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Liwa al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar

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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.[15] The group was briefly affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2013,[5] but after changes in leadership, it took an increasingly hostile stance against it.[16] In September 2015, JMA pledged allegiance to the al-Nusra Front.

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 Jaysh al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.png
Flag of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
ActiveSummer 2012[1] – present
IdeologySalafi jihadism
  • Sheikh Mu'tasim Billah al-Madani[2] (September 2015–present)
  • Mansur Dagestani [3]
  • Abu Ibrahim al-Khurasani[4] (June 2015–September 2015)
  • Salahuddin al-Shishani[5] (December 2013–June 2015)
  • Abu Omar al-Shishani[6] (summer 2012–winter 2013)[5]
Area of operationsNorthwestern Syria
Size~750 fighters (September 2015)[7]
Part of




Opponent(s) Syrian Armed Forces
Battles and war(s)Syrian Civil War
Originated as
Muhajireen Battalion (Katibat al-Muhajireen)

The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by Canada and the United States.[17][18] 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.[19]



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[1] 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.[6] Its membership would come to consist of mostly Arabs from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya.[15]

Role in the Syrian Civil WarEdit

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.[6]

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23] A branch of the Muhajireen Battalion was involved in the 2013 Latakia offensive.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[12] On 25 July 2014, the group joined with several other Aleppo-based jihadist factions into an alliance called Jabhat Ansar al-Din.[10]

In late 2014, the Saudi-dominated faction Green Battalion swore allegiance to JMA leader Salahuddin Shishani and became part of the group.[28] 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.[15][29] Al-Madani subsequently became the new leader of JMA,[2] 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.[30][31]

Islamic State of Iraq and the LevantEdit

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.[32] The group suffered a split, with hundreds of members siding with Abu Omar and joining ISIL.[15] Those fighters who remained in JMA appointed another Chechen, Salahuddin al-Shishani, as their new commander in December 2013.[5] The group has since fought alongside groups that ISIL has clashed with,[12] and some of its leaders have publicly opposed ISIL.[16] Following the 2015 leadership dispute, many JMA militants reportedly defected to ISIL.[31]

In 2016 the group's Islamic Repentance Brigade based in Aleppo defected to ISIL.[33]

Al-Nusra Front and Tahrir al-ShamEdit

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.[34] Al-Nusra rejected these reports on 9 March 2015.[35] On 23 September 2015, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar left Jabhat Ansar al-Din and joined al-Nusra.[8]

The al-Nusra Front formed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) on 28 January 2017, with Liwa Muhajireen wal-Ansar as a member group.[36] As part of HTS, the group fought in an northwestern Syria campaign of late 2017–early 2018[37] 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.[3]


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.[1]

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.[38] Many of them were veterans from other conflicts.[6] Members killed fighting for the group have included ethnic Azeris,[39] Tajiks, Kazakhs and Dagestanis.[40] Some Syrian rebels referred to them as "Turkish brothers".[41] One JMA battalion was composed of jihadists from western countries (the US, the UK, Germany and others) who fought together for language reasons.[42] As the group expanded, it integrated native Syrians into its membership.[22] Following a leadership dispute in mid-2015, the JMA split and became effectively an Arab dominated organisation.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c ""Obliged to Unite under One Banner": A Profile of Syria's Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa'l-Ansar". Jamestown Foundation. 19 April 2013.
  2. ^ a b Paraszczuk, Joanna (4 September 2015). "JMA Has (Another) New Emir, & He's Saudi". From Chechnya To Syria. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Joanna Paraszczuk (22 May 2019). "Mansur Dagestani, Amir of Liwa Muhajireen Wal Ansar, Killed in N. Hama". From Chechnya to Syria.
  4. ^ Paraszczuk, Joanna (9 June 2015). "Has Salakhuddin Shishani Been Replaced As JMA Emir?". From Chechnya To Syria. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d "Syria crisis: Omar Shishani, Chechen jihadist leader". BBC. 3 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Abdul-Ahad, Ghaith (23 September 2012). "Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  7. ^ "Now It's Official: JMA Has Joined Jabhat al-Nusra". Chechens in Syria. 23 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  8. ^ a b c "Insurgent group pledges allegiance to Al Nusra Front". Reuters. 23 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  9. ^ "Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar Capture Claimed "Assad Spies" In Aleppo". From Chechnya To Syria. 10 September 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Syria Update: July 17 - 25, 2014". Institute for the Study of War Syria Updates. 25 July 2014. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  11. ^ a b "Former Guantanamo detainee killed while leading jihadist group in Syria". Long War Journal. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  12. ^ a b c "Aleppo: Syria's Stalingrad?". National Interest. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  13. ^ "A dual perspective on joint JMA/FSA assault on Mallah". Reddit. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  14. ^ Caleb Weiss (11 July 2016). "Foreign jihadists advertise role in Latakia fighting". The Long War Journal. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Chechen Ousted as Amir of Jaish al-Muhadjireen wal-Ansar Rebel Group in Syria". Jamestown Foundation. 10 July 2015. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  16. ^ a b "Officials from Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham vow to continue fight against Islamic State". Long War Journal. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  17. ^ "Currently listed entities". Public Safety Canada.
  18. ^ "Designations of Foreign Terrorist Fighters". US Department of State. 24 September 2014. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  19. ^ "US Designates Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar as a Foreign Terrorist Fighters". From Chechnya To Syria. 25 September 2014. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  20. ^ "Al Nusrah Front commanded Free Syrian Army unit, 'Chechen emigrants,' in assault on Syrian air defense base". Long War Journal. 19 October 2012.
  21. ^ "Chechen commander leads Muhajireen Brigade in Syria". Long War Journal. 20 February 2013.
  22. ^ a b "Chechen commander forms 'Army of Emigrants,' integrates Syrian groups". Long War Journal. 28 March 2013.
  23. ^ "Rebels Gain Control of Government Air Base in Syria". New York Times. 5 August 2013.
  24. ^ "Decoder: The Battle for Latakia Begins". Syria Deeply. 5 August 2013. Archived from the original on 11 February 2014.
  25. ^ Vatchagaev, Mairbek (9 August 2013). "Influence of Chechen Leader of North Caucasian Fighters in Syria Grows". Jamestown Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  26. ^ "Syria Spotlight: Insurgent Split — The Dispute Between Abu Umar al-Shishani & His Deputy, Seyfullakh the Chechen". 23 November 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  27. ^ "North Caucasus Fighters in Syria Pledge Allegiance to Umarov's Successor". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 31 March 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  28. ^ "Video: Saudi Faction Swears Allegiance To Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar Emir". From Chechnya To Syria. 4 October 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  29. ^ "The Islamic State Raises Its Black Flag Over The Caucasus". CTC Sentinel. 29 June 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  30. ^ "Chechen commander in Syria pledges to Islamic Caucasus Emirate". Long War Journal. 10 July 2015. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  31. ^ a b "Chechens Fighting in Syria Increasingly Joining Forces With Islamic State". Jamestown Foundation. 3 March 2016.
  32. ^ "Chechen-led group swears allegiance to head of Islamic State of Iraq and Sham". Long War Journal. 27 November 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  33. ^
  34. ^ Karouny, Mariam (4 March 2015). "Insight - Syria's Nusra Front may leave Qaeda to form new entity". Reuters. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  35. ^ Ariel, Ben (9 March 2015). "Al-Nusra Front Reaffirms Allegiance to Al-Qaeda". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  36. ^ Weiss, Caleb (Spring 2017). "Transformative Networks: The Case of North Caucasian and Central Asian Jihadist Networks" (PDF). Illini Journal of International Security (IJOIS). III: 21. Retrieved 6 June 2019. 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).
  37. ^ Caleb Weiss (17 December 2017). "Chechen commander killed in northern Syria". Long War Journal.
  38. ^ "Increasing Numbers of Central Asian Jihadists in Syria". Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. 2 October 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  39. ^ "12 Azeri jihadists reported killed in Syria". Long War Journal. 2 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  40. ^ "Tajik, Kazakh, and Russian fighters killed in Syria". Long War Journal. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  41. ^ Сирија, почиње џихад [Syria, the Jihad begins] (in Serbian). Radio Television of Serbia. 23 September 2012. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  42. ^ Letsch, Constanze (25 December 2014). "Foreign jihadis change face of Syrian civil war". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 September 2015.

External linksEdit