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Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria involved in new Idlib offensive

The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is participating in a newly launched rebel offensive at Jisr al Shughur in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib. The TIP is operating alongside the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and a slew of other rebel and jihadist groups in the offensive.

These groups are operating under the "Battle of Victory" coalition, which is modeled after the Jaysh al Fateh coalition that took over Idlib city last month. Fighting alongside Al Nusrah and the TIP in the "Battle of Victory" coalition is Ahrar al Sham, Ansar Sham, Jaysh al Islam, Jabhat Ansar al Din (which includes the Chechen-led group Jaysh al Muhajireen wal Ansar, the Moroccan-led group Harakat Sham al Islam, and the Syrian group Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiyya), Junud al Sham, and many others. Several of these groups are within al Qaeda's network, including Ahrar al Sham, Jabhat Ansar al Din, and Junud al Sham.

This new coalition is assaulting the Assad regime near Jisr al Shughur and Al Mastoumah in Idlib, as well as the Al Ghab plain in Hama, and in Latakia province.

In a newly released video by Junud al Sham, the group mentions a "Katibat Turkistani," or "Turkistani Battalion." This name is what the TIP fights under in Syria. Several jihadist Twitter accounts have confirmed that "Turkistanis" are fighting in Jisr al Shughur. The TIP has long operated in Syria alongside the Al Nusrah Front in Idlib. In May of last year, one of its fighters, identified as Dadullah al Turkistani, detonated himself as part of a coordinated assault with Al Nusrah in the northwestern province. The TIP, through its media outlet Islam Awazi, has identified several of its fighters killed fighting alongside Al Nusrah in Syria.

The Turkistan Islamic Party also operates in China as well as Central and South Asia and is thought to have scores of fighters in Pakistan's tribal areas and in Afghanistan. Its fighters have been killed by Coalition forces in Afghanistan and by US drone strikes in Pakistan. Several TIP senior leaders have also been appointed to top positions in al Qaeda's network in Pakistan. For example, Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, the former emir of TIP, was also appointed by al Qaeda to lead its forces in Pakistan's tribal provinces.

Junud al Sham is a group predominately comprised of fighters from the North Caucasus and is allied to Al Nusrah Front and other al Qaeda-allied groups. The group is led by Muslim Shishani, or Murad Margoshvili, an ethnic Chechen from Georgia. He has fought in the Caucasus under Ibn Khattab, a Saudi who led al Qaeda's International Islamic Brigade in Chechnya. Muslim has been in Syria since 2012, according to From Chechnya to Syria, a website that tracks Russian-speaking jihadists in Syria. Muslim was designated by the US as a foreign terrorist in Sept, 2014.

[Source: By Caleb Weiss, Threat Matrix, The Long War Journal, 23Apr15]

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