Turkish police announced on 19 July that they had arrested the wife of Tarkhan Batirashvili (Abu Umar al-Shishani), an Islamic State (IS) commander who was killed two years ago this month in Shirqat, Iraq. The capture brings to the fore a story stretching from senior levels of the Chechen Republic to the Levant.
Batirashvili’s wife was swept up with her two sons in a series of anti-terrorist raids in Istanbul on 4 July that netted five terrorist suspects. Identified in some reports as “Seda D.” or “S.D.”, her name is Seda Dudarkaeva.
Drawing on “a list of Russian-speaking women and children in Syria and Iraq whose relatives in Russia are seeking them”, Joanna Paraszczuk reports that Dudarkaeva “and a friend flew from Mineralnye Vody to Turkey” on 23 May 2013, shortly thereafter crossing into Syria to join and marry Khamzat Akhishvili (Abu Abdullakh al-Shishani), a close associate of Batirashvili’s. (For a full profile of Batirashvili, see here.) Dudarkaeva was 20-years-old at this time. Akhishvili, like Batirashvili, was originally from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, but spent most of his life in Austria, joining Batirashvili’s Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa-Ansar (JMA).
Ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February 2014, the Russian government set up the “green corridor” that essentially exported its jihad problem, simultaneously solving its own internal security problems and bolstering the political strategy of Bashar al-Asad’s regime to make the conflict in Syria a binary one between the dictator and the terrorists.
As one security official bluntly told the International Crisis Group,
Of course, we did. We opened borders, helped them all out and closed the border behind them by criminalising this type of fighting. If they want to return now, we are waiting for them at the borders. Everyone’s happy: they are dying on the path of Allah, and we have no terrorist acts here … [T]his was very effective.
Akhishvili was killed on 22 July 2013 during the attack on the Mannagh Airbase, Paraszczuk notes. The Mannagh offensive, three months after IS has declared its presence in Syria, triggering the schism with Jabhat al-Nusra that would lead to IS’s formal break with al-Qaeda, is one of the few instances of battlefield collaboration between the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-branded rebels and IS. At this time, Batirashvili, ostensibly part of al-Nusra, had secretly been recruited by the caliph’s deputy, Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr), into a network that also included Amr al-Absi (Abu al-Atheer). Because of men like Batirashvili and al-Absi, al-Nusra was crippled by defections as it fought against IS in 2013 and 2014.
The tactics Batirashvili used at Mannagh drew criticism for wasting lives, and contributed towards divisions within JMA, which boiled over in November 2013 when Batirashvili tried to have the whole unit declare allegiance to IS. Many refused, and Batirashvili’s pro-IS faction—including Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir), widely known as “Jihadi John”—broke away at this point.
It is also at this point, in the summer or fall of 2013, that Ms. Dudarkaeva takes up with Batirashvili, a matter of some controversy within jihadist circles, where some argued that the period of iddah had not elapsed by the time the relationship began.
As it transpires, Dudarkaeva is a daughter of Asu Dudarkaev, who was at this time the head of the Chechen Federal Migration Service. In late November 2013, the Chechen tyrant Ramzan Kadyrov announced (on Instagram, of course), that Mr. Dudarkaev had been fired since he had lost the “moral right to speak with subordinates about morality and patriotism and religion” because “[h]is own daughter is in the ranks of the Wahhabis and bandits”.
The two children with Seda Dudarkaev appear to have been produced by her union with Batirashvili. Paraszczuk explains:
[T]he list gives the date of birth of Seda’s first son, Ibragim Umarovich, as 7 March 2015. That means, in October 2014 when Abu Abdullakh’s mother claimed Seda had married Umar, the Seda named on the list was already pregnant. Assuming that there are not two Seda Asuevna Dudarkaevas in Syria, and that the Umar who is the father of Seda’s children was Umar Shishani, we can gather that Umar married Seda soon after her Iddah was finished.
If the details on the list are accurate, Seda’s second son Abdullakh Umarovich, was born on 11 January 2017. Umar Shishani was killed in July 2016, so Abdullakh’s father could also have been Umar Shishani.
In February, the Turkish government arrested a very senior IS operative, Ismail al-Ithawi (Abu Zayd al-Iraqi), and then coordinated with the Americans and the Iraqis to use al-Ithawi in a sting operation to capture Saddam al-Jamal, the notoriously-thuggish IS commander in eastern Syria. The delay between Dudarkaev’s capture and the announcement of it leaves open the possibility that she has partaken in something similar to assist the anti-IS Coalition and reduce her own legal jeopardy. At present, a lot remains unclear, however, including whether Dudarkaev has any useful information to impart and if she does how Ankara will use such information.