Dagestan’s Jamaats Widen Their Theater of Operations

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 18

Dagestan’s Interior Minister Adalgirei Magomedtagirov recently admitted that the government expects rebel fighters to strike over the May holidays. The projected spread of rebel attacks mentioned in his statement was quite intriguing: “Makhachkala-based groups of bandits are planning to commit acts of terror in several Dagestani cities, including Makhachkala, Khasavyurt, Kizilyurt, Kizlyar, Buinaksk, Kaspiisk and Derbent,” he said. Yet as inclusive as that list was, Magomedtagirov had to add that terror acts elsewhere in Dagestan could also not be ruled out (Grani.ru, April 30).

It is easy to see that the locations of anticipated rebel attacks span almost all of Dagestan, from Kizlyar in the north to Derbent in the south. The reality that the government has been trying to deny for a long time is that the entire territory of Dagestan has become a theater for operations staged by rebel fighters of several jamaats (the Sharia Jamaat, Jenet Jamaat, Buinaksk Jamaat, Khalif Jamaat and numerous subdivisions of these groups, including Jarullah, Taimaz of Gubdent, Seifullah and others) (Chechenpress.org, October 13, 2007). The new Dagestan front commander Emir Abdul-Majid has become a worthy replacement of his predecessor, and while the rebels have suffered significant losses inflicted by the police and Federal Security Service (FSB) operations during the last six months, anti-government attacks continue to occur across Dagestan consistently at the rate of several times a week.

The Russian army and special services expected that the assassination of the previous underground resistance commander Emir Rabbani (aka Rappani) Khalilov in the Kizilyurt district village of Novy Sulak in Dagestan on September 17, 2007 (Kavkaz-memo.ru, September 18, 2007) would disorient the rebels who have been fighting in Dagestan under his leadership. Khalilov’s successor, however, turned out to be so similar to him that, unlike in Chechnya, the change of leadership caused neither apparent losses nor major disruptions for the resistance movement in Dagestan.

The longest ongoing “mop-up” operation in the village of Gimry, the birthplace of two famous imams (Gazi-Magoma, aka Gazi Mullah, and Shamil), has been underway for almost six months since it started on December 16, 2007. Army and FSB special services units have been called to the area; the village has been cut off from the rest of the world by a total blockade, with the army demanding that the residents give up the active fighters of the local jamaat.

The original purpose of the Gimry operation was to apprehend the killers of Gazimagomed Magomedov, the local representative from the Untsukul district in Dagestan’s parliament. It is worth noting that before the war in Chechnya broke out, Magomedov was an avid supporter of Dagestani radical leader Bagautdin of Kizilyurt (Magomed Kebedov), who left Dagestan in 2000 and remains underground somewhere in the Middle East (Novaya Gazeta, January 21).

The government is at a loss to understand the reluctance of Gimry’s residents to give up the jamaat fighters; arrests, threats and almost daily searches carried out in different blocks of the village are certain to have taken a toll on the mental health of the villagers. At their request, Dagestan’s Ministry of Health arranged for the visit of a group of physicians to provide outpatient services on February 6, which appeared to be indirect proof that the residents were banned from leaving the village even for medical reasons.

It should also be noted that the village of Gimry, home to less than 1,000 households and 3,500 people, has been a pebble in the government’s shoe for a long time due to the strong influence of the jamaat in the village. For example, the villagers have been living under virtual Sharia rule for a number of years, and all the disputes have been reviewed by the Sharia courts only (Novaya Gazeta, March 24), which stood in sharp contrast to the government’s loud claims that the shootouts in the villages of Karamakhi, Chabanmakhi and Kadar put an end to radicalism in Dagestan once and for all (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 21, 1999). Interestingly, there are dozens of villages like Gimry across Dagestan, but there is no way to come up with an accurate count because the government makes every effort to suppress the relevant information in fear that their influence will grow.

At the same time, anti-Sufi sentiment in Dagestan has been rising in direct proportion to the relentless promotion of less-than-popular Sufi sheikhs. It comes as no surprise that the Sharia Jamaat web site (www.jamaatshariat.com) contains so much criticism about the Sufi philosophy that sometimes it is difficult to discern whether the Jamaat considers Sufism a worse enemy than the Russian army.

The official website of Sharia Jamaat (an umbrella group for all other jamaats in Dagestan except the Nogai Jamaat, which consists of ethnic Nogais of Dagestan, Stavropol, Chechnya and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and serves as a separate unit of the Caucasus Front outside of the Sharia Jamaat) continues to publish the writings of its fugitive leader Magomed Kebedov (Bagautdin Magomedov), including his book and his advice on the art of warfare, along with his judgments on those who have been “good Muslims” and not-so-good ones.

In essence, Dagestan leads a life of its own; Russia maintains a list of entertainers banned from performing in the republic, which includes all artists suspected of being homosexual. Clan-driven and criminal infighting continues to rip the republic apart (Chechnya Weekly, July 12 and September 13, 2007), and it would not be an overstatement to call Dagestan a weakest link in the chain of North Caucasus republics.

Societal tensions fuel the continuing flight of ethnic Russians out of Dagestan who see no future in the region, where the armed opposition has been battling the government for many years. For example, Dagestan was home to 121,000 ethnic Russians according to the 2002 census numbers, compared with 150,000 Russians in 1989 (Rossiiskaya Gazeta–Yug Rossii, #4650, April 29). In all likelihood, the 2002 numbers include the permanently stationed military personnel and numerous staff of the FSB training center (the FSB opened a Specialized Training Center in Dagestan in March 2007) but not the military forces stationed in Botlikh.

In light of the above, the government’s efforts to organize various anti-terrorism drills cause nothing but concern because they are perceived as half-hearted attempts to maintain the party line that the government remains in control. One such spectacle was recently staged at the Tchirkey Hydrological Power Station to practice defense against the rebel raids, a hot topic in Dagestan today (Eng.riadagestan.ru, April 29).

In conclusion, Dagestan remains one of the most dangerous and tense regions in the North Caucasus, where the rebels’ resources and capabilities are far superior to all other regions, including Chechnya. That state of affairs is certain to keep Minister Magomedtagirov busy; indeed, he will likely have to keep announcing upcoming rebel attacks across Dagestan to the public, again and again.