Posted by Aymenn Al-Tamimi on Friday, April 25th, 2014
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Back in December I profiled a variety of battalions of Sunni foreign fighters (part one). Here are some more to add to the list:
Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi
This group, which has existed at least since the summer of last year, is the Libyan division of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), despite false rumours that the battalion had defected to Jabhat al-Nusra. Libya itself has been a big source of muhajireen in both Iraq and Syria over the past decade, so the fact that there is a battalion devoted to recruiting Libyan fighters should come as no surprise. The existence of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi as a front group for ISIS perhaps reflects a wider pro-ISIS trend across central North Africa with the Ansar ash-Shari’a movements in Tunisia and Libya.
In the former country, Ansar ash-Shari’a takes an official pro-ISIS line that dates back to at least the summer of last year (likely explaining the disproportionate number of Tunisian fighters in ISIS’ ranks). In the video linked to, Ansar ash-Shari’a in Tunisia’s official spokesman hails ISIS for making “the Jews, Rafidites [Shi’a] and Nasara [Christians] cry” in addition to freeing Muslim brothers from their prisons. In a document dated to 26th June 2013 and written by Sheikh Abu Ja’afar al-Hatab, a member of the organization’s Shari’a committee, it is argued that “the bay’ah [pledge of allegiance] of Jabhat al-Nusra is false in every aspect, so whoever pledges bay’ah to Jabhat al-Nusra, his bay’ah is corrupt, and there is no bay’ah to him or on him, and the members of Jabhat al-Nusra must repent to God and switch their bay’ah to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.”
Despite the outbreak of wider infighting between ISIS and other rebel groups since January, there is no sign of a distancing on the part of Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia from ISIS.
An ISIS fighter in Syria reciprocates Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia’s support for ISIS: “Support for Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia from the soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.” Image released in late February via Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia social media.
Tunisians feature disproportionately in ISIS’ ranks in both Iraq and Syria. Abu al-Dera’ the Tunisian: an ISIS fighter who along with Abu Hafs of Misrata led the recent ISIS assault on Imam Kadhim University in Baghdad.
Below are some photos of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi.
Abu Ayoub, killed on 30th March this year in al-Markadah, southern Hasakah province. The locality has been renamed “Maysara” by ISIS amid heavy fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic Front and the Authenticity and Development Front.
Not to be confused with Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar, which sometimes used the same name, Katiba al-Muhajireen has been primarily based in the Latakia countryside. It was founded in mid-2012 as an independent group (rather than an ISIS front group as I initially thought; though, like the vast majority of muhajireen groups, it shares the ideological program as Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS) by Libyan muhajireen, some of whom come from the Ansar ash-Shari’a movement. The group participated in the Latakia offensive last summer, but in late December formally joined Jabhat al-Nusra for the sake of unity in the ranks of the mujahideen.
On a more general level, the case of Katiba al-Muhajireen is important in noting that the muhajireen battalions remaining in Latakia have always tended to be closer to Jabhat al-Nusra than ISIS and that has become more so with time. I have already explained this situation with regards to Harakat Sham al-Islam, which still remains an officially independent group. It is also the case with Suqur al-Izz, an officially independent Saudi muhajireen-founded and led group which has had to turn to Jabhat al-Nusra in the face of loss of financial support from private donors in the Gulf (thanks to Chris Looney for corroborating my observation). Indeed, in the ongoing fighting in Latakia, Suqur al-Izz has essentially been subsumed under Jabhat al-Nusra’s wing. It would not be inaccurate to call Suqur al-Izz and Harakat Sham al-Islam al-Qa’ida front-group projects.
Imam Bukhari Battalion
An officially independent Uzbek-muhajireen battalion dating back to at least autumn of last year, the group’s ideology is similar to that of other foreign fighter groupings: that is, at least aspiring for Bilad ash-Sham to be ruled by Shari’a alone. The Imam Bukhari battalion primarily operates in Aleppo province. It is led by one Sheikh Ismail Bukhari.