National Security

A 24-Year-Old Uzbek Is Running A Ruthless Mercenary Empire

REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Abu Rofiq may only be 24-years-old, but that has not stopped him from building an infamous mercenary group specializing in training the world’s jihadis.

Rofiq is the enigmatic leader of Malhama Tactical, a private military contractor that offers a full suite of services for some of the most notorious terrorist groups. While the company is made up of only 10 soldiers from Uzbekistan and former Soviet republics, its influence and brand are recognized across jihadist circles.

Little is known about Rofiq’s background, according to Foreign Policy magazine. Even his name, Arabic for “father of Rofiq,” is a nom-de-guerre. While he keeps a public profile, Rofiq often uses fake names and false information to avoid foreign intelligence surveillance. Malhama publishes a fair amount of video and picture content, but Rofiq’s face is almost always obscured. Rofiq moved from Uzbekistan to Russia as a youth and joined Russia’s VDV, an elite airborne military unit. Rofiq then left Russia to join the war in Syria, where he floated around different Islamist extremist groups before founding his company in May, 2016.

Malhama provides military training, custom equipment and mercenary fighters to its clients. Unlike most private military contractors, Malhama’s clientele consists of terrorist groups like the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front), Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham and the Turkistan Islamic Party, which is a Chinese Uighur extremist group.


Malhama considers itself more than just a traditional mercenary group, since it specifically aims to work with “oppressed” Sunni Muslims, according to the FP article. Rofiq suggested China and Myanmar may be potential next targets for jihad. He also considered returning to the Caucuses to fight against the Russians. The group’s recruitment postings appeal to Sunni extremists, advertising a “fun and friendly group” that works with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. It even offers one day a week off.

Many Islamic terrorists use social media to brag and bluster, but Malhama’s fighters are known as highly effective warriors. They are particularly well-known for their elite urban combat skills, which they have taught to terrorist clients in Syria. Malhama fighters also participated in a battle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in southern Aleppo in September, 2016, though Rofiq told FP his group’s primary purpose is to to train clients, not fight with them.

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