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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dagestan: Political Islamism and radical groups as a threat to the region’s stability (Part II)

Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan
(Image: Daily Mail)
Part I

Radicalization of Islamism in Dagestan has not only internal reasons, but is also connected to the events on the neighboring regions, such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and others. For example, Chechen founded Islamist International Brigade, which was very active during the Chechen wars and following period of insurgency, was also presented in Dagestan. Riyad Us-Saliheen Martyrs Brigade, formed during the Second Chechen War by Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev and Saudi born Ibn Al-Khattab, had close ties with Dagestani radical and terrorist cells, and many Dagestanis have also fought in the ranks of this group.

Dagestani Shari’ah Jamaat, Vilayat Jamaat, Islamic Jammat of Dagestan and Ingush Jamaat are among the biggest and most influential radical and terrorist groups operating in Dagestan and in the neighboring regions as well. All of these groups are united in the umbrella organizations Caucasian Front and Caucasus Emirate, headed currently by Dokku Umarov, Russian “terrorist number one”, who threatened Sochi Olympic Games. We could add to the list also newly formed Ansar Al-Sharia group, claimed responsibility for the recent Volgograd terrorist attacks.

Dagestani Shari’ah Jamaat, renamed later in Vilayat Jamat, is the biggest and the most prominent Islamist militant organization in Dagestan, and it remains associated with the separatist conflicts in Chechnya. Some of its members are based on the territory of Azerbaijan, where several bases of the group are located, while the main camps are in the forests and mountains of Dagestan. The group was established under the name “Jennet” (“Paradise”) by Emir Rasul (Rasul Makasharipov) in 1999, following the 2nd Chechen War. 

Its principle objectives were to eliminate senior officers of Dagestani and Russian security forces. In 2004, following the loss of several leaders, the group was reorganized and transformed into Dagestani Shari’ah Jamaat (“Dagestani Islamic Law Community”). The group has totally changed its structural principles and strategy; it became larger and more decentralized, operating actually as a network of numerous terrorist cells, consisting of 5-15 members. Shari’ah Jamaat cells are deployed within 4 sectors: Central Sector (Makhachkala), Mountainous Sector (Buinaksk), Northern Sector (Khasavyurt) and Sothern Sector (Derbent). Each group is responsible for specific territory and district and has connections with some local communities and their leaders, who recognize the group’s authority. The cells of Shari’ah Jamaat operate mostly independently and interact only if necessary in the execution of operations.

Dokku Umarov, proclaimed himself Emir of Caucasus Emirate, maintains contact with Shari’ah Jamaat leaders and can control appointments of its heads. The group has also close ties with Azerbaijan and has its cells there as well. Shari’ah Jamaat actively uses mass-media to claim credits and responsibility for the attacks and terrorist acts and to spread Wahhabi ideology.

Its main objectives are total exclusion of Russia from Dagestan and establishing an independent Islamic law based state. Among the tactics are kidnappings, assassinations, bombings, explosive devices etc., while the main targets are mostly high officials and opponents of Wahhabism.

After 2007 and murder of Shari’ah Jammat leader the group was re-structured and transformed again and was renamed into Vilayat Jammat. It was headed by Rappani Khalilov and Abdul Majid (Ilgas Malachiev), both of them appointed by Dokku Umarov. Vilayat Jammat took an oath no to target civilians in their attacks, but despite this many civilians have died along with security forces in the terrorist attacks carried out by the group. Vilayat Dagestan was responsible for the attacks in Makhachkala, 2010 Moscow metro bombings and many terrorist attacks in Dagestan. The main objective of the group, according to its statements, is building of the fair Islamic society.

Another radical Islamist group, operated in Dagestan, was Islamic Jamaat of Dagestan. Its aim was also creating an independent state based on Islamic Law, but this group was more radical and fundamentalist and it’s responsible for the violent clashes occurred between moderate Muslims and Wahhabis in several Dagestani regions. Islamic Jamaat of Dagestan controlled several fortified villages in the neighborhood of Buinaksk, where most of the residents supported radical Wahhabist ideology of the movement. Though the members of the group were considered being religious fanatics by local officials and moderate Sunni Muslims, what led to the armed conflicts and assaults and numerous casualties, and Russia had to deploy additional troops to control the region. After federal military attack in 1999 the group was destroyed and its members retreated from Jamaat, though the influence of Wahhabis remains strong in the region.

Thus, radical Islamist movements, mostly influenced by Wahhabist and Salafist teachings and ideology, have formed a network of terrorist cells and groups operating in the region and continuing to attract new members, mostly youth from the depressive regions. Radical Islamist propaganda has rested on the foundation of deep economic, social and political problems, corruption and massive abuses of officials in the regions, while Wahhabi ideology gave immediate answers on the actual questions and gave its supporters the chance to participate also in the “global jihad”.

Terrorism in Dagestan is more complicated, than in Chechnya, and has more serious ideological content, making it closer to the global jihad, while Chechen terrorist cells are mostly connected to the rebel and separatist groups fighting rather for independence of Chechnya from Russia, than for Islamic state. Experts stress, that Dagestani terrorist groups are closer to the “international standards” of terrorism, as unlike Chechens, Dagestani terrorism has its source and specific groups, immediately claiming responsibility for the attacks. The organizations also declared their goals clearly: creation of an independent stated of Dagestan, based on Sharia Law, and total liquidation of Russian military and political presence.

Radical Islamist movements and terrorist cells add fuel to the deep problems existing in Dagestan and could seriously threaten security and stability of the region and Russian policies and control if North Caucasus as well, as Dagestan, the most ethnically diverse region of Russian Federation, remains an extremely troubled area and a field of competition between Moscow hegemony and resurgent Islam.