Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 26

The Sharia Jamaat also claimed responsibility for the murder of Magomedzagid Varisov. On June 28, Magomedzagid Varisov, a well-known political scientist and journalist, was shot to death as he pulled up to his home in Makhachkala. His driver was wounded while his wife, who was also in the car, was not hurt. Varisov was director of the republic’s Center for Strategic Initiatives and Political Technologies and previously worked as head of the information and analysis department of the Dagestani People’s Assembly and in the republic’s Ministry of Nationalities, External Relations and Information. He also published articles in the mass media that provided – at least in the view of Itar-Tass in a June 28 item – “unbiased assessments of recent developments in Dagestan.” On June 29, Kavkazcenter posted a message from the Sharia Jamaat calling Varisov a FSB agent, and saying he was a “mouthpiece of Kremlin propaganda and the Dagestani puppets, one of the active ideologues of Russian infidel power and the fight against establishing Sharia in Dagestan,” and stating that he had been “executed.” The statement noted that after the Sharia Jamaat claimed responsibility for the murder of Dagestan’s minister of nationalities, information and external affairs, Zagir Arukhov (see Chechnya Weekly, May 25), Varisov published an article that dismissed the claim as simply another statement of the kind routinely put out by “all kinds of virtual jamaats.” “With the permission of Allah, we destroyed this vermin, finally letting him taste the reality of our words and death,” the Sharia Jamaat statement read.

Still, not all observers are convinced that the Islamist underground killed Varisov. Kavkazky Uzel noted on June 29 that several days before his death, Berliner Zeitung had quoted Varisov as saying that the Dagestani authorities were losing control of the situation in the republic. In addition, Rumina Elmurzaeva, a journalist with the Dagestani weekly newspaper Novoe delo, told that the newspaper had published an analytical piece by Varisov in which he had described the June 4 security sweep targeting ethnic Dagestanis in the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya (see Chechnya Weekly, June 30) as a large-scale “political provocation.” The website quoted unnamed Novoe delo employees as saying that Varisov “believed that the events in Borozdinovskaya, and particularly their consequences, which heated up the situation in both regions, were equally advantageous to the authorities in both Chechnya and Dagestan. His position was clear. He bluntly wrote that a majority of politicians are currently not involved in resolving the conflict, but earning political points on the blood of the murdered.” Ann Cooper, director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), wrote in the Moscow Times on July 7 that Elmurzaeva told the CPJ that Varisov “had received threats, was being followed and had unsuccessfully sought help from the local police.”

On July 4, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura condemned the murder of Magomedzagid Varisov, saying that he “embodied freedom of expression” and calling on authorities to “investigate this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.” The Vienna-based International Press Institute also condemned the murder and expressed concern over the situation in Dagestan, Radio Liberty’s Russian service reported on July 6.

The murder of Magomedzagid Varisov was followed by another high-profile assassination. On July 4, Zubair Tataev, a Dagestani People’s Assembly deputy and director of the Khasavyurt branch of the Daggaz natural gas company, was shot to death along with his uncle by unidentified assailants three kilometers outside Khasavyurt. Novye izvestia on July 6 quoted sources in the office of the republic’s prosecutor as saying that Tataev was most likely killed by competitors who wanted to remove him as Daggaz director. But the newspaper also quoted unnamed associates of Tataev as saying political motives could not be ruled out, given that he was a member of the so-called “Northern Alliance” opposition group that seeks to unseat Magomedali Magomedov as Dagestan’s leader.

The Moscow Times on July 6 quoted Mikhail Roshchin, a Caucasus analyst with the Institute of Oriental Studies in the Russian Academy of Science, as saying that the Kremlin’s toleration of corruption and abuse of power by the Dagestani authorities in exchange for loyalty – and, by implication, its unwillingness to remove Magomedali Magomedov as Dagestan’s leader – “is only postponing an imminent crisis there.” At the same time, Roshchin said it was “clear to everyone” that “a domino effect” would occur in Dagestan. “If you touch one piece, everything will fall down,” he said.

Meanwhile, Novaya gazeta military correspondent Vyacheslav Izmailov wrote in the bi-weekly newspaper’s July 4 edition: “In terms of the number of terrorist attacks aimed at police personnel and internal troops, Dagestan has now surpassed Chechnya. Terrorist acts have become a weekly occurrence.”