DISAFFECTED: The Caucasus Immigrants in Sham Battalion, based in outer Aleppo, announced on Tuesday their defection from the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham, the controversial jihadist group under the umbrella of the al-Qaeda network that has worked alongside mainstream rebel factions at times, renouncing the “takfiri thoughts” of ISIS leaders.
The group’s spokesman said fighters lacked prior understanding of ISIS ideology and rejected the jihadists tendency to fight other rebel battalions.
“We are independents, we defected from ISIS and we have no relation to Jabhat al-Nusra (which is linked to ISIS),” said Saif Allah, the Chechen leader of the Caucasus Emigrants in Sham Battalion. Suicide bombers from the Caucasus are credited with the capture of the Minnagh Airforce Base last month.
The battalion is distinguished from other jihadist groups active in Syria in that none of its members are Syrian. As the group’s name suggests, its fighters come from Russia’s southeast Caucasus region, where an Islamist insurgency has rumbled for decades.
Russia’s Federal Security Service head Aleksandr Bortnikov has said that some 200 militants from the Russian Federation are fighting on the side of the “terrorists” in Syria.
ISIS is accused of spurring infighting between rebel factions, most notably its involvement in two assassinations of FSA commanders in July. Many among the opposition accuse the al-Qaeda-linked group of deterring Western military aid for the rebels. Rumors have also circulated that ISIS is mulling a takeover in Syria’s north, where they have already declared small “emirates” under their control.