Divisions Between Caucasus Emirate and Islamic State Militants Have No Impact on the Ground

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 128

Caucasus Emirate militants (Source: jihadology.net)

The Caucasus Emirate (CE) is refusing to exit the political arena of the North Caucasus. After all the well-known amirs of the North Caucasus jamaats pledged allegiance to the Islamic State’s (IS) so-called caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (see EDM, June 26), one would have expected that the CE would admit defeat and disband. The death of CE leader Aliaskhab Kebekov (see EDM, April 24) sped up the demise of its ideology and its replacement with the more radical form of Islamic resistance represented by IS and its followers.

While observers focused on the shift from the Caucasus Emirate to the Islamic State in the North Caucasus, the news that a single amir from the team of the slain CE leader took an oath of allegiance to the CE went almost unnoticed. The rebel leader who remained loyal to the CE is Said Abu Muhammad Arakinsky, the group’s amir of Dagestan (Kavkazsky Uzel, December 29, 2014). The CE’s previous Dagestani amir, Rustam Asilderov, defected to IS (vd.ag, July 3). In a two-minute audio recording, Amir Said Arakansky revealed that the CE’s former qadi (judge) and amir of the Mountainous Sector of Dagestan, Abu Usman Gimrinsky (Magomed Suleimanov), had become the new leader of the CE. Arakansky confirmed his fealty to the new CE amir. It is unknown, however, who chose the new CE amir, and how he was selected. It is also unclear which rebel commanders remain loyal to the CE apart from Said Arakansky himself and the amir of the Central Sector of the Dagestani velayat, Umar Balakhansky.

These developments only make the situation in Dagestan more complicated. The existence of two competing armed opposition groups (the remnants of the CE and IS) in the North Caucasus creates the conditions for conflict that will also have an impact on their representatives abroad—in the Middle East and Turkey, where the financiers of the North Caucasus militants will be discouraged from providing support to them. In the meantime, it is hard to understand whom exactly the Russian security services are currently fighting in Dagestan. During a special operation in the village of Kharachi, in Dagestan’s Untsukul district, a resident of the village, Akhmed Kutbudinov, was kidnapped. In the wake of the kidnapping, the authorities announced a counter-terrorism operation regime in the area (Vd.ag, July 4). Kharachi residents said they were planning to leave the area out of fear they would be the targets of plunder by the Russian security services, similar to what residents of the village of Vremenny near Gimry village experienced late last year (Memo.ru, December 12, 2014). It is clear that the Gimry area is under the control of Abu Usman Gimrinsky, so the special operation was launched against his militants.

There have also been special operations in other areas of Dagestan. For example, on July 3, a counter-terrorism operation regime was introduced in the city of Derbent and the Derbent district in Dagestan. Officials said the operation was launched in response to reports of a group of rebels in the Derbent area (Riadagestan.ru, July 3). However, even though no rebels had been found several days into the operation, the authorities did not lift the counter-terrorism operation regime, thereby allowing the security services to continue violating the rights of citizens in the affected areas.

At around the same time, a large base of militants in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district was sealed off by government forces, and the authorities introduced a counter-terrorism operation regime in the district on July 3. However, the base turned out to be nothing more than an insurgent summer camp. According to law enforcement agencies, information from area residents suggested there were unknown armed groups in the forest and for that reason the counter-terrorism operation regime was introduced (Kavkazsky Uzel, July 3).

It is not entirely clear why the authorities had not checked out this area before. It should be noted that Kizilyurt district is located in Dagestan’s foothills, where there are few forests, so locals certainly would have noticed a large group of militants operating there. Still, sources close to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) reported that government forces had sealed off a large insurgent base (Kavkazpress.ru, July 3). This action was taken after militants attacked government forces between the villages of Nechaevka and Matseevka. By July 4, government forces had managed to kill two rebels. However, an interior ministry serviceman was also killed in the shootout (Newsru.com, July 4). In the area where the fighting took place, government forces found a cache of weapons, including two machine guns, several hand grenades, three rifles, a handgun and 20 kilograms of explosives, along with industrial detonators. In other words, the “large base of the rebels” turned out to be only a hideout for two militants. As usual, the government forces blamed all the notorious crimes committed in the area on the two slain rebels (Kavkazsky Uzel, July 5). In fact, the slain rebels may have been among those in the district who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Thus, so far, it appears that the split between supporters of the Caucasus Emirate and the Islamic State has made little difference on the ground in the North Caucasus. The IS supporters have not completed the process of being incorporated into the structure of the “caliphate” and have not yet carried out any operations under their new flag. The Russian security services continue to conduct operations to locate and eliminate rebels, but nothing has happened yet to indicate in any shape or form any change in the tactics or strategy on the part of the clandestine armed Islamist resistance.