Caucasus Emirate and Islamic State Split Slows Militant Activities in North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 16 Issue: 3

Since last November, the commanders of the North Caucasus jamaats, one after another, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (see EDM, January 16).

It is well known that the Caucasus Emirate replaced the idea of an independent Chechen state—Ichkeria. The concept of the Caucasus Emirate was founded on the premise of armed resistance by the North Caucasian militants and the idea of building an Islamic state on the territory of the North Caucasus. The creation of the Caucasus Emirate was announced on October 7, 2007, by the president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Doku Umarov, and it claimed to include the entire North Caucasus between the Caspian and the Black seas (, December 9, 2007). In December 2009, Russia’s Supreme Court banned the activities of the Caucasus Emirate, designating it a terrorist organization (, December 18, 2009).

Following the Dagestani and Chechen amirs, the Ingush jamaat also appears to be on its way to joining al-Baghdadi. A new video recording posted to the Internet last week (February 8) indicates that the process of integrating the North Caucasus militants into the structures of the Islamic State is in full swing. The young man in the 1 minute and 40 second video presented himself as the amir of Ingushetia, but did not give his full name. The website associated with the Islamic State identified him as Amir Muhammad (, February 8).

The militant did not pledge allegiance to the “caliph of all Muslims” al-Baghdadi. Prior to reading his address, Amir Muhammad said that he had recorded another audio address to Umar Shishani. In this video, Amir Muhammad addresses the North Caucasians who are fighting in Syria and Iraq and mentions Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi along with Umar Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili), a Chechen, and Abu Jihad (Islam Atabiev), a Karachay. Amir Muhammad says that his address is in response to an appeal by Abu Jihad, who had called on everyone to clarify their attitude to the Islamic State. Ingushetia’s amir says that he supports the fighters of the Islamic State and expresses his solidarity with them. However, he does not take an oath of allegiance in the video, which probably means that Amir Muhammad will wait for a reply from Umar Shishani. Since Ingushetia’s amir expressed support for the caliphate fighters, he is probably quite close to taking the oath of allegiance to the Islamic State organization. The final decision of Ingushetia’s jamaat will determine its relations with the Caucasus Emirate, especially, with the amir of the Chechen velayat, Amir Hamzat (Aslan Batyukaev). In the past several years, the vitality of the Ingush jamaat was undermined as a result of the deaths of three of its amirs (, May 24, 2014).

Some of its members were arrested by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police, which put the jamaat on the defensive. Today, the jamaat practically functions only in union with the Chechen jamaat in the border area between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Thus, Ingushetia’s jamaat cannot simply part with the Chechen jamaat and survive without its support. Given the Ingush jamaat’s dependence on the Chechen jamaat, Amir Muhammad will have to make a decision based on the realities of his situation, rather than on the virtual support of the Islamic State and Umar Shishani.

This video address and the qualms of Ingush jamaat Amir Muhammad about the Islamic State will be an unpleasant surprise to the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Sheikh Abu Muhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov). The leader of the Caucasus Emirate remains increasingly isolated, as well-known figures continue to abandon him. Having lost almost all the leaders of the Dagestani jamaat, Sheikh Abu Muhammad may need to try to improve his position by obtaining support from other North Caucasus jamaats—particularly the Chechen and Kabardino-Balkarian jamaats. However, the Chechen jamaat has been split, with all of its top commanders, with the exception of Amir Hamzat himself, having pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (YouTube, December 28, 2014).

Since the Chechen jamaat is fairly small, the opinion of the amir of the jamaat is of relatively minor importance in comparison to the opinion of his subordinate commanders who switched their allegiance to Islamic State. So far, only the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaat remains adamant in its support for the Caucasus Emirate amir (YouTube, January 10).

All of these splits in allegiance by militants in the North Caucasus have played into the hands of the Russian government. In the past two months, the situation in Dagestan and Ingushetia has been quiet. The number of militant attacks on government forces last year were 50 percent fewer in comparison to 2013, and government operations against the militants were cut by half in 2014 (Kavkazsky Uzel, January 30). In the past two to three months, the North Caucasus militants have been busy arguing with each other. The amir of the Tarkalinsky jamaat, Muhammad; the amir of Makhachkala, Seifullah; the amir of the Kaspiysky jamaat, Musa; and the amir of the Shamilkala sector, Muhammad, all left the Caucasus Emirate and recorded a video address asking for help in fighting the enemies of Islam. The militants said that officials and law enforcement agents, whom they referred to as kafirs (infidels), would soon “lose their heads” (YouTube, January 30). They said nothing, however, about what they had done to date and how they would divide up the spheres of influence with the militants who are still members of the Caucasus Emirate.

Consequently, one can increasingly observe a drift of Caucasus Emirate members toward the Islamic State and how this development, in turn, appears to have stalled the actions of the militant groups operating in the North Caucasus. The future of the armed resistance in the North Caucasus, therefore, greatly depends on how the dispute between the Caucasus Emirate and the Islamic State will be resolved.