Confrontation Between Dagestani Authorities and Rebels Worsens

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 24

Dagestan’s state news agency reported a killing on the Kavkaz federal highway near the village of Agachaul on December 7 under a strange headline. According to RIA Dagestan, unknown assailants fired shots at a car in which Abakar Sulebanov, the former chief of a bread factory and head of the village of Karamakhi, and his cousin Jabrail were traveling, killing both men. Agachaul is located in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkent district, which is 15 kilometers from Makhachkala. Over twenty 5.45-mm cartridges were found at the site of the murder (www.riadagestan.ru/news/2012/12/7/147578/). What was strange about this report was that it emphasized Sulebanov’s former business affiliation rather than his current post of head of the Karamakhi administration.

Karamakhi, located in Dagestan’s Buinaksk district, became known in the 1990s, when local Salafis declared it, along with the neighboring village of Chabanmakhi, a zone of Sharia law rule (www.kommersant.ru/doc/203584). Even then, Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, who visited Karamakhi on September 3, 1998, was forced to admit that there was parallel Salafi rule in the village, which was living according to Sharia law (www.polit.ru/article/2004/09/07/1999/). The Salafis’ attempt to establish their own rule in the mountains of Dagestan in 1999 using an armed incursion, led by Bagaudin Kebedov (aka Bagaudin Kizilyurtovsky), ended up in a crushing defeat of all the Salafi cells across the republic, and Karamakhi seemed to fall back into the hands of the Sufi minority in the village. However, the Salafis, instead of actively fighting for authority in the village, simply reverted to the tactic of ignoring the existing government positions of authority. The number of Salafis in the village has certainly not decreased. Still, there have been no public outbursts by the Salafis since 1999.

The slain head of the Karamakhi administration, Abakar Sulebanov, was also a member of the Sufi minority in the village. He was quite well-known in Dagestan because, in addition to his other leadership roles, he also was the former president of the judo and sambo association in Dagestan. His cousin Jabrail Sulebanov, who was also killed in the incident, was his personal chauffeur and bodyguard. While Abakar Sulebanov had been head of the village since 2010, he was best known for his past achievements in sports and more recently as the head of a local bread factory. Unless he was involved in other business activities, the bread-making business is not exactly the type of occupation for which people are killed in Dagestan. Could it be that he was murdered because he headed the village administration? In his job he must have spoken out against extremism and radicalism in Dagestani society. However, other heads of administrations also make such statements, yet they are not shot to death on a federal highway after having their hands tied. Some experts in Dagestan vaguely alleged that the killing was carried out not by the militants, but “dark forces” that are trying to destabilize the republic (http://kavpolit.com/v-dagestane-ubit-glava-seleniya-karamaxi/).

It is hard to imagine how the situation in Dagestan could be made even more unstable than it already is. It is plausible that as the head of Karamakhi village, Sulebanov may have submitted a list of suspected Salafis to the police. Dagestanis, outraged at the armed incursion by groups led by Kebedov and Shamil Basaev in August 1999, passed a law that legally banned Salafi teaching on September 16, 1999. However, the Dagestani authorities are considering dropping the law, and ongoing negotiations between the Sufis and the political wing of the Salafis, Ahlsunna-va-Jamaa, make scrapping this law all the more appropriate (http://svpressa.ru/society/article/35701/).

It should not be forgotten that the fate of those who supported the government in their crusade against the Salafis was similar to that of the slain head of Karamakhi. For example, on June 29, unknown attackers in Karamakhi killed the imam of a mosque and one of his parishioners. Following the killing, the attackers set the mosque on fire and left (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/208899/). A year earlier, the imam of the village of Kadara, 81-year-old Zainudin Daiziev, was shot dead in his home. The Salafis had not forgiven him for having reached an agreement with the authorities behind their backs (www.islamdag.ru/news/8522). Hence it appears that what was carried out was a revenge killing for the events of 1999. At this point, it is hard to say whether the killing of Abakar Sulebanov was carried out by the militants, since the militant websites publish such information with a time lag of 10–14 days.

Meanwhile, Dagestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov has been visiting Dagestani districts and holding meetings of the republican anti-terrorist commission, during which he tries to pretend he is in control of the situation in the republic. One of the latest such meetings took place in the village of Botlikh on December 4. Magomedov lashed out at the residents of the village of Gimry, who had confronted law enforcement agents at the Gimry Bridge on November 16 (http://kavpolit.com/otvet-gimrincev-glave-dagestana/). Magomedov called on the law enforcement bodies to break up any resistance they encounter in the future. Thus, the Dagestani president apparently cannot assess the situation in the republic adequately. People in Dagestan are pitted against the authorities. The republic is in the midst of a fierce confrontation. On the one hand, the militants are fighting the government while, on the other hand, the government is fighting the people, since it cannot discern who will turn into a militant tomorrow.

The fact that the Sulebanovs were killed in broad daylight near Makhachkala testifies to the degree of instability in the republic as the police apparently do not control the situation even on the outskirts of the republican capital. It is becoming increasingly likely that the federal authorities will be compelled to dispatch additional military and police forces to Dagestan to establish direct control over the republic, bypassing the republican leadership. This, however, is unlikely to change the situation. Dagestan has clearly become the regional leader in terms of religious radicalization. The situation in the republic will most probably take a change for the worse in the very near future.