As expected, Doku Umarov, the leader of the North Caucasus rebels, was not found among those killed near the village of Upper Alkun in the mountainous part of Ingushetia bordering Chechnya during a March 28 major military-police operation employing military aircraft (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/153198). Nonetheless, the armed resistance movement, as a whole, suffered a heavy loss with the liquidation of Supyan Abdullaev, a key assistant to Umarov and the latter’s purported successor (www.kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2007/09/25/53278.shtml).
Umarov personally called Radio Free Europe’s Chechen service, which despite its miniscule segment of the station’s overall broadcasting – just 20 minutes per day – still remains trusted by the Chechen audience, regardless of their political affiliation. In his radio call-in, Umarov, like Mark Twain, refuted rumors of his demise (www.rferl.org/content/chechen_insurgent_leader_umarov_said_alive_after_strike/3550362.html), which put all of those who had so much hoped they could identify his remains among the dead in an uncomfortable position. The leader of the North Caucasian militants claimed during his telephone call to the US radio station that in the wake of this operation his intention was to strike back in the near future. As the history of such statements shows, a rebel reaction should be expected within two months, probably around the end of May 2011. If it is the case that the Ingush branch of the Riyadus-Salikhin suicide bombers brigade, led by Emir Khamzat, was not incapacitated by the Russian secret services and army special operation on March 28, then the warning emanating from Umarov should be treated with extreme seriousness. One can only speculate that the group of militants eliminated during the operation at Upper Alkun might well have been from among the men under the command of Emir Khamzat, who heads a section of the Ingush Sharia Jamaat and reports directly to Umarov. But since the body of Khamzat was not identified after the operation, this version is in serious doubt.
What is known for sure today is that Supyan Abdullaev was indeed stationed at the base of the Ingush jamaat (the names of those who had been killed are definitely an indication of their nationality), but the claims so picturesquely made by the Russian intelligence services that suicide bombers, also known as shahids, were being prepared at this base are, to put it mildly, little substantiated. Unlike Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) preparing its cadres at training camps, North Caucasus rebels do not appear to need similar special types of bases to train to fight their enemy.
What makes a person into a shahid is exactly the policy pursued by Moscow in the North Caucasus over the years: namely, the harassment and persecution of those who are committed to Salafism, the abduction of young people because of their beliefs, the killing of suspected militants in villages, the mocking of those killed and their surviving family members, and so on. The people living in the region do not know whether it is better to be caught by the government or by paramilitary or unidentified armed groups.
For instance, the relatives of Isa Khashegulgov, who was arrested by Russian authorities several months ago, have been unable to learn where he is being held or what charges have been brought against him (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/183617/). Another example is when Ibragim Torshkhovev was declared as a “shahid,” this time in southern Russia. An ethnic Ingush, he is wanted exclusively on the grounds of not being a supporter of Islam that the authorities consider “traditional.” Torshkhovev has been missing for about four months (www.rosbalt.ru/kavkaz/2011/04/11/837900.html). It seems the Russian authorities have put on the wanted list all those who failed to register at the place of their arrival. As has happened many times in the past, alleged “shahids” declared by police to have ventured to commit a suicide bombing turn out to be ordinary persons who have just changed their address for a new place of residence. Furthermore, the authorities do not bother to explain what they mean by so-called “traditional Islam.” It appears anyone can become a suspect – if they, for instance, do not support the government-appointed mullahs, muftis and kadis (Islamic judges).
Meanwhile, the FSB reported that a new operation was underway in the Ingush village of Muzhichi on April 11-12, announcing that Doku Umarov was again their primary target. This village in the foothills of Ingushetia is located a little below the village of Upper Alkun where Umarov was hunted two weeks earlier (http://kavkasia.net/Russia/2011/1302646075.php). However, his body was once again not identified among those who were killed, and the operation ended with the start of heavy rain. It is strange that such natural elements could be the reason for suspending an operation that was advertised in all the Russian media as an opportunity to capture the leader of North Caucasian militants. Perhaps the maneuver was one of the examples of propaganda exploits by the FSB, which tries to present its every move as a planned operation to apprehend Umarov. Given the fact that ethnic Chechens were identified among the dead, it can be presumed that they belonged to a small support group whose task probably was to provide cover to the rebel leader. Ruslan Bikaev, a student at the I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, was killed in the operation (www.rian.ru/incidents/20110412/363666743.html), which is additional proof that higher education students play an important role qualitatively in the armed resistance movement. This example also shows that the rebel movement is by no means comprised of uneducated and underage masses but, rather, of those who consciously choose the path of confrontation with Russia. This is not romanticism but a harsh reality of the North Caucasus.
Against this backdrop, the attempt by Aleksandr Khloponin, the Russian president’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District who simultaneously holds the rank of vice premier, to track students studying abroad and forbid them to teach in Russia upon returning is nothing but the persecution of dissidents among Russian Muslims (www.rosbalt.ru/kavkaz/2011/04/12/838373.html). According to the authorities, Russian Muslims should be restricted to receiving an Islamic education within the boundaries of Russia and under the strict control of instructors who know “what to teach and how to teach,” with their courses designed not by Muslim theologians but ideologues from the Kremlin. All this shows that the situation in the North Caucasus seems to be heading toward a deepening and irreversible conflict between the Russian government and the people of the North Caucasus region.