Islamic State Threat Forces Caucasus Emirate to Undergo Major Restructuring

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 16 Issue: 16

Events at the end of 2014 appeared to indicate that the end of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) was near. That was when the leaders of the CE regional branches in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia switched sides by taking an oath of allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (see EDM, June 18). The position of the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaat on the issue remains unclear. It was assumed that the remaining supporters of the CE would resist the change, especially after Sheikh Abu Usman Gimrinsky (Magomed Suleimanov) became the CE’s new leader. Gimrinsky strongly opposed recognizing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph of all Muslims (, June 4), regarding the “caliph” as a rogue and the henchman of the enemies of Islam. Given the attitude of the CE leader toward those of his former associates who pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi—as people who were deceived by the Islamic State—it is hard to expect a compromise between the CE and the IS in the North Caucasus.

Despite the departure of some of its best trained top- and mid-level commanders, such as Abu Muhammad Kadarsky (Rustam Asilderov) and Khamzat Chechensky (Aslan Byutukaev), among many others, the CE is attempting to remain afloat by setting up parallel structures of the underground Islamist resistance in Dagestan. As is well known, al-Baghdadi’s press secretary declared the Caucasus to be a province of the IS (, June 24). Thus, it seems that, by claiming the North Caucasus, the IS must also deal with the Islamic rebels in that region who oppose them, meaning the IS “caliph” is dealing with another territory like Syria. The IS in the North Caucasus is supposed to fight not only the “enemies of Islam,” such as Russia, but also those disgruntled militants who do not recognize Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their caliph.

As part of the reorganization of the CE, the leader of the organization in Dagestan, Said Abu Muhammad Arakansky has appointed Abu Abdulla Kasumkentsky as the amir of Dagestan’s Southern Sector. Little is known about Kasumkentsky, apart from the fact that he originates from Kasumkent, a village known for supplying CE rebels in past years. The village is also known for its Salafi mosque, which challenges the Sufi orders in southern Dagestan.

Even more interesting was the earlier appointment by Dagestan’s rebel amir, Said Abu Muhammad Arakansky, of Abu Duzhdanu al-Gimri as amir of Dagestan’s Mountainous Sector, which includes the territory that was under control of the current CE amir, Abu Usman Gimrinsky (, July 29). Abu Duzhdanu al-Gimri is known as one of the few militants who fought in Syria and returned to Dagestan. According to news sources close to the CE, al-Gimri received instruction in Sharia and Arabic from authoritative sources in Syria beginning in 2003, graduating from the al-Tahzib Wa Ta’alim institute of sharia, in Damascus, and then returned home. When the conflict between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition started, he went to Syria again, this time to fight. Al-Gimri was most likely part of the group of emigrants from the North Caucasus under the command of Umar Shishani. Al-Gimri also was a member of Islamic State for some time, and is well-versed in religion and has experience fighting in Syria. He is thus practically an ideal candidate to become a future leader of the CE. Knowing the politics of the IS from within, al-Gimri is likely to counter their onslaught, especially that led by IS North Caucasus amir Abu Muhammad Kadarsky.

The CE’s leader, Amir Abu Usman Gimrinsky, appears to have established his own network of amirs in parts of Dagestan: Abu Abdulla is the amir of southern Dagestan, Abu Duzhdanu al-Gimri the amir of the Mountainous Sector, and Umar Balakhansky is the amir of the Central Sector. Several less well-known militants have also received appointments. The CE is setting up parallel structures only among its Dagestani rebels; no similar processes are observed now among the Chechens, the Ingush or the Kabardinians. The jamaats of the Chechens, the Ingush and Kabardino-Balkarians are hardly comparable to the Dagestani jamaats, which probably outnumber all other North Caucasian jamaats put together.

Amir Salahudin Shishani, who led the CE’s unit in Syria for two years, pledged allegiance to new CE amir Abu Usman Gimrinsky despite the conflict Salahudin Shishani had with his group (, July 13). Thereby, Salahudin Shishani confirmed that his unit was structurally a part of the North Caucasian resistance movement. Having set up a new group from scratch, amir Salahudin has continued to be allied with the Jabhat al-Nusra organization in Syria and is actively seeking alliances with other Chechen commanders, first of all with amir Muslim Shishani (Muslim Margoshvili) and amir Abdulkhakim (Rustam Ashiev).

The regrouping of the armed Islamist resistance in the North Caucasus has not ended yet. This is equally true about both the groups that joined the IS and those that remained in the ranks of the CE. Both groups have the same objective: to wait and draw plans for the future. Both groups in the North Caucasus will have to show what they can do and take actions that will make those in the Middle East take them more seriously.