MOSCOW, April 2 (RIA Novosti) – Confirming Russian Islamists’ involvement in the Syrian civil war, a new website has been launched to promote the activity of a Syrian rebel group – in Russian language.
Fisyria.com is a standalone videofeed comprising four entries as of Monday afternoon, the first posted on March 25.
Most entries deal with Jaish al-Muhajireen wa Ansar (“Army of the Emigrants and Helpers”), a group that was created in late March from a merger of several smaller rebel units.
The videos include a mission statement from Jaish, whose spokesman says the group is fighting to install Islamic Shariah law in Syria; a pledge of allegiance by newly joined recruits to Jaish’s leadership; an after-action report on the battle for a military base in Aleppo; and a report of a bombing of a Syrian town, allegedly by governmental warplanes dropping Russian-made bombs, one of which did not explode and can be seen in the video sticking out of the parched, sandy ground.
The website claims Jaish comprises about 1,000 soldiers, including an unspecified number of foreign volunteers, some of them from the “Caucasus Emirate.”
However, the crowd shown in the videos appears to number no more than an estimated hundred or two. All are armed with automatic rifles, and a “technical” – a pickup truck with a machine gun mounted in the back – is parked on the side.
Jaish is led by Abu Omar al-Shishani, a post on the website said. Western media earlier reported that the man, also known as Abu Omar al-Chechen, was a native of the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.
Jaish’s previous incarnation, Kataeb al-Muhajireen, was reported to have been fighting for control of Aleppo since last fall alongside the Al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al-Qaida.
The Russian North Caucasus has a thriving jihadist movement – a legacy of two Chechen wars in the 1990s and 2000s – but their involvement in Syria remains open to question.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov claimed last July that no Chechens were to be found among the rebels fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011 and has cost at least 70,000 lives, according to UN estimates.
But a month after Kadyrov’s statement, the son of a late prominent Chechen jihadist warlord was killed in the battle for Aleppo.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 natives of the Caucasus have lived in Syria for over a century, but analysts said the diaspora is attempting to maintain neutrality in the ongoing civil war.