Islamic State Apparently Wins Its Competition With Caucasus Emirate

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 16 Issue: 22

Following the killing of the Ingush jamaat’s amir in Nazran on August 31, the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaat also experienced a major setback. The Russian security services managed to kill Robert Zankishiev, who was better known among the armed Islamist underground movement of the North Caucasus as Amir Abdullah, the leader of the jamaat of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay (KBK).

Robert Vladimirovich Zankishiev was born on July 6, 1988, in Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital, Nalchik. The authorities put Zankishiev on the federal wanted list in November 2013, charging him with participation in illegal armed groups and the illegal possession of firearms (, accessed November 11).

At around noon, on November 10, the authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria began evacuating residents from the area around an apartment block on 2 Tamanskaya Diviziya Street, in the district of Dubki, in Nalchik, in which a suspected militant was holed up. The apartment building was sealed off by the police and security services, and when the militant started shooting as it was being evacuated, the security forces used their armored shields to protect the civilians (Interfax, November 10).

According to the National Antiterrorist Committee (NAK), by the time the evacuation began, the security forces learned that the militant was inside an apartment along with his wife (, November 10). The security forces initially thought that several persons were in the apartment, but it turned out that only the rebel amir and his wife were inside. After brief negotiations and earnest persuasion by Zankishiev’s mother-in-law, an agreement was reached that the militant’s wife would leave the house and surrender. It turned out that she had been wounded in the shooting and, after surrendering to security forces, she was sent to a hospital. According to other reports, the woman herself agreed to leave the sealed-off home and was not persuaded to do so. She reportedly informed people about her injuries over an Internet messenger app and asked for help. It is known that the wounded female has two children (, November 10). She is likely to be tried, at the very least, as an accomplice of her husband.

Zankishiev’s wife was probably allowed to surrender thanks to the intervention of the well-known civil rights activist Valery Khatazhukov, who personally appealed to the deputy interior minister of Kabardino-Balkaria, Kazbek Tetuev, to release her (, November 10). Zankishiev himself refused to negotiate with the security forces. This is not surprising since a militant’s voluntary surrender only results in him being imprisoned for life. In Russia, serving life in prison is widely considered to be worse than a death sentence. No reports are available that would suggest that any well-known amir has ever surrendered to authorities of his own free will.

After the militant’s wife was allowed to surrender, the clash between the security forces and Zankishiev was brief, and he was killed. The militant had no chance to escape from the apartment block and must have geared up for a fight, fully realizing that this was the end of the line. The counterterrorist operation regime was lifted by 4 p.m., which means that the entire operation took only a little more than five hours to complete.

Zankishiev became amir of the rebels in Kabardino-Balkaria in the summer of 2014, and apparently failed to create a structure that would protect him. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why nobody warned the amir about the coming danger or tried to divert the security forces by attacking them from the outside. This is especially strange, given that Kabardino-Balkarian officials, including republican Deputy Interior Minister Kazbek Tetuev, recognize that the KBK jamaat has retained all of its structural elements—velayat, sectors, amirs, their naibs (aides) and ordinary members. Tetuev claims that the KBK jamaat has never had more than 70 members and currently has only 20 (, November 5). However, this claim is highly dubious. Prior to 2010, the KBK jamaat was so well developed that, apart from sectors, it also had a separate level of organizations in all large villages.

Russian media paid special attention to Zankishiev’s pledge of allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS) (RIA Novosti, November 10). He swore fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a short video this past August. He did not cover his face in the video, thereby signaling that there was no turning back for him (, August 12). Zankishiev said that he and his group made the decision to follow the IS, not the Caucasus Emirate, after deliberations. Thus, the KBK jamaat became the fourth such militant group in the North Caucasus to swear loyalty to the IS. After the Chechen and the Ingush amirs switched sides from the Caucasus Emirate to the IS, the leaders of KBK jamaat had no choice but follow suit. The KBK jamaat depends on the Chechen rebels for financing and organizational know-how, because the latter have links to the outside world through their representatives abroad. After the KBK jamaat pledged allegiance to the IS, the armed Islamist resistance in the North Caucasus once again became unified. Even if some people still talk about the Caucasus Emirate, it is the IS that forms a full network of jamaats across the North Caucasus, which makes the IS the winner of the struggle with the Caucasus Emirate.

The Russian authorities now tie all incidents involving the armed Islamist underground in the North Caucasus to Islamic State regardless of whether they are attached to that organization or not. Whether it is an armed clash with the insurgents or a slain rebel is killed, all of them are said to be tied to the IS. Russia does everything in its power to represent itself as a victim of the IS: indeed, the Russian authorities want to force the West to recognize it as a full-fledged ally in the fight against the radical Islamist organization. In reality, however, Moscow does not necessarily want to defeat the IS, but to make the West forgive it for the annexation of Crimea and the war in the eastern Ukraine.