Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ)
Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) formed in 2014 around a core of Uzbeks fighting within al-Nusra Front.* Aside from becoming independent briefly in 2015, KTJ has been under the Nusra, and now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), chain of command.* KTJ is an internationally designated terrorist organization accused of being affiliated with al-Qaeda, though it is unclear if there is any direct affiliation or if the allegation stems from their cooperation with al-Nusra Front when the latter group was still loyal to al-Qaeda. The Afghan branch of the group is responsible for the 2016 attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan and the 2017 St. Petersburg bombing. In March 2022, the U.S. State Department designated KTJ as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).* That same month, the group was also added to the U.N. Security Council’s ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List for its association with al-Qaeda.*
Abdul Aziz Khikmatov (leader)*, Abu Saloh al Uzbeki (former leader, defected in 2020)*
Base of Operations
Idlib, Latakia, and Hama provinces in Syria*, as well as Afghanistan and Turkey*
Membership Size and Relevance
KTJ has a close relationship with HTS, having operated within al-Nusra Front’s organizational structure since 2014 and pledged allegiance to the group in September 2015.* The United Nations accuses KTJ of “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of;” “supplying, selling or transferring arms and related materiel to;” and “recruiting for; or otherwise supporting acts or activities of Nusra Front [now known as HTS].”* KTJ also worked alongside the U.S.-designated terrorist group Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari before that faction dissolved.* KTJ consists of approximately 500 fighters.* KTJ’s original leader, Abu Solah, left the group in 2020 to join the al-Qaeda-aligned Jabhat Ansar al-Din and was subsequently arrested by HTS.* Solah’s defection further raises questions about KTJ’s designations and whether the group is still actually sympathetic to al-Qaeda. According to the United Nations, the current leader, Abdul Aziz, fought in Afghanistan for two decades, has a good relationship with the KTJ branch in Afghanistan, and has been able to coordinate finances between the Afghan and Syrian branches.* After Solah’s defection, KTJ joined the Fatah Mubin Operations Room, a military formation commanded by HTS that helps organize military operations between allied factions.*
Recruitment and Propaganda
KTJ operated at least two training camps in northern Syria by mid-2015, which it used in its propaganda videos showcasing the group’s training and combat activities across the northwest. The highly influential Salafi clerics Abdullah al Muhaysini and Sayfullah Shishani also appeared in a KTJ propaganda video in mid-2015, shortly before the group fully pledged allegiance to al-Nusra Front, which likely boosted the group’s ability to further recruit and fundraise.*
KTJ has participated in many battles in northwest Syria since 2014.* In 2015, KTJ fought in the Jisr al-Shoughour offensive alongside other pro-Nusra foreign fighter factions.* In June 2016, the group advertised its role in the offensive around Khalsa, Aleppo through pictures published on Telegram.* The next month, the group published a video showing its members fighting in the Latakia mountains.* In August 2016, KTJ fighters once again participated alongside al-Nusra Front and other foreign fighter factions in an attempt to break the siege of Aleppo city.* In 2019, KTJ released photos showing its fighters assaulting regime positions in northern Hama.*
- Statement announcing KTJ’s merger with al-Nusra Front: “To win in this global battle against Islam, we need to combine the strength and support. For this purpose, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, in our current activities in Syria, has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda’s wing in Syria. This allegiance was announced on Tuesday, September 29, 2015.”*
Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.
On January 23, 2019, two car bombs exploded outside of a mosque in Benghazi, Libya, killing 41 people and injuring 80 others. No group claimed responsibility for the blast, but remnants suggested an ISIS affiliate was responsible.
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