Dagestan’s Security Situation is Becoming Hopeless

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 112

The first days of June in Dagestan have been especially disturbing for the local and federal authorities. Unidentified gunmen opened fire at the Atashka roadside café in the village of Untsukul in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district and virtually all local stores and other places selling alcoholic beverages were burnt down. In the town of Khasavyurt, the Arma beer bar was shot at by men armed with grenade launchers. All across Dagestan, leaflets are being disseminated warning shop owners that if they keep selling alcohol they face imminent retribution by the republic’s militants.

This kind of ideological pressure is encouraged by a majority of Dagestan’s population. But it also has its reverse side –the rebels are seeking to be viewed as a force capable of striking at any time and in any situation. That means that their authority is becoming so influential in the eyes of the local population that it is starting to deeply irritate Russian authorities. Fighting against alcohol is part of the activities of Islamist jamaats not only in Dagestan but in adjacent territories as well, and it is considered another form of protest and rebellion against Moscow. The struggle for Islamic morality in the North Caucasus has already become part of the standoff with the federal authorities.

On the morning of June 4, the head of the administration of the Magaramkent district of Dagestan, Azadi Shibabaev, was shot (www.u-f.ru/ru/Archive/2010/5/19/News/ID_25278). According to media reports, unidentified armed men opened fire at a Toyota with Shibabaev and his driver in it. The killing of a local administration head would not have elicited much controversy if his predecessor on the job, Abrek Gajiev, also had not been murdered on November 30, 2009, in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital.

On the afternoon of June 4, news agencies rushed to announce the murder of the imam of a village mosque in Tarki, in the suburbs of Makhachkala. It was later confirmed that the victim, Magomed Kazakbiev, was not the imam but just one of the parishioners of the mosque (www.newsru.com, June 4). But his death was not accidental. Rather, after the afternoon prayers were over and he exited the mosque, a young man ran up to him and shot him with a pistol. The murder was apparently related to efforts by some individuals to seek opportunities to modernize Islam. Basing his arguments on the Russian translation of the Koran by Ignati Krachkovski, Kazakbiev had been demanding that the Russian language be introduced as mandatory for non-Arabs during the prayers. What he was claiming was that the non-Arabs should not pray in Arabic. Kazakbiev and a small group of his followers were known for their non-recognition of both Sufism and Salafism. People called them the sect of “Krachkists” (www.dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 4), referring to their adherence to the Krachkovki translation of the Koran.

Also on June 4, the Interfax-Yug news agency, citing information it received from law enforcement officers in Dagestan’s Sumadin district, reported that unidentified people fired a machine gun and a grenade launcher at a border checkpoint in the vicinity of the village of Gako in Dagestan (Interfax, June 4). Reportedly, the shots came from two different locations in a nearby forest and as a result, the roof of one of the buildings of the checkpoint caught fire. It is worth mentioning that all Russian border guard units in Dagestan, as well as in Chechnya and Ingushetia, are kept on permanent military alert given the security threat posed by militant attacks. Even the local population, which had been promised jobs and military service in the frontier zone, is considered by the Russian border guards to be part of a hostile encirclement.

Of even more significance was a special operation in central Dagestan to capture individuals implicated in the Moscow metro blasts this past March. The operation was conducted on June 1 in the outskirts of the village of Kakamakhi in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkent district. Aleksandr Bortnikov, Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), admitted that FSB officers were killed in the operation (www.rosbalt.ru, June 2). In all, several law enforcement officers (siloviki) and a local resident were killed and two officers and one civilian wounded in the operation. The Russian authorities have long claimed that Magomedali Vagabov, the leader of the Gubden Jamaat, was behind the Moscow blasts, but they have thus far been unable to find him.

A group of militants was discovered in a residential district of Makhachkala on June 4. The Russian security forces started to storm a private house there early in the morning. After a brief battle, three people –the mother, sister and brother of one of the individuals who were returning the fire– came out of the building and surrendered. They were sent to the police department in Makhachkala. Bortnikov later said that “they were implicated in terrorist acts in Dagestan as well as in the recent events in Moscow” (www.rosbalt.ru, June 4). He was apparently referring to the three alleged militants killed in Makhachkala a day earlier. Two of them have been identified as Elgar Novruzov and Musa Davudov and are alleged to have been members of Magomedali Vagabov’s group. According to the FSB, Vagabov’s comrades-in-arms are all over in Dagestan and any Dagestani killed by the Russian security forces is a Vagabov associate.

The Russian authorities have claimed that everyone liquidated in Dagestan recently “was linked to the Moscow terrorist acts.” Through these pronouncements the government is trying to amplify the significance of its special operations in Dagestan. The truth, however, is that none of the individuals killed in the special operations had, or could have, any relation to the Moscow blasts, simply because those terrorist acts were committed by people who could move across Russia freely and did not have to hide in the forest as fugitives. That the FSB chief himself commented on an otherwise ordinary operation in Makhachkala makes it clear that he had hoped to capture Vagabov there. Meanwhile, there has been no information so far about the third person killed in that operation.

All of the special operations conducted throughout Dagestan in recent days were used by the Russian authorities to claim that the perpetrators of the Moscow metro bombings have been liquidated. The terrorist acts committed by two female suicide bombers on March 29, 2010 killed at least 40 and injured more than 100 people in the Russian capital.