The amir (commander) of the Khasavyurt jamaat, Islam Abu Ibragim (a.k.a. Islam Muradov), recently declared that Muslims in Dagestan should pay a tax to the Islamic State (IS). Ibragim is among those militants who left the Caucasus Emirate and pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the amir of Khasavyurt has demanded that Muslims on his territory pay zakat (Muslim property tax) exclusively to him (YouTube, May 25).
Ibragim’s nervous speech in front of the video recorder evidently suggests he has experienced difficulties securing funds for his jamaat. Citing the famous Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, he demands financial help from businesses and also differentiates between taxes and voluntary donations. Ibragim further states that he will not issue warnings anymore, but will switch to punishing people. For the duration of his 13-minute video, Islam Abu Ibragim repeats two dozen times who the Muslims of Khasavyurt district should pay their tax to. He repeats again and again that the district’s treasury is in his hands and only he will distribute the funds.
Such public speeches are rare among the militants, and this one creates a negative impression of the armed Islamic resistance in the North Caucasus. Khasavyurt is one of Dagestan’s largest districts and is second only to Makhachkala in terms of the size of financial flows. The largest marketplace in the North Caucasus is located in Khasavyurt, so the struggle for money is the primary activity of the insurgency in the district.
Islam Abu Ibragim is known among the rebels for his strange ability to leave the scene of special operations by the security forces just before they start. Moreover, his jamaat does not seem to have many members. Back in 2014, when he was still an amir within the structures of the Caucasus Emirate, he never was flanked by more than ten people, usually wearing masks (Daily Motion, summer 2014). The fact that they wore masks suggested they were not open militants, but rather people who resided in their homes in the villages and provided support to the jamaat clandestinely.
Islam Abu Ibragim has a better known and tougher rival — amir Suleiman (a.k.a. Suleiman Zaylanabidov) of the Aukhov jamaat. Suleiman was the first North Caucasus militant leader to quit the Caucasus Emirate and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (kavkaz-uzel.ru, Novеmber 27, 2014).
Both the Khasavyurt and the Aukhov jamaats operate in Khasavyurt district and the city of Khasavyurt, but are under the command of two different Velayats. The Aukhov jamaat is part of Nokhchiycho (Chechen) Velayat, while the Khasavyurt jamaat is part of the Dagestani Velayat. The Aukhov jamaat has influence in those areas of Dagestan with predominant Chechen populations. The Khasavyurt jamaat has influence over a large part of the city of Khasavyurt and the adjacent areas, which have a majority non-Chechen population. Ethnic Avars, Kumyks and Russians are reportedly fighting in the ranks of the Aukhov jamaat along with Chechens (Audio recording of the Aukhov jamaat’s address to Islam Abu Ibragim, Kavkazpress.ru, May 26). The amir of the Aukhov jamaat also became famous for his demand that Aliaskhab Alibulatovich Kebekov, a.k.a. Ali Abu Mukhammad, the man who succeeded Doku Umarov as leader of the Caucasus Emirate after Umarov was killed in the fall of 2013, pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. (Kebekov was killed in April of this year.)
The rivalry between amir Islam Abu Ibragim and amir Suleiman developed against the backdrop of a dispute over dividing weapons between their groups. Amir Suleiman accused amir Islam Abu Ibragim of illegally seizing his weapons while he was under arrest. The Caucasus Emirate’s websites, meanwhile, claimed amir Suleiman to be an agent of Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service) (Kavkaz Center, Novеmber 27, 2014). Amir Suleiman’s strange release and his ostracism by Caucasus Emirate militants may have pushed him to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and launch a campaign to dismantle the Caucasus Emirate. Amir Suleiman practically managed to retain all of his jamaat, which apparently accepted his story that he had managed to escape the clutches of the FSB.
The two rival amirs, it should be noted, are ethnic Chechens, but Amir Suleiman regards the Aukhov district, which is ethnically Chechen but has been part of Dagestan since 1922, as belonging to the Chechen Velayat, while amir Islam Abu Ibragim regards that district as part of the Dagestani Velayat. Thus, the clash between the amirs has acquired an ethnic dimension.
It is unclear who represents the Caucasus Emirate in Khasavyurt district, given that in the wake of the defection of the amirs of the Aukhov and Khasavyurt districts to the Islamic State, it will be hard to find someone in the area aligned with the Caucasus Emirate who will be able to challenge them. The two amirs who switched sides to the Islamic State will also find it difficult to compete for financial support among local businesses if the Caucasus Emirate finds a representative in the district. Local businesses will then pit the militant groups against each other in order to avoid being taxed several times.
The situation of the militants who declared support for the Islamic State is quite odd in itself. The leadership of the Islamic State has not reacted to their pledges of allegiance or given any indication that such pledges are desired. This is always the case with Russia: Osama bin Laden also did not bother Russia much and did not accept the Caucasus Emirate as a member of his organization. The current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also is in no hurry to proclaim the armed Islamic rebels of the North Caucasus as members of al-Qaeda’s worldwide terrorist network.
Thus, the militants who switched sides from the Caucasus Emirate to the Islamic State are divided over whether it was a prudent move. It will become clear in the near future whether the Caucasus Emirate can take advantage of these divisions.