Dagestan Remains the Epicenter of the North Caucasus Insurgency

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 15 Issue: 16

August 2014 turned out to be an ordinary month for the North Caucasus as there was no change in the fighting between the government and the insurgency. The insurgents staged attacks in Dagestan, Chechens fought in the ranks of the jihadists in Syria and Iraq. In Ukraine, Chechens fought on both sides of the barricades, while Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria were relatively quiet. Thus, Dagestan has remained the epicenter of the insurgency in the North Caucasus. The only exception to this ongoing trend was the killing of the imam of the Vladikavkaz mosque, Rasul Gamzatov, in North Ossetia (Kavkavsky Uzel, August 18; see EDM September 2).

The situation in Dagestan certainly exemplifies the situation in the wider North Caucasus, and the republic serves as the base for the insurgents of the entire region.

August in Dagestan started off with an attack by militants on the Center for Combatting Extremism of the Ministry of Interior in Dagestan and ended with the latest killing of alleged militants by government forces. On August 26, two suspected militants were killed in a shootout in a forest near the village of Matseyevka in the Kizilyurt district of Dagestan, according to sources in the republic’s law enforcement agencies. The source said that the clash took place at about 3 a.m., when police encountered a group of militants during a search operation (rosbalt.ru, August 26).

However, as soon as the slain individuals were identified, the law enforcement agencies’ account of events there became quite dubious. Among those killed was Magomedarip Magomedov, a resident of Shamkhal, a township in Makhachkala’s Kirov district. Magomedov’s relatives had earlier sounded the alarm about his possible kidnapping (fedpress.ru, August 28). According to his wife, she told the police on August 23 that her husband had disappeared the previous day and that she feared he may have been kidnapped (Kavkavsky Uzel, August 24). Magomedov had previously had no issues with the police, his spouse stated.

On August 23, the news about Magomedov’s disappearance spread across online social networks (facebook.com/umar.butaev, August 23). The Dagestani armed resistance’s website refused to recognize the two slain individuals as militants, asserting that they were peaceful Muslims and describing them as “mujahideen” in quotation marks (vdagestan.com, August 28). According to usual practice, the insurgents proclaim their slain associates to be shahids (martyrs) who died for the faith, but they did not do so in this case. The two individuals must have been killed during police interrogation, after which their deaths were portrayed as the result of a successful operation. In addition, it is unimaginable that the local police could have staged a special operation in the forest at 3 a.m. Only special operation units of the Federal Security Service (FSB) are brave enough to do such things.

On August 22, four militants were killed in Khasavyurt. During a Russian security services’ special operation in Khasavyurt on August 22, four people inside a house, including a mother of two, were killed. Her two children were allowed to leave the dwelling (rosbalt.ru, August 24).

The Russian media normally portray the wives of militants as female insurgents. If the women refuse to leave the besieged premises, the media assumes that they are also active fighters. However, if all wives of the militants were counted as active members of the armed resistance movement, they would comprise a force larger than the males, since the insurgents tend to have several wives. A Muslim husband may prohibit his wife from surrendering to police, fearing that she will be raped, and this is why females often do not surrender during a majority of special operations. So, it is not justified to refer to women in besieged rebel houses as active rebels by default. One serviceman was killed and another wounded during the August 22 operation (rusnovosti.ru, August 22). The insurgents officially admitted the loss of four people in the clash (vdagestan.com, August 22).

Slain militants represent less important losses for the insurgency than captured ones. The insurgency is especially sensitive to the capture of rebels who provide the connection to civilian supporters of the insurgency. An insurgent website announced at the end of August that two rebels had been captured and given away the sources of food supply to the insurgency. The website then warned the insurgents to change their supply sources accordingly (vdagestan.com, August 31). Since the rebels were arrested in the area of Chechnya that borders Dagestan, the leadership of Dagestani rebels urged their supporters to change the SIM-cards of their cellphones and be alert to the possibility of massive special operations by the so-called Kadyrovtsy, who were concentrating in large numbers in the area.

Supplies are the most important issue for the rebels today, especially for those of them who are permanently based in the forests and mountains. The disruption of the insurgents’ supply chains forces them to spend time and effort looking for new supply sources. The militants normally use two or three levels of security checks for the acquisition of food supplies. In order to arrest Muslims who provide supplies to the insurgents without being active members of the insurgency, the FSB and the police conduct regular crackdowns on Muslims during Friday prayers in the mosques associated with the Salafists (novayagazeta-ug.ru, August 23). The FSB fingerprints all those arrested and stores this data to help the government in identifying the insurgents’ accomplices.

Murders, arrests, police searches and disappearances have become endemic in Dagestan, and August proved to be no exception. This routine helps replenish radical forces that will further undermine the position of the central authorities in this part of the country.