|Liwa al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar|
(Arabic: لواء المهاجرون والأنصار)
Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
(جيش المهاجرين والأنصار)
|Participant in the Syrian Civil War|
Flag of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
|Active||Summer 2012 – present|
|Area of operations||Northwestern Syria|
|Size||~750 fighters (September 2015)|
|Originated as||Muhajireen Battalion (Katibat al-Muhajireen)|
|Opponent(s)||Syrian Armed Forces|
|Battles and war(s)||Syrian Civil War|
Liwa al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (LMA, Arabic: لواء المهاجرون والأنصار), Brigade of Emigrants and Supporters), also known as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA or JAMWA, Arabic: جيش المهاجرين والأنصار, Army of Emigrants and Supporters), formerly the Muhajireen Battalion (Arabic: كتيبة المهاجرين, Katibat al-Muhajireen), is a Salafi jihadist group consisting of both Arabic-speaking fighters and fighters from the North Caucasus that has been active in the Syrian Civil War against the Syrian government. The group was briefly affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2013, but after changes in leadership, it took an increasingly hostile stance against it. In September 2015, JMA pledged allegiance to the al-Nusra Front.
The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by Canada and the United States. However an analyst named Joanna Paraszczuk has argued that the charges of kidnapping and attacking civilians indicated by the US State Department were unproven; and that the sanctions will have no practical effect.
The group was established under the name Muhajireen Battalion in summer 2012, and was led by an ethnic Kist, Abu Omar al-Shishani ("Father of Omar the Chechen), an Islamist fighter from Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge who had fought against Russia in the Second Chechen War and the Russia-Georgia War. While Syrian jihadist groups like Ahrar ash-Sham and al-Nusra Front included foreign jihadists who had traveled to Syria to fight with the rebels, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar was composed largely of non-Syrian fighters when it was formed. Its membership would come to consist of mostly Arabs from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya.
Role in the Syrian Civil War
The group became involved in the Battle of Aleppo against the Syrian Army and its allies. The group lost ten men in two days in late September 2012 in a confrontation with the Syrian Army; the unit subsequently redeployed after receiving insufficient support from other rebels.
The Muhajireen Battalion went on to participate in major assaults against Syrian military bases in alliance with other jihadist units. In October 2012, they assisted the al-Nusra Front in a raid on the 606 Rocket Brigade, an air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo. In December 2012, they fought alongside al-Nusra Front during the overrunning of the Sheikh Suleiman Army base west of Aleppo. In February 2013, together with the al-Tawhid Brigade and al-Nusra Front, they stormed the base of the Syrian military's 80th Regiment near the main airport in Aleppo.
In March 2013, the Kavkaz Center reported that the Muhajireen Battalion had merged with two Syrian jihadist groups, Jaish Muhammad and Kata'ib Khattab, to form the group Jaish Muhajireen wal-Ansar.
The group played a key role in the August 2013 capture of Menagh Air Base, which culminated in a SVBIED driven by two of their members killing and wounding many of the last remaining Syrian Armed Forces defenders. A branch of the Muhajireen Battalion was involved in the 2013 Latakia offensive.
In August 2013, Abu Omar al-Shishani released a statement announcing the expulsion of one of his commanders, Emir Seyfullah, and 27 of his men from the group. He accused the men of embezzlement and stirring up the animosity of local Syrians against the foreign fighters by indulging in takfir—excommunication—against other Muslims. However, Seyfullah rejected these charges, instead claiming that he had been expelled because he had opposed Abu Omar's plan to merge JMA with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Following the announcement of the death of Caucasus Emirate leader Dokka Umarov in March 2014, a statement from the North Caucasian members of JMA was posted on the rebel Kavkaz Center website pledging allegiance to his successor, Aliaskhab Kebekov.
In February 2014, JMA joined the Ahl al-Sham Operations room, a joint command consisting of the main Aleppo-based rebel groups including al-Nusra Front, the Islamic Front and the Army of Mujahideen. In the months that followed, JMA reportedly spearheaded many of the assaults on Syrian government-controlled areas of western Aleppo. On 25 July 2014, the group joined with several other Aleppo-based jihadist factions into an alliance called Jabhat Ansar al-Din.
In late 2014, the Saudi-dominated faction Green Battalion swore allegiance to JMA leader Salahuddin Shishani and became part of the group. In mid-2015, Shishani was deposed from the leadership following an internal dispute with the Saudi head of JMA’s sharia committee, Mu'tasim Billah al-Madani. Al-Madani subsequently became the new leader of JMA, while Shishani and his North Caucasian loyalists formed a new independent group called Jaish al-Usrah, and swore allegiance to the Caucasus Emirate's then leader, Magomed Suleymanov.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
In late November 2013, in an online statement, Abu Omar al-Shishani swore a bay'at—oath of allegiance—to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The statement claimed that those members of the group who had sworn a prior bay'at to Dokka Umarov, leader of the Caucasus Emirate, were awaiting approval from Umarov before also joining ISIL. The group suffered a split, with hundreds of members siding with Abu Omar and joining ISIL. Those fighters who remained in JMA appointed another Chechen, Salahuddin al-Shishani, as their new commander in December 2013. The group has since fought alongside groups that ISIL has clashed with, and some of its leaders have publicly opposed ISIL. Following the 2015 leadership dispute, many JMA militants reportedly defected to ISIL.
Al-Nusra Front and Tahrir al-Sham
Reuters reported in early March 2015 that the al-Nusra Front had plans to unify with Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar into a new organisation, separate from al-Qaeda. Al-Nusra rejected these reports on 9 March 2015. On 23 September 2015, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar left Jabhat Ansar al-Din and joined al-Nusra.
The al-Nusra Front formed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) on 28 January 2017, with Liwa Muhajireen wal-Ansar as a member group. As part of HTS, the group fought in the northwestern Syria campaign of late 2017–early 2018 and the offensive in mid-2019. On 19 May 2019, during the latter offensive, LMA emir Mansur Dagestani was killed during in combat in the northern Hama Governorate.
The group's leadership structure consists of a military leadership, a sharia committee, a shura council and a media arm, Liwa al-Mujahideen al-Ilami. The latter is the same name as a media group established by foreign mujahideen fighting in the Bosnian War.
The group is composed of diverse nationalities. The Chechen rebel news agency Kavkaz Center described the then Muhajireen Battalion as being made up of mujahideen from the Caucasus Emirate, Russia, Ukraine, Crimea and other CIS countries. Many of them were veterans from other conflicts. Members killed fighting for the group have included ethnic Azeris, Tajiks, Kazakhs and Dagestanis. Some Syrian rebels referred to them as "Turkish brothers". One JMA battalion was composed of jihadists from western countries (the US, the UK, Germany and others) who fought together for language reasons. As the group expanded, it integrated native Syrians into its membership. Following a leadership dispute in mid-2015, the JMA split and became effectively an Arab dominated organisation.
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Madani now serves as a religious leader for LMA and the larger al Qaeda entity, now known as Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (or the Assembly for the Liberation of Syria, HTS).
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