Karachay Jamaat: Countermeasures, Connections and Composition, Part 2

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 23

The second Chechen campaign dramatically altered the attitude of authorities toward those considered radicals. In practice, the local authorities began the total persecution of all who even slightly criticized the actions by the official Muftiyat. No one dared to proselytize Salafi ideas because FSB agents and units from the Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested and assaulted people in order to extract confessions regarding their participation in terrorist acts on the territory of the Russian Federation [1]. According to Yarlykapov, when he visited Karachaevo-Cherkessia in April 2000 in order to carry out the field studies in the Malokarachayevsky and Karachayevsky districts, he was told that an entire brigade of FSB agents from Moscow was operating in the aforementioned districts. The FSB operatives apparently carried out house searches of people suspected of being Wahhabi sympathizers and even detained some of them. Many of the alleged suspects, including a madrassa teacher from the village of Pervomayskoe in the Malokarachayevsky district, were forced to hide from the authorities.

Thus, on April 25, 2000, the authorities adopted the Law of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) “On counteracting political and religious extremism in the territory of the KChR.” At meetings of government officials devoted to the implementation of this law, it was emphasized that, according to information from the law-enforcement agencies, there were about 300 activists from radical religious movements in the republic. At the same time, the aforementioned law contains a provision recognizing “a special role of traditional Islam of the Hanafi interpretation in the history and day-to-day life of the peoples of Karachaevo-Cherkessia” [2].

In March 2001, the VI Congress of Muslims of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai took place. The congress participants elected the Presidium of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Territory and adopted amendments to its charter. Among the dignitaries who participated in the proceedings of the congress were the President of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic Vladimir Semenov, the Chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia Ravil Gainutdin and the Chief Mufti of Azerbaijan Allahshukyur Pasha-Zade. The congress made it clear that all officially registered Muslim organizations on the territory of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia operate under the jurisdiction of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai. This event should have demonstrated the unity of the Muslim ummah in the republic and have shown that the jamaats could no longer have an impact on events in the republic.

Karachay Jamaat and its Connections with Chechnya

The outcome of the first Chechen-Russian military campaign of 1994-1996 left an indelible impression on North Caucasians, who witnessed the Russian troops’ flight from Chechnya. The retreat of Russian troops under strikes from the Chechen militants in the aftermath of the August 1996 events dispelled the myth of the invincible Russian army.

The reputation of Chechens, which suffered significantly during the rampant anti-Chechen hysteria unleashed in the Russian Federation, became a benchmark among North Caucasians and invariably cast Chechens as knowledgeable in both politics and military matters, which has been very important in resisting Russia.

This led to a situation in which, starting in 1997, up to a dozen representatives from across the region underwent training at the militant camp of Amir Khattab. The North Caucasian contingent was completely replaced by new recruits every four to six months. The military base of Amir Khattab, located close to the village of Avtury (in Chechnya’s Shali district), became an incubator for cadres. Though it was officially to be used for theological education, but in practice an exclusive priority was put on military science and guerilla warfare training, which included lessons in explosives. During the three years in which the base existed close to 1,000 recruits of different nationalities and from various parts of the Russian Federation and former Soviet Union countries underwent an intensive military training course.

Even if the most favorable ratio for Russia is used, at a minimum several 100 people underwent military training in Chechnya (during the period between the two wars, 1996-1999). It should be noted that several times the estimated 500 members of militants’ radical wing in fact sympathize with the militants and support them, but lack the opportunity to participate in the resistance. The repressive methods used by the law-enforcement agencies and special services only increase sympathy toward those who are thought to belong to the ranks of the radicals, and it seems that their number is increasing in direct proportion to news reports about their systematic extermination in different regions. According to Sergei Berezhnoi, in 2004 the membership of Karachay jamaat stood at 300 active members, including 80 veterans of the wars in Chechnya, which suggests that practically every fourth member has experienced active combat [3]. This is quite a large number for a relatively small jamaat, but at the same time it an insufficient number to carry out independent actions in the northwestern parts of the North Caucasus in complete isolation from the main resistance forces in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

In this context, the role played by the Kabardino-Balkaria jamaat directly relates to the fact that it has borders with Chechnya. The resistance maintains constant contact across the border. The trips by resistance leaders contribute to maintaining high morale and increase the possibility of using the local detachments in operations in the region. (One of the field meetings was held by Chechen rebel leader Dokka Umarov in late 2006; see Kavkaz-Center, November 17, 2006.)

It is likely that the Chechen [separatist] leadership is working on activating the jamaats in the northwestern part of the North Caucasus—that is, in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea—with the purpose of spreading activities to the Black Sea coastline. It is from this angle that one should examine the unusual statement by the jamaat of North Ossetia “Kataib al Khoul” of October 21, 2006: “Inshallah, soon the hearts of believers will rejoice upon hearing about the attacks by mujahideen on the territory of Karachaya, Kabarda and Balkaria, where after long and thorough preparation a new combat Jamaat will become operational” (www.camagat.com, October 25, 2006).

The leadership of the resistance movement never hid its intentions to encompass as much territory as possible with the goal of resisting Russian influence in the region. Though many believed that the Adygea jamaat could become a new unit, it is still too early to talk about it as a fully-formed unit, since it has yet to be used in combat. Some analysts, however, believe that rumors of its creation are not premature [4].

If this new jamaat has indeed been formed and officially operates in this region, it will lighten the load of the Karachay jamaat, because at the present the attention of the Russian Federation special services is focused on the Karachay jamaat. While the jamaat is an integral part of the common Caucasian front under the leadership of the Chechen leader of the resistance movement Doku Umarov, its operations today are limited and concentrated on internal actions.

Strategy & Tactics

The strategy and tactics of the Karachay jamaat are not distinguishable from those of other similarly armed formations that were founded upon the Salafi ideology. It is an association of small geographically dispersed groups, which are strewn across the republic as well as parts of Russia proper. The groups are oriented toward staging small-scale attacks against Russian interests as often as possible.

Like other jamaats, the Karachay jamaat’s main attacks are directed against the official Muslim clergy in the republic, who are viewed by jamaat members as traitors serving in opposition to the interests of the people and Islam. Representatives of law-enforcement agencies are also targets of the jamaat. Here it should be noted that thus far there have been no attacks or other sabotage actions directed at military installations of the Russian army. This seems to validate the claims that the jamaat suffered significant losses at the start of the military actions in Chechnya in 1999, when, under the pretext of looking for the culprits responsible for apartment building bombings, several dozen jamaat members were rounded up and arrested.

The facts that Salafi ideas enjoy such little support in other parts of the North Caucasus and that the jamaat lacks mass support from the civilian population make the security of the jamaat members increasingly awkward and dangerous.

In terms of nationality, it was noted in Part 1 that the Karachay jamaat is mono-ethnic, with only a few Cherkess members.

Composition & Structure

After witnessing the mass repression on the eve of the war in Chechnya in the fall/winter of 1999, the Karachay jamaat decided to operate underground.

In terms of status, the leader of the jamaat is a member of the Supreme Majlis Shura of the Caucasian Front headed by the leader of the Chechen resistance movement Doku Umarov. The Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic, according to the resistance’s plans, is one of the sectors in the all-Caucasian front.

The entire jamaat is divided into several main medium-tier groups that are responsible for certain areas and these areas are probably further divided both into districts and in general around the country. Geographic differences also create variations in practice. For example, the modus operandi of the groups in Moscow are certainly very different from those of the groups in North Caucasus.

The leaders of these medium-tier groups are members of the Shura, which defines the policy of the jamaat and makes all the decisions regarding any given military action both for the medium-tier groups as well as the entire jamaat network.

The medium-tier groups are divided into smaller groups of up to three people each, many members of which do not even know each other personally.

On the whole, the jamaat is a relatively young organization, with the exception of its leaders, who witnessed its genesis in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the majority of whom have been arrested and convicted by the Russian courts. The young people in this jamaat are not only village boys without proper education, but also those who either received higher education or are attending colleges now. The social composition of the jamaat is mixed, incorporating villagers, students, intelligentsia and, of course, clergy.

Significant Militant Acts Attributed to Karachay Jamaat in Karachaevo-Cherkessia

As was already noted, the main targets of the Karachay jamaat are representatives of the official clergy and law-enforcement agencies.

In March 2001, the Russian law-enforcement agencies, according to material of the Stavropol Krai court, prevented an attempt to overthrow power forcibly in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. An armed Islamic group of 17 led by Khizira Salpagarov were accused of attempting the overthrow.

Since the summer of 2005, eight police officers have been killed and three other police officers severely wounded.

On August 4, 2006, the former deputy head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Abdulkerim-haji Bayramukov, was shot dead during the fourth evening prayer at the mosque in the city of Karachaevsk (Karachaevo-Cherkessia). (According to the correspondent Fatima Tlisova, prior to that six other clergymen were assassinated, but no information was released about those murders.)

On September 11, 2006, a 24-year-old traffic police officer was shot in his apartment.

On August 12, 2006, the former Muslim clergyman Ismail Batchaev was killed in Karachaevsk (Karachaevo-Cherkessia).

In September 2006 an FSB officer was assassinated.

On September 15, 2006, another traffic police officer was mortally wounded.

On September 26, 2006, the imam of the Kislovodsk (Stavropol Krai) city mosque was killed at the entrance of a high-rise apartment building.

On October 2, 2006, the head of the administration of the village of Eltarach (Ust-Jegutin district, Karachaevo-Cherkessia), Magomed Khubiev, was killed in his house. He was the nephew of the head of the republic, Mustafa Batdyev.

Notable Militant Acts Conducted Outside Karachaevo-Cherkessia that Russia Attributes to the Karachay Jamaat

According to human rights activists, criminal investigations carried out in response to acts occurring outside of Karachaevo-Cherkessia do not stand up to scrutiny. All accusations are unsubstantiated and based on information extracted by means of torture during interrogations [5].

Here are a few of acts attributed to the Karachay jamaat:

(It should be noted that though practically all of these actions were announced by Shamil Basaev as having been carried out on his orders, in reality they were not.)

September 9 and September 13, 1999: Explosions destroyed two residential buildings on Guryanova Street and Kashir Highway in Moscow.

September 16, 1999: An explosion hit the town of Volgodonsk in Rostov Oblast. In January 2004, the Georgian law-enforcement authorities extradited to Russia Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Krymshamkhalov, who were sentenced by the Moscow city court to life in prison. The Russian law-enforcement authorities announced a national manhunt for Achimez Gochyaev, who they believed to be the mastermind behind the Moscow and Volgodonsk explosions.

March 18, 2000: At a bus station in Stavropol, a police patrol decided to check a bag belonging to the brothers Murat and Umar Salpagarov, who were traveling to Cherkessk. Umar opened fire with a machine-gun, killing two police officers and two women in the waiting area. One of the stray bullets killed his brother Murat. A subsequent investigation established that both brothers were active members of the Karachay jamaat and sentenced the surviving brother to a long prison term.

December 5, 2003: An explosion took place on the Kislovodsk-Mineralnie Vody train.

August 25, 2004: Two passenger planes were downed over the Astrakhan and Rostov oblasts.

August 31, 2004: Rosa Nogaeva, who detonated a bomb at the Rizhskaya subway station, apparently had a co-conspirator—Karachaevo-Cherkessia resident Nikolai Kitkeyev.

FSB Declares Destruction of Karachay Jamaat

The political leadership of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (KBR) has made many pronouncements declaring the republic virtually free of insurgents and the calmest region in the North Caucasus. By denying reality, the local authorities are actually revealing their utter incompetence with regard to solving the problems that have accumulated within society. How can the problem of Salafi proselitization be solved, if, according to official information, there is no such movement in the republic? This implies that any actions committed by Salafi adherents must be portrayed immediately as criminal actions. Following this logic, however, it is impossible to find the root of the problem.

Upon closer examination, the loud public statements by the KBR leadership to the effect that this republic is allegedly the calmest region in the North Caucasus do not correspond to reality (www.kavkaz.memo.ru, March 23). By presenting wishful thinking as facts, the head of the FSB Directorate for Karachaevo-Cherkessia corrected himself and admitted that though “there are still small groups,” they must block influence from the Middle East coming into the region. Earlier, the republic’s Minister of Internal Affairs stated that “he had no information on the extremist Karachay jamaat because there is no such extremist group” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 24).

The problem of the existence of and actions by the Karachay jamaat is similar to other problems, including the crime rate of the KBR, which has been out of control for the past decade primarily due to ongoing clashes in the region between divided business interests over spheres of influence. Particularly noteworthy are inter-ethnic problems (especially Karachay-Russian, Karachay-Cherkess and Karachay-Abazin tensions). At present, the potential for inter-religious conflict remains high even though both the official clerical establishment and the authorities are trying to hide it from the society at large. Thus far influences from external factors have remained rather pronounced. (At times pan-Turkism and at times pan-Islamism, depending on the circumstances, create disputes.) Additionally, against the backdrop of a systemic economic crisis, it is difficult to talk about the region’s attractiveness to foreign investors. Despite the republic’s seeming attractiveness within the region, it remains dependant on federal subsidies. The dire poverty level and very high unemployment rate force people to leave to seek employment in other parts of the Russian Federation.

It is no coincidence then that Karachaevo-Cherkessia, along with Dagestan, is one of the two regions in the North Caucasus in which a mountainous motorized rifle brigade will be deployed before the end of the year (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, April 20). This clearly means that in practice Russia has already concluded that the next threat to its interests in the region will come from the KBR, indicating that the Karachay jamaat and its allies have created enough problems for the local authorities.

Even today, the Karachay jamaat remains part of the Caucasian Front, and in its periodic press releases and statements its members regularly stress their unity with those who are fighting against the Russian army elsewhere in the North Caucasus. Especially close contact is maintained with the jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria, which can be explained by the geographic proximity of many of the members of the jamaat Yarmuk, who are Balkars and therefore closer and can be trusted. The death of any Yarmuk member is presented on the websites of the Karachay jamaat as the death of one of its own operatives (https://www.camagat.com).

Just recently there was a report in the media that in order to prevent sabotage and terrorist acts, the police of Karachaevo-Cherkessia would inspect all vehicular traffic for the duration of the May holidays. The inspection of vehicles was to include the mandatory passport checks of both drivers and passengers (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, April 26, 2007). If the authorities are to be trusted in their claim that there is no jamaat in the republic, then why are they organizing the anti-terrorist measures for all of the May holidays?

The Perspective of the Karachay Jamaat

The Karachay jamaat is interesting to any researcher because it is a jamaat with a rich past and a difficult present situation. It is also one of the two jamaats of Turkic descent and has been trying to function independently, outside the united front of the all-Caucasian resistance movement. Finally, it is a structure that has not circumscribed itself by ethnic boundaries and has instead carried out its actions across Russia.

Based on this material, it is possible to assert with a certain degree of certainty that even though this structure of resistance has suffered substantial losses (hundreds of its members have been arrested or killed by the law-enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation), it can still divert the attention of a vast number of Russian troops and forces from Chechnya and the whole northeastern part of North Caucasus.

Being cutoff from the more active part of the resistance movement (in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan), and maintaining contact only with the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaat Yarmuk and the Nogay jamaat from Stavropol Krai, the Karachay jamaat has limited capabilities.

Moreover, the Karachay jamaat, having the experience of operating independently and a rich historical legacy, has shown little interest in becoming part of the unified resistance movement. However with the strength of this jamaat partially sapped by the actions of the law-enforcement authorities, unions with jamaats from other regions have become a matter of necessity and survival.

Another equally significant factor is that the Karachay jamaat operates in a republic in which Russians form the largest portion of the population. That is, unlike in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, the Karachay jamaat members must act under circumstances that are far more complicated due to the ethnic mix of the population.

Thus, the Karachay jamaat is operating today and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, even if it is forced to carry out actions completely independent of the rest of the resistance. The long-term future of this jamaat worries the Russian authorities and compels them to concentrate additional military resources and special-operations manpower against a highly conspiratorial unit of the North Caucasian resistance movement. The Karachay jamaat’s experience and long record of actions foretell of favorable future endeavors for the militant group and potentially allow them to consider transforming themselves into a viable political force in the republic.

The very existence of Karachay jamaat is a factor in Russia’s loss of control over the region. Anywhere there is an organized resistance force, further destabilization can be expected.


1. A. A. Yarlykapov, Problemy vakhhabizma na Severno Kavkaze, Issledovaniya po prikladnoy i neotlozhnoy etnologii. [Problems of Wahhabism in the North Caucasus, Studies on Applied and Urgent Ethnology.] 2000, No.134.

2. Islam i islamizm na yuge Rossii. [Islam and Islamism in the south of Russia.] Rostov-on-Don, 2003.

3. S.E. Berezhnoi, Islamsky fundamentalizm na yuge Rossii. [Islamic Fundamentalism in the South of Russia.] Rostov-on-Don, 2004.

4. See the interview with Igor Dobaev, PhD in philosophy, head of sector of geopolitical problems at the Southern Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, https://www.kavkaz.memo.ru, December 27, 2006.

5. Human rights in the Moscow region. Survey of the mass media publications and materials from the NGOs for November 10-14, 2003.