Homeland Security

Twitter Suspends 'Blackwater for Jihadists' Commander After Year of Unfettered Fundraising, Promotion

Abu Salman Belarus (Malhama Tactical video)

Twitter has suspended the account of a Blackwater-style organization’s talkative Belarusian leader, lead fundraiser and social-media guru after he tweeted for nearly a year about his group’s training courses for jihadists.

Malhama Tactical, referred to as Blackwater for jihadists, offers trainers who hail from Russia’s Caucasus region and the former Soviet states and set up shop in Syria. Excerpts of training videos have been frequently posted online by Abu Salman Belarus with commentary and pitches for upcoming courses.

He also used the account to ask for Bitcoin donations that he said would pay for supplies and expanding training facilities, urging backers who wanted to chip in to send him a direct message on the social-media platform.

In recent weeks, Abu Salman had boasted of training foreign fighters coming through the camp, including a group from the Maldives and others said to be from China’s Xinjiang province.

He had been openly operating his latest Twitter account unfettered since December 2017; far from operating under the radar, he gave interviews and advised reporters to send him direct messages. The group’s Telegram account remains open; many jihadist groups successfully use the messaging app.

Their contracting clients have included Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the umbrella group known as al-Qaeda in Syria that includes the former al-Nusra Front. Then-leader Abu Rofiq, an Uzbek who said he was a veteran of the Russian military, told Foreign Policy magazine last year that territorial setbacks for jihadist groups didn’t dampen their business demand, yet they were also considering new regions to branch out their business.

Malhama Tactical launched in May 2016 and by the end of that year was advertising on Facebook for trainers to come join their “fun and friendly team” with vacation allowance and a day off per week. The group also manufactures and supplies certain equipment to jihadist groups.

After the death of Abu Rofiq last year the business dropped off the radar for a bit, but resurfaced online late this past spring. Firearms analysts noted that new footage from the group featured more Glock 19s, red dot sights, and American weapons that have fallen into unintended hands.

Abu Salman Belarus, who joined Malhama Tactical in 2016, said in an interview published a month ago that his group is “primarily instructing insurgents in battle tactics, giving medical aid, working with armored vehicles, mortars, sniper activity, and weapons modifications.”

“We do not engage ourselves in teaching how to conduct terrorist attacks or killing peaceful civilians, however,” he claimed. “We have never worked and will not work against civilians, regardless of their nationalities or religions.”

He boasted that while Malhama Tactical trainers bring lots of former military experience to the outfit, “quite a few of our students have become instructors, already working independently in different places.”

Abu Salman usually communicated in English or Turkish, as well as in Russian, reflecting the three main languages of their followers according to a Twitter poll conducted by the group last month. He recently noted that he planned to learn French to expand their customer base.

Last month, he announced on Twitter that donors had helped finance the completion of a training camp in Syria. This month, he appealed on Twitter for Bitcoin donations to fund camp supplies such as generators, mattresses, bedding and tents.