Azerbaijani Militants Taking Leading Military Roles Within ISIS In Syria

Azerbaijani Militants Taking Leading Military Roles Within ISIS In Syria –

Al Arabiya – After Omar al-Shishani, ISIS’s military commander, was reportedly killed in a U.S. airstrike in Northern Syria last week, the identity of a potential successor’s remains ambiguous.

Sources within the group refer to an increasing role of Azerbaijani commanders following a reshuffle of ethnic alliances in the multinational Iraqi-led ISIS during the past few months.

Two Azerbaijani commanders in particular are believed to be taking leading military and intelligence roles within ISIS in Syria. The military commander, according to the sources speaking to Al Arabiya English, is an Iraq veteran, known by Azeri ISIS members as Jundullah (pronounced Cundullah in Azeri).

Previously unknown in propaganda and articles on Azeri fighters in Syria, Jundullah’s significance within the organization emanates from his long history of fighting in Iraq, reportedly since 2007, as well as a recent reshuffle in ISIS’s ethnicity politics.

Although the ethnic core of the organization’s leadership remains Iraqi, other numerous groups competed, often violently, over higher roles.

“Iraqis, especially former military officers, are the ISIS’s idols,” Aktham Alwani, a journalist who until recently lived in Raqqa, his home city which is now hailed by the militants as their “capital,” told Al Arabiya English.

The Azerbaijani bloc within ISIS grew in numbers after the organization’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s speech in 2014 on restoring the “caliphate.” As a bloc, they remained smaller than Chechens or Tunisians; however, they played ethnicity politics well, allying themselves with other small ethnic groups such as the Dagestanis and Tajiks, to form a stronger and more influential group within ISIS.

“Fighters from Dagestan fell out with Chechens over the latter’s aggressive leadership,” Alwani said. Rumors over Chechen “traitors” working for Russia surfaced as ISIS’s forces lost ground and Moscow’s airstrikes on Syria intensified, Alwani stated, citing his contacts within the organization.

“Azerbaijani ‘emirs’ rose in military ranks, as Jundullah’s influence rose within the group,” he said.

The ethnic tensions within the organization drove its leadership to appoint a local Wali (governor) from the province, with a powerful foreign Mu’awen, who plays a similar role as advisors to leaderships in colonial eras.

The rising Azerbaijani role is also attributed to a new development in ISIS’s landscape; the migration of foreign militants, including Chechens and especially North Africans, to Libya, says Alwani. “Libya is the new land of opportunity, a new tourist destination for militants.”


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