Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMWA), an insurgent group fighting in Syria, has sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda’s Syria wing Nusra Front, a group observing the war reported on Wednesday.
The insurgent group, comprised of around 1,500 Chechen, Uzbek and Tajik militants, has long fought beside the Nusra Front and other Al Qaeda-linked organisations in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the group made the pledge in a statement distributed by its supporters.
In June, the leader of the group, Salahuddin Shishani and his deputy were removed from their posts. The decision to officially join Nusra Front came months after a overhaul over the group’s leadership. The pledge is a boost for Nusra Front against its rival ISIS, which has seized a large territory in Syria and Iraq.
Al Qaeda and its allies have been fighting both ISIS and the Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad's regime in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar could help take control of Aleppo, for which Nusra Front and ISIS have been fighting each other.
In the beginning of Syria’s civil war, Nusra Front, loyal to the successors of Osama bin Laden, and ISIS fought together against the Syrian army and its allies. However, the groups fought each other since a split in 2013, particularly because the two groups' leaders began to struggle for power.
Rivalry between Nusra Front and ISIS in Syria influenced the evolution of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar. The group was founded by Omar al Shishani, a Chechen leader who joined ISIS in 2013.
The group was listed as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department in September 2014. At the time, the State Department described it as “a Chechen-led terrorist organization based in Syria that consists primarily of foreign fighters.”
Nusra Front’s leader reported in June his group was comprised of around 30 percent foreign fighters including Europeans, mostly Asians, Russians and Chechens.
Russia reportedly deploys drones and fighter jets in Syria. It has been boosting its presence in the coastal governorates of Latakia and Tartus since earlier this month, where they began to work on expanding their only naval repair base in the eastern Mediterranean as well as reportedly building an airstrip near the Bassel al Assad military airport.
While speculation circulates the media on the nature of deployment, Russia insists it is only honouring previous pledges made to Bashar al Assad’s embattled regime forces to help combat ISIS militants in the country.
According to US officials speaking to CNN, Russia has already deployed 25 fighter jets, 15 helicopters, nine tanks, three surface-to-air missile systems and around 500 military personnel in Syria. However, Russian reports have put the number of Russian military personnel in Syria closer to 1,700.
The Syrian civil war started in March 2011 and has so far resulted in the deaths of over 240,000 people and displaced millions internally and internationally to neighbouring countries