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”.
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.