Amir Abu Khamza (Ahmad Umarov), brother of the slain leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, has made an unexpected statement. Over the past several years, Abu Khamza has been the amir (head) of the Majlis Shura (an advisory body) of the Nokhchiycho Velayat (the Province of Chechnya) in the Caucasus Emirate abroad, which is based in Istanbul, Turkey (YouTube, October 26). There is also a separate Nokhchiycho Velayat within the structure of the so-called Islamic State. In his statement, Abu Khamza said he had decided to resign after a meeting of the Majlis Shura was held. Some members of the Majlis reportedly criticized Abu Khamza for “shortcomings and lapses in strengthening the unity of the brothers of the Caucasus Emirate” (Checheninfo.com, October 26). In plain language, this means that the Majlis members expressed a lack of confidence in Abu Khamza’s policies toward the Chechens who had remained faithful to the Caucasus Emirate.
Unlike his brother, Doku Umarov, Abu Khamza has had a scandalous reputation among Chechens and the North Caucasian diaspora in Turkey as a whole. Members of the diaspora have discussed Abu Khamza’s frequent attacks on people who disagreed with him over the Caucasus Emirate, and he has shown a lack of understanding of the situation in Chechnya. In August, for example, following news about the Chechen suspects in the killing of Boris Nemtsov, Abu Khamza made an “urgent” appeal to Chechens to prepare them for changes in the region and possible fighting in the capital of the republic (Infochechen.com, August 28). Abu Khamza evidently overestimated how negative President Vladimir Putin’s reaction would be to the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov by officers of the Sever battalion, which is under the personal control of Ramzan Kadyrov.
The resignation of Abu Khamza came after a group of Chechen militants in the republic declared via the Internet that they had pledged allegiance to him personally. Many who heard the declaration viewed it as an attempt by Abu Khamza to elevate his status from that of foreign representative, to that of amir of the Velayat Nokhchiycho (Chechnya). The declaration of allegiance to him by the Chechen militants was made in September and published on the web on October 3 (YouTube, October 3).
The authors of the declaration apparently wanted to show that not everyone had switched their allegiances to the Islamic State in the region, and that some remained faithful to the Caucasus Emirate. The video shows six, presumably young, men with their faces covered by hoodies. The men are making their statement in a room with a black flag in the background. Two out of six have handguns that they are showing off. The absence of machine guns suggests they had only been able to obtain handguns. The group’s speaker identifies himself as Amir Muslim, and from his speech it appears that the group infiltrated Chechnya from abroad. According to Amir Muslim, the group had settled in and started to amass the equipment necessary to wage jihad in Chechnya. Amir Muslim called on his audience to take active part in jihad against the Kremlin’s policies in the Caucasus. He concluded by saying that they would listen to all directions given by Abu Khamza, who apparently helped them travel to Chechnya. This was the contentious point that forced Abu Khamza’s resignation. Since the new group’s patron in the Caucasus Emirate is gone, they now either have to join the Islamic State or stop their rebel activities under the auspices of the Caucasus Emirate.
A less noticed aspect of this incident is the fact that a group of militants independent of Amir Khamzat, the former commander of the Riyad as-Salihin suicide bomber battalion who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), managed to infiltrate Chechnya despite still being small and weak. After the remaining Chechen militants under the command of Amir Yakub (Makhran Saidov) (Kavkazcenter.com, December 24, 2014) and Amir Khamzat (Infochechen.com, June 15) pledged allegiance to IS “caliph” Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, most analysts thought that all Chechen militants had joined the IS. Abu Khamza was evidently unhappy about the North Caucasian militants’ decision to abandon the Caucasus Emirate, which was founded with the participation of his brother Doku Umarov, who became the group’s first leader and was killed in the fall of 2013 (Km.ru, March 19, 2014).
Abu Khamza’s initiative to dispatch a group of militants into Chechnya meant that the group was challenging not only the authorities, but also the militants who had switched sides to support the Islamic State. Because of their ideological and political differences, the Caucasus Emirate and the Islamic State cannot be allies. Both, however, are targeted by Kadyrov’s forces and by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Chechnya. The government does not care whether the militants in Chechnya are operating under the flag of the Caucasus Emirate or the Islamic State.
Members of the armed Islamist underground movement in Turkey from the velayats of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabarda and Karachay apparently treated Abu Khamza’s initiative to dispatch militants to Chechnya in his name with suspicion and urged him to resign. Abu Khamza’s resignation could represent the final blow to the Caucasus Emirate, unless a new amir in Dagestan is appointed in the immediate future.