Disputing U.S. Designation As Global Terrorist, Syria-Based Uzbek Jihadi Group Denies Carrying Out Attacks Outside Syria, Affiliation With Al-Qaeda, ISIS

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March 15, 2022

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On March 15, 2022, Katibat Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad, a Syria-based Uzbek jihadi group, released a statement in English rejecting the March 7, 2022 designation of the group by the U.S. State Department as "Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT)."[1] The group denied its involvement in attacks outside of Syria and stated that it is not affiliated with either Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (ISIS). The statement was published on the official Telegram channel of On the Ground News (OGN)[2] a media outlet that is run by the Syria-based American jihadi reporter Bilal Abdul Kareem.

The group's statement denied State Department claims that it was responsible for "the Saint Petersburg metro attack in April 2017, which killed 14 passengers and injured 50 others, as well as a suicide car bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in August 2016, which wounded three people." The statement read: "These accusations are far from the truth and could be misunderstood." It further stressed that the group's fighters "consists of people who responded to the cries of the oppressed people in Syria because protecting oppressed people is the duty of all humanity."

Elaborating further, the group said: "It is not the policy of Katibat Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad to launch attacks outside Syria, and we also stress that our group does not belong to Al-Qaeda or ISIS... As for the operations in 2016-2017 that were mentioned in the U.S. State Department's statement, the Katibat Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad has nothing to do with them. We are against killing and harassing women, children and the elderly even in a state of war."

The presence of the group in Syria, claimed the statement, should not be considered as a crime, nor should the group be designated as a terrorist group, saying: "So how is that seen as a crime? Isn't Bashar Al-Assad who unjustly kills millions of people, the real terrorist? Isn't Russia, which supports Bashar Al-Assad, a real terrorist state?"

It worth nothing that despite that fact the Katibat Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad operates under the command of Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), at least two of its leaders have defected to join other groups. In mid-June 2020, HTS arrested Abu Salah Al-Uzbeki, the former commander of Katibat Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, which was one of the catalysts for subsequent clashes between HTS and the Al-Qaeda-aligned Stand Firm operations room.[3] Last September, anti-HTS Telegram channels reported that Mahr Al-Din Al-Uzbeki, an Uzbek HTS commander, had left the jihadi group, together with his men, and joined the Junoud Al-Sham jihadi faction, headed by Chechen commander Muslim Al-Shishani.[4]

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