BEIRUT: A group of mainly Central Asian jihadists fighting in Syria on Wednesday declared allegiance to Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in the country to battle the regime, its ally Russia and a US-led coalition.
Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar — which includes Chechens, Uzbeks and Tajiks — first appeared in Syria in 2012 and has around 1,500 fighters in the northern province of Aleppo.
“Those who follow the course of events in Syria noticed the ferocity of the war against our brothers… and the alignment of the infidels, the Nusayris, the rawafed, the Russians and the Crusaders,” said a statement posted online.
Nusayri is a derogatory term for Alawite, the offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs, while the rawafed is a pejorative term for Shiites.
A coalition led by the United States has for the past year been carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria, as well as Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country, Al-Nusra Front.
“This situation unites us… and from there, we the Jaish wal Ansar al-Muhajireen declare our allegiance to Al-Nusra Front,” said the statement.
Al-Nusra Front is one of the most powerful rebel groups involved in the Syrian conflict.
Together with other rebel groups, it controls the northwestern province of Idlib and is also fighting in several other regions in northern and central Syria.
Abu Ibrahim al-Khorassani, the head of Jaish, recently replaced Salahuddin Shishani, a Chechen who was dismissed for refusing to fight the rival Islamic State.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 as a popular revolt seeking democratic change, but later evolved into a full-blown civil war drawing jihadists fighting for Al-Nusra and IS.