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Leader Of Jihadi Military Contractor Malhama Tactical (MT) Killed In Syria; Background On MT

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

On August 16, 2019, jihadi military contractor Malhama Tactical (MT) posted a Russian-language statement on Telegram announcing that the group's leader, Abu Salman Al-Belarusi, had been killed at the front south of Idlib, and was succeeded by Chechen jihadi 'Ali Al-Shishani.

MT operates in Syria and has worked with Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria), as well as Ahrar Al-Sham.[1] Created "around 2016,"[2] the group comprises about a dozen instructors,[3] primarily former Russian military.[4] Its members have participated in battles for Idlib, Aleppo, and other locations since at least 2015.[5] It has helped train various forces in Syria, including from Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and from the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP),[6] including in the use of various weapons and equipment – its social media accounts show it training fighters with tanks, RPGs, and small arms, as well as in tactics and long-range marksmanship. It has a considerable social media presence; in November 2016 it recruited on Facebook for instructors who were prepared to "constantly engage, develop and learn."[7]

MEMRI JTTM released in October 2018 a report detailing MT's fundraising, social media presence, cooperation with other jihadi groups, and other activities, titled Malhama Tactical – A Jihadi Private Military Contractor Operating In Syria, Comprising Former Russian Soldiers – Trains Fighters From Al-Qaeda-Affiliated HTS, TIP, Fundraises Using Bitcoin And Selling Merchandise Online, Is Active On Social Media, which is available upon request.

On August 17, 2019, the day after the announcement of Al-Belarusi's death, the group posted an English-language translation of the statement, which reads: "Yesterday, on the front of south Idlib the creator and leader of Malhama Tactical, our dear brother Abu Salman (Abu Rofik) was martyred (shaheed inshaa Allah). May Allah accept his shahada [martyrdom] and grant patience to his family. MT team extends its deepest condolences to the family of Abu Salman. Ali as-Shishani was elected as a new leader of Malhama Tactical. The organization continues its work."[8] The statement provides no further details about the location or circumstances of Abu Salman's death. MT was founded circa 2016 by an Uzbek named Abu Rofiq, who was reportedly killed in a Russian airstrike in Idlib on February 7, 2017, and was succeeded by Abu Salman Al-Belarusi, who was also known as Abu Rofik.[9]

https://www.memri.org/sites/default/files/2019_Q2/salman2.jpg
MT leader Abu Salman Al-Belarusi, reportedly killed on August 16, 2019, at the front south of Idlib (source: Telegram).

Although MT primarily trains HTS fighters,[10] Abu Salman was eulogized by Syrian jihadis of various affiliations, including Al-Qaeda. Abu Al-Walid Al-Najdi, who appears to be a supporter of HTS, writes that the jihadi "caused an elementary shift in the level of military training in the Syrian arena, and his marks on training, and even on planning and implementation, are clearly noticeable." Al-Najdi also claims that it was Abu Salman who shot down an Assad regime Sukhoi Su-22 fighter-bomber on August 14.[11] According to several jihadi Telegram channels, Abu Salman was an officer in the Russian Special Forces before his arrival in Syria.[12]

The pro-Al-Qaeda Telegram channel, Abbottabad Documents, posted a message saying that Abu Salman "proved to the world that one individual with [strong] faith and work can make history" by training "droves of heroes who forced Russia and its lackeys to taste bitterness." Abbottabad Documents describes MT as the most experienced and capable group of jihadis active today, saying: "In Syria there are inghimasis [commando fighters who strike behind enemy lines], who are the elite of the mujahideen. There are 'elite forces,' who are the elite of the inghimasis. There are [HTS] 'red headbands,' who are the elite of the elite forces. Then there is Malhama Tactical, who train the red headbands, making them the elite of the elite of the elite of the elite in Syria."[13]

https://www.memri.org/sites/default/files/2019_Q2/mtfighters.jpg
HTS fighters training with MT (source: Telegram).

 

[1] Independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-latest-jabat-al-nusra-blackwater-jihad-malhama-training-a7628161.html, March 13, 2017.

[2] Eeradicalization.com/interview-with-abu-salman-belarus-military-leader-of-malhama-tactical, Sept 19, 2018. September 19, 2018.

[3] Independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-latest-jabat-al-nusra-blackwater-jihad-malhama-training-a7628161.html, March 13, 2017.

[4] Dailycaller.com/2017/04/03/russian-special-forces-vets-are-turning-against-moscow-in-syria, April 3, 2017; Youtube.com/watch?v=TRFAWarvQ6s, March 22, 2017.

[5] Trackingterrorism.org/group/malhama-tactical-jfs-conquest-al-sham-front, accessed October 16, 2018;
Gazeta.ru/politics/2017/03/11_a_10569935.shtml#page3, March 12, 2017.

[6] Foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/10/the-world-first-jihadi-private-military-contractor-syria-russia-malhama-tactical, February 10, 2017.

[7] Independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-civil-war-latest-jabat-al-nusra-blackwater-jihad-malhama-training-a7628161.html, March 13, 2017.

[9] Telegram.me/syrianrebelsmt, August 16, 2019.

[10] Telegram/ 'Ali Al-Shishani, July 28, 2019.

[11] Telegram.me/Almshhade, August 16, 2019. See MEMRI JTTM Report: Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) Downs Syrian Fighter-Bomber, Captures Pilot, August 15, 2019.

[12] Telegram.me/OpOpOmawii, August 16, 2019; Telegram.me/ALWATHAEQ_Port, August 17, 2019; Telegram.me/mnagui, August 17, 2019.

[13] Telegram.me/ALWATHAEQ_Port, August 17, 2019.