Abu Omar, Chechen chief of al Qaeda's North Caucasian brigade
Russian-speaking Al Qaeda fighters from Chechnya and the Caucasian seized the key northern Syrian air base of Minakh 10 kilometers south of Aleppo, from the Syrian army Monday, Aug. 5, DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal. This was the first important gain by Al Qaeda’s North Caucasian brigade, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, and its Chechen commander Abu Omar. They did not give the Syrian troops at the base a chance to flee. They caught and executed them by slashing their throats or beheading – in accordance with al Qaeda custom. This fate was also suffered by the Syrian air force’s chief operations officer in the north.
The assault was enabled by suicide bombings at the gate of the air base which enabled the foreign assailants to surge into the compound.
The fall of Minakh abruptly halted Syrian government air strikes against opposition-held regions in Aleppo province. Based there was a fleet of Syrian Air Force German-made MBB 223 Flamingo training craft and Russian-made Mi-8 assault helicopters. It also opened the way for Syrian rebel forces to advance on government outposts in President Bashar Assad’s Alawite heartland in the Jabal al-Akrad hills of Latakia province, and capture a number of villages.
Loyal Assad government troops have made major advances in Homs and Damascus and may be expected to wrest Minakh air base from rebel hands and return to their air strikes against the rebels. However, the appearance of al Qaeda fighters from Chechnya and the Caucasian on the Syrian battlefield is of prime significance in a wider context in a geographical region stretching from southern Russia to the Middle East and is also fraught with significance for the US war terrorism.
On July 30, a number of high-profile al Qaeda operatives in southern Russian urged their Emir Doky Umarov to pull their men back from Syria and refocus on Russian targets, specifically preparations for the Winter Olympics taking place at the Black Sea resort of Sochi next February.
The “huge flow” of jihadi volunteers heading for Syria, they said, would be better employed fighting the Russians.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence and military sources note the ramifications of this “huge flow” – and not just for Russia’s position in the Syrian war, The timing of an al Qaeda victory in Syria is relevant to current US, Israeli, Lebanese and Jordanian efforts to beat jihadist terrorism.
1. The US has been pouring all its security and intelligence resources into a global terror alert to forestall a major terror attack or attacks on US targets in Muslim countries and inside America by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). Meanwhile, al Qaeda has opened a third front from Syria using North Caucasian and Chechen adherents.
Less than five months ago, on April 15, two terrorists of Chechen origin, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, blew up the Boston Marathon Race, killing three people and injuring dozens. First, the pair murdered three young Jews by slashing their throats.
The Chechen branch of Al Qaeda is the most brutal wing of the movement and dedicated no less than the others to murdering Americans.
2. Not far from Minakh base, the Syrian army and Hizballah are massing around the nearby city of Aleppo ready to drive the rebels out of their strongholds. This battle will bring Syrian and Hizballah Shiite troops in direct confrontation for the first time with Sunni jihadis from the Caucasian, a significant moment for the Sunni-Shiite contest building up in the Middle East and also for the future of Lebanon.
3. The belligerent Russian-speaking jihadis will not be satisfied with pursuing jihad on Syrian soil. They will want to expand their operations up to and across Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan, challenging Israeli, Jordanian and US forces based in the Hashemite kingdom with a different and fearsome kind of war savagery from that .