By Joanna Paraszczuk and Barno Anvar | ( RFE/ RL )
An Uzbek militant has carried out a suicide truck bombing in the predominantly Shi’ite town of Fua in Idlib Province, part of a major attack against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian forces by Islamist factions led by Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front.
One of a wave of bombers, the Uzbek detonated an explosives-packed armored infantry fighting vehicle near or in Fua on September 18.
The Uzbek was fighting alongside the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, an Uzbek-led faction that pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban last year.
‘First Volunteer From Mawarannahr’
The Uzbek suicide bomber’s last moments are recorded in a chilling video released by the Imam Bukhari Jamaat on September 20.
A young man, apparently in his early 20s and with just a few wisps of beard, the bomber is named as Jafar al-Tayyar. (The video initially appeared on YouTube but has since been removed as in violation of the site’s terms of service.)
The video’s narrator lauds him as the “first volunteer mujahid (jihad fighter) of Mawarannahr,” a term used by some jihadists to refer to an area corresponding to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan, and parts of southwestern Kazakhstan.
Jafar is shown surrounded by militants who encourage him to climb into his explosives-packed vehicle.
But the Uzbek bomber does not seem calm or pleased in what are the last few minutes of his life.
He is frightened, and at one point he breaks down in tears:
An Uzbek-speaking militant warns the young man that “shaytan,” the devil, is going to try to frighten him.
“Jafar, my brother, don’t be afraid. When you are scared, remember Allah,” the militant says.
Jafar says that he is not afraid of the devil.
“I’m just scared I won’t succeed,” he tells his fellow militants, before they send him off to die.
But Jafar did succeed in blowing himself up. The video later shows footage of a powerful explosion.
It is unclear how many people Jafar managed to kill or injure in his attack.
The Imam Bukhari Jamaat has been involved in the fighting around Fua for some weeks.
A graphic video released by the Imam Bukhari Jamaat on September 7 showed footage of dead Shi’ite fighters.
The Uzbek group claimed to have killed dozens of Shi’ite militiamen in Fua and gloated over the dead Shi’ite fighters, though it did not say if any civilians had died.
Foreign Fighters In Fua, Kafriyeh
The suicide operation illustrates how Syrian jihadist groups like Nusra use foreign militants to carry out suicide bombings and as frontline fighters in offensives against Syrian government forces.
The Imam Bukhari Jamaat is fighting as part of the Jaish al-Fateh, or Army of Conquest, coalition.
It includes the powerful Syrian jihadist factions Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, two of the largest groups fighting against Syrian President Assad’s forces.
Foreign Islamist groups liked Imam Bukhari have played an important role in the Army of Conquest’s siege on Fua, as well as in previous offensives in Idlib Province.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Turkestan Islamic Party is also involved in the fighting at Fua.
So, too, is Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, a formerly Chechen-led group that is now headed by a Saudi militant and contains a diminishing number of North Caucasus fighters. Unconfirmed rumors from militants in Syria say the group is about to formally join Nusra.
In addition to Imam Bukhari Jamaat, there is a second Uzbek group, Tavhid wal-Jihod (TWJ), involved in fighting at Fua. TWJ is an independent group that has fought many times alongside the Nusra Front in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.
A TWJ video released on September 19 shows a contingent of Uzbek militants storming Fua.
It also contains footage of an ethnic Uzbek militant who claims to have exploded a remote-controlled vehicle bomb and returned alive, although he appears extremely shaken. The militant crouches on the floor, apparently in shock, as other Uzbek fighters crowd around him and cheer.
One TWJ militant later vows that the group will continue fighting and advance “to Damascus and then Palestine.”
The Army of Conquest overran large areas of Idlib Province earlier this year.
The two Shi’ite villages of Fua and Kafriyeh are the Syrian government’s last two remaining outposts in Idlib Province.
They have been blockaded by Army of Conquest militants for months. The siege is linked to the government bombardment of the town of Zabadani near Syria’s border with Lebanon.
A cease-fire and de-escalation agreement between Iran and the Army of Conquest was reportedly reached on September 20 and stipulated an end to the blockade of Fua and Kafraya.
Via RFE/ RL
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
Related video added by Juan Cole: