Ansar became a Liwa of HTS “Saeed bin Zeid”.
With HTS, the group fought all campaigns in northwestern Syria between late 2017 and mid-2019, in the governorates of Idlib and Hama. Since 2020, the group has been engaged in offensives under the military supervision of the HTS operations room, fortification, and control of Ribat points, reconnaissance and observation of enemy positions, training of other brigades, conducting sniping, artillery and behind enemy lines operations.
The leadership structure of the group is composed of military leadership, a Shari'a committee, a Shura council, and a media arm (LMA). The group operates in the governorates of Latakia, Aleppo, and Idlib and is composed of between 400 and 500 fighters, mostly Chechens, Tajik Dagestanians, Azeris, Kazakhs, and Ukrainians, but also includes Libyans, Saudis, and Turks.
The current leader of the LMA is Abdullah Dagestani, who is often shown in photo checking points in Ribat, while the military leader is al-Bara al-Shishani.
LMA’s objectives are the overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the expulsion of the 'invaders' allied to it such as Russia and Iran, and the establishment and government governed by Sharia law.
In terms of analysis and threat assessment, it must be monitored as it is not only very well-trained, well-armed and well-established but also consists of hundreds of fighters from Russian territory or areas of the former Soviet Union.
On 9 November 2022, on various social networks and messaging apps, Uzbek fighters spread a 10-minute video announcing the formation of Muhojir Tactical and the speaker, Abu Valid al-Shami, a member of the jihadist group KTJ, explained what he would be dealing with: “In this project there will be introductions on how to use weapons, we will explain mistakes not to make in battle or actions that should be done, what uniforms and tactical material to use, how it should be worn”. The video also introduces the instructor of the Muhojir Tactical apprentice to the jihadist group LMA.
The new tactical group is linked to the Uzbek jihadist group “Katibat Tavhid vo Jihod (KTJ)”, and “Liwa al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (LMA)”. This new tactical group has already released numerous photos and four videos in just a few months of activity, showing the use of various weapons, accessories, and operational tactics. The video and photo material produced has been widely disseminated on social networks and messaging apps, in all Russian-speaking channels, Uzbek-speaking channels, KTJ- and LMA-related channels and many pro-HTS channels, reaching thousands of views.
The emergence of Muhojir Tactical shows two interesting elements. The first is the definitive establishment of tactical groups within the Syrian jihadist galaxy, and the second is that although tactical groups appear to be divided according to nationality and connection to a particular jihadist group, they often collaborate. It is necessary to pay close attention to this type of group and its propaganda, as it shows important elements such as that jihadist groups, even the smallest or independent ones, have achieved a very high military and training capacity, and perhaps most importantly, is that the Syrian theatre is for Muhojir Tactical and other tactical groups or linked to it, only the area in which to train and gain experience before having the opportunity to take the jihadist fight to other theatres of operation.
Harakat Muhajirin Ahl Sunnat Iran
The “Muhajireen Movement of the Sunnis of Iran” is a Jihadist Salafist group composed exclusively of Iranian Sunni fighters, mainly Kurds and Beluchis, mostly from the northwestern regions of Iran. They are integrated within HTS as Liwa “Omar bin al-Khattab”. They arrived in Syria between 2013 and 2014 by air and land and joined the al-Nusra Front. They were prominent in the offensive campaigns in Aleppo in 2016 and those in Hama in 2017 and the last two years, particularly in the defence of Ribat points and offensives in the areas of Latakia and Jabal al-Zawiya south of Idlib.
The group’s fighters are veteran and highly trained jihadists, their strongholds and training camps are in the Kabani area, in the Turkmen and Kurdish mountains in the northern countryside of Latakia and the mountainous areas in the southwest of Idlib governorate. The movement is led by Abu Safiya al-Kurdi, a fighter very close to HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani. They are involved in military operations, training, support, and aid to the displaced camps and the defence of Ribat points. They number around 300-400 fighters.
The current objectives of the movement are to overthrow the al-Assad government, fight its allied Iranian militias and establish a government governed by Islamic law.
In terms of its security threat assessment, although it is currently linked to HTS not only militarily but also in recruiting Kurds into their brigades, it has often released videos or statements condemning and threatening the Iranian regime, such as recently when it stated in a statement that Sistan & Baluchistan is the “red line of Sunni Iran”, which could provoke them to retaliate against the regime.
Katibat Mujaheddin Ghuraba Division
In July 2017, a new jihadist group established itself in northwestern Syria, the Katibat al-Ghuraba al Turkistan, when it began disseminating videos of its battles against the Assad regime alongside other jihadist groups. The group collaborated with Malhama Tactical between 2018 and 2019 and with other jihadist groups such as KTJ and LMA. It is integrated in HTS, as a brigade Omar bin al-Khattab, with which it has participated in several offensives in northern Hama and southern Aleppo. Since 2022 it has shown itself in its propaganda and operations under the name “Katibat Mujaheddin Ghuroba Division”, “Ghuroba al-Turkestan” or “Ghuroba Community”.
The group is mainly composed of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Uyghurs but also includes Arab fighters within it. The areas where it is established and operates are the governorate of Idlib and Aleppo. There are no more than 100 fighters. They mainly engage in attacks against Syrian government army positions and the fortification and control of Ribat points in the northern areas of the Aleppo governorate. It also holds a training camp, where it trains its recruits, particularly in the use of sniper rifles and AKs.
Through Guroba Media, the group disseminates propaganda in Uzbek and Uyghur languages, in particular photos and videos, in which it often not only shows meetings, training and military operations but also publishes propaganda videos against China and Russia.
Daniele Garofalo is a researcher and analyst on Jihadist terrorism and an expert in monitoring Jihadist media channels.
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