Emir of Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat Reportedly Killed in Russian Special Operation

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 12 Issue: 8

Russia’s intelligence services reported on the night of April 18 that they had identified the body of Israpil Validzhanov, who was better known as Emir Hassan, the head of Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat armed resistance movement, among four militants killed near the village of Tashkapur in the republic’s Levashinsky district. The area is near Dagestan’s Gunibsky district, where the local jamaat is led by Emir Rappani (www.rosbalt.ru/kavkaz/2011/04/18/840300.html). Emir Hassan became the militant leader in September 2010 following the killing of his predecessor, Magomedali Vagabov, in August of that year (www.rosbalt.ru/kavkaz/2011/04/18/840300.html).

Emir Hassan is already the sixth head of the Dagestan jamaat liquidated by the Russians since 2007. The average lifespan of a leader of the Sharia Jamaat is no more than a few months. It shows both the active character of the rebel leaders of the armed resistance movement in Dagestan and the relative success of the operations carried out by Russia’s intelligence services, which have repeatedly managed to locate the Sharia Jamaat leaders. According to a police source, Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) officers stopped two Russian-made cars near the village of Tashkapur late at night and demanded that the cars’ occupants show their identification documents. In response to the demand, the occupants opened fire and the security officers returned fire, killing all four men in the cars (https://gazeta.ru/politics/2011/04/18_a_3587177.shtml). One of those killed turned out to be Emir Hassan. If this official account of what happened is true, then the success of Russian security services was a mere accident and the killing of Emir Hassan was not part of a preplanned special operation specifically designed to neutralize the leader of the Dagestani jamaat. Already by the evening, Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) formally confirmed the death of the leader of Dagestan’s militants (https://nak.fsb.ru/).

Born in 1968, Emir Hassan, an ethnic Dargin, was accused of all the high-profile operations carried out by rebels over the past five years in Dagestan. Russia’s law enforcement agencies did not rule out that he was involved in the bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in January of this year. Emir Hassan was wanted by the federal authorities on charges under Article 210, part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – organization of a criminal association (criminal organization) or participation therein (www.ubiytsa.ru/index.php/89-2010-09-07-15-49-56/38833-89-2010-09-07-15-49-56.html).

As a native of the village of Sangi in the Kaytagsky district near the city of Derbent in southern Dagestan on the Caspian Sea, Emir Hassan was believed to be capable of revitalizing the Azerbaijan jamaat as well, which was established in 2007-2008 by Emir Abdul-Malik (aka Ilgar Mollachiev), but never became an active part of the armed resistance movement as a whole. In his first video message in which he spoke Emir Hassan was surrounded by his field commanders. Among them was the emir of the Azeri jamaat, and this likely stirred considerable concern within the government of Azerbaijan.

Now that Emir Hassan is dead, it is up to Doku Umarov, the Emir of the North Caucasus Emirate, to select a new Emir for Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat. The process usually takes some time, from a few weeks up to several months, and not a few days, as some experts have erroneously claimed (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/dagestan/1396005.html).

It is also worth refocusing on the quality of those who are in the ranks of the armed opposition to the Russian rule. One of those killed with Emir Hassan was identified as Magomed Adalaev, a 21-year-old native of the village of Balakhani in Dagestan’s Untsukulsky district. According to the Russian authorities, in 2010 Adalaev returned to Dagestan from Egypt, where he had studied at an Islamic school. This is proof once again that people joining the ranks of the rebels are not because of social dysfunction, as Russian authorities and pro-Moscow experts and analysts always claim, but exclusively from an ideologically-motivated desire to fight the Russian government. The conclusions drawn by the Memorial human rights organization are prone to the same type of mistaken characteristic of any superficial approach to the problem, focusing all too much on social injustices committed by the local leaderships in the North Caucasus republics. Memorial suggests negotiations and the establishment of a social contract between the Russian government and the rebel, and Dagestani society as a whole, as a way to resolve the confrontation (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20819).

But the participants in the armed resistance movement do not seem to see this offer as a viable solution to the existing problem. Peace at any price is simply not acceptable to them. They go into the forests and mountains not in order to avenge someone: they simply do not consider themselves to be members of society and are trying to change society in their own way and understanding.

Against the background of the latest reports from Dagestan – including killings, attacks, bombings, defusing of explosives on railroads and counterterrorism operations carried out in various parts of the republic – serious attention should be given to last week’s strange news reports concerning one of the insignificant Russian military bases in the mountainous part of Dagestan. Six years after the garrison was ceremoniously opened in 2005 in the mountainous village of Botlikh – in Dagestan’s Botlikh district bordering Chechnya’s Vedeno district and in close proximity to the Georgian border –Russian troops have suddenly started to leave the base (www.islamnews.ru/news-49501.html). This base was originally established as a major point of deployment for one of the two mountain brigades in the North Caucasus (the other one is in Karachaevo-Cherkessia in the northwestern Caucasus). These brigades were charged with preventing events similar to the incursion by radical Salafist forces in August 1999 led by Mukhmed Kabedov, who proclaimed himself as the ruler of the Islamic Republic of Dagestan with its temporary capital in the village of Botlikh.

The military said the reason for the troops’ departure from Botlikh was the lack of a training field (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/183795/) that was supposed to be set up in the adjacent Chechen territory, where a historical and cultural reserve is located. Chechen experts and enthusiasts managed to convince Moscow that the establishment of a tank field within the range of the reserve would violate Russian laws on the preservation of historical monuments of the medieval period (towers, crypts, pagan and early Muslim cemeteries, etc.) which are found in this area in quite large numbers.

However, the residents of Botlikh disagree. They claim that it was their vigorous efforts that forced the Russian military to leave the territory, where the distribution of land plots for building houses for villagers was planned. An anonymous military source also confirmed that the Russian withdrawal was related to the hostile attitude on the part of the villagers, who showed their hatred of the Russian military even more openly than the residents in neighboring Chechnya.

The only explanation that lies on the surface, however, is that the base, originally seen as a strategic location for a military invasion of Georgia from Dagestan, apparently is no longer relevant. Maintaining a base amid enraged local residents has become a headache for Russia’s military command. Without the prospect of invading the neighboring country, a base in this mountainous part of Dagestan would be absolutely meaningless. In any case, the Russian military command and Dagestan’s authorities have yet to confirm officially that the base has been shut down.