The insurgency in Dagestan was plagued by a series of failures last week. On December 9, the Russian security services killed the leader of the rebels’ Makhachkala sector, 25-year-old Emir Usman (Ruslan Darsamov). The incident took place when law enforcement agents stopped a car for a document check near the medical diagnostic center on Akushinsky Street in Makhachkala. Following the narrative that has become a news cliché in the region, the authorities claimed the car’s driver fired at the security officers and they had to kill him (Rg.ru, December 12). No security personnel or civilians were harmed in the incident. The Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police did not bother to explain how the driver of the car could have missed hitting the police officer who was leaning over to check his documents. This highly stylized description of the incident in Makhachkala was designed for the media.
The killing of Emir Usman probably allowed the security services to identify two other militants who were shot dead in Makhachkala on December 10 (Vdagestan.com, December 12). That incident took place at the intersection of Irchi Kazak and Yaragsky streets, as police attempted to stop a suspicious Toyota Camry. People in the car started shooting at the police and were killed by police return fire. One police officer was injured in the incident. The two slain militants were identified as Murad Mamedov and Marat Bolatkhanov (Lifenews.ru, December 11).
Two days later, on December 12, the Russian security services carried out another powerful strike targeting militants in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkent district, killing five suspected members of the armed resistance. The FSB received information about a group of militants who were holding several women and children hostage. Special FSB and police rapid reaction groups were dispatched to the site. The house in which the militants were holding the hostages was sealed off and the residents of nearby houses were evacuated. The National Antiterrorist Committee (NAK) stated that two women and children were released from the house after negotiations. The third woman, the wife of a militant from the Gubden jamaat, Omar Magomedov, refused to leave the besieged building. The owner of the house also refused to leave, which allowed the government to claim that he was also a rebel. All the militants killed in the house turned out to be Gubden jamaat members. The fact that the property owner, Gajimagomed Abdulkhalikov, did not leave his house suggests that some militant supporters in the civilian population continue on with their daily lives while quietly helping the insurgency and are not known to the government. In other words, when estimating how many rebels there are, their supporters in the shadows, who can help them at difficult times, should also be taken into consideration. The number of civilian supporters of the rebels may actually exceed the number of rebels (Rg.ru, December 12).
According to the official version, the militants refused to surrender, instead opening fire, and were killed in the subsequent clash (Regnum.ru, December 12). Ibragim Karanaev, 20-year-old Omar Magomedov (a.k.a. Abu ad-Darda) and his wife were identified among the slain militants. Thirty-year-old Murat Zalitinov (Emir Abutakhir), from the village of Karamakhi in Buinaksk district, was the highest-level insurgent killed by the security services. Zalitinov was the emir of the Kadar jamaat and was wanted for the terrorist attacks in Volgograd in December 2013, which were carried out by suicide bombers at a railway station and in a trolleybus and claimed the lives of 34 people, and the killing of five hunters who accidentally came across rebels in a forest in Karabudakhkent district in 2012 (Kommersant, December 13).
Also on December 12, Kirov district police carried out mass arrests of parishioners at the local mosque in the town of Leninkent, which is a suburb of Makhachkala. After the end of Friday prayers, a police bus arrived at the mosque and many of the parishioners who were leaving the mosque were forced onto the bus. This has become nearly a routine practice in Dagestan in recent years, with police taking preventive measures with the intention of registering as many individuals deemed likely to help the militants as possible (Chernovik.net, December 12).
In separate incidents on December 12, a bombing likely carried out by militants took place in Dagestan’s Untsukul district. The bombing targeted two armored trucks on the Shamilkala-Gimry road near the Irganai hydroelectric plant (Riadagestan.ru, December 13). Two days later, three police cars were damaged in an explosion on a mountain road in Untsukul district. No one was hurt in the attack (Kavkazsky Uzel, December 14).
Meanwhile, on December 13, police killed two members of illegal armed groups in Dagestan’s Kayakent district, near the city of Izberbash. The police had information that militants were planning to infiltrate the city at night. When police officers tried to arrest the suspects, the latter opened fire and were killed by police return fire. The slain individuals were identified as 35-year-old Kamil Alimov from the Kayakent district village of Sagasi-Deibuk and 48-year-old Magomed Kamalov from the city of Izberbash (Riadagestan.ru, December 13).
Thus, the Dagestani jamaat suffered significant losses during the first two weeks of December, including two of its best known emirs. These successes by the Russian security services strongly suggest that moles were planted among the militants and thereby were passing on valuable information, which resulted in their deaths. Overall, however, this changes the situation little in Dagestan, as the militancy there does not depend on several militants. The spread of Salafist ideas seem to be a much more important factor than the authorities are willing to admit since the struggle with combating Salafism is the core problem as to why Moscow is unable to eliminate the insurgency in Dagestan.