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The Independent: Inside the
2017-03-16 22:11:26

They wear the latest and most advanced body armour and helmets, camouflage gear and anti-ballistic sunglasses: the fashion statement favoured by frontline private security companies across the world’s combat zones. But Malhama Tactical is not from the West like most of the others. Its fighters are in Syria training terrorists: a “Blackwater of jihad” who have found a new way of cashing in on the self-styled “caliphate”.
Malhama.

The small group, of about a dozen drawn mainly from Central Asia, has been an enthusiastic user of social media. At the end of last year it placed advertisements in Facebook looking for instructors who were prepared to “constantly engage, develop and learn”. The company’s YouTube pages provide free guides ranging from weapons maintenance and laying ambushes to battlefield first aid.

The leader and founder of Malhala – a firm which is “fun and friendly” according to its online brochures – is an Uzbek using the nom de guerre Abu Rofiq who claims to have served in the VDV, a Russian military airborne unit. Although it was a commercial concern, Rofiq has stressed the religious aspect of its work meant helping “oppressed Muslims” militarily, beyond Syria. Preparing for Armageddon has taken the company into China, Burma, back to the former Soviet Asian republics and Russia itself.

In China this means training Uighur separatists of the Turkistan Islamist Party. They are present in the Islamist ranks in Syria and Iraq in large numbers and it was at Uzbek Isis recruit with Uighur connections who carried out the New Year’s Eve massacre in an Istanbul nightclub in January. Chechen and other Caucasian groups have also been active in other fronts, carrying out attacks in Russia and states allied to the Kremlin in the region.
Rofiq was targeted in an air strike in Idlib last month in which his wife and young son were killed. His own fate remains unclear. There were reports that he too had died but Islamist fighters who worked with him deny this was the case and insist he survived.
Training and arming of the terrorists had begun as a slow and often chaotic process in Syria.
Abu Rofiq is said to have seen the training opportunities for terrorists after first going to Syria in 2013. He began to bring in experienced fighters from the Caucasus before starting Malhama with a dozen others in the beginning of  2016. The company has been working with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the new name taken by Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as well as Ahrar al-Sham, a terrorist group which had been backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

 


 

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