Large-Scale Special Operation Conducted in Dagestani Town of Semender

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 14

Reverberations from the military operation in the Dagestani town of Semender in March have been felt throughout the republic, attracting attention to this small suburban town near the republican capital of Makhachkala. From March 20-27, government forces clashed with militants who were blockaded in a house. From the onset of the special operation it was clear that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had prior information about the identities of the militants inside the house. On the very first day, the government announced that the leader of the Gimry jamaat, Ibragim Gajidadaev was one of the militants located inside ( However, the body could not be identified beyond doubt as being Gajidadaev’s by the time the house was finally seized by government forces on March 27.  DNA forensic expertise also did not help, since the brother of the Gimry jamaat leader was also known to be in the house ( Rebel sources asserted that Gajidadaev was able to escape from the besieged house ( Were Gajidadaev still alive, he would already have had ample time to confirm that. At the same time rebel news sources have not confirmed his death. 

This special operation was interesting not only because government forces attempted to arrest or kill the leader of Gimry jamaat, but also because it illuminated the role of government officials in providing protection for the militants. It is unlikely that ordinary citizens would have come out into the streets to protest against the special operation by the FSB in order to allow the militants to escape if their actions were not supported by members of the republican government ( 

The chairman of the Untsukul district council, Magomedkhabib Magomedaliev, was the first victim of the cleansing operation in Semender. The Russian security services allowed Magomedaliev into the house where the militants were holed up and was never seen alive again. The village of Gimry is in Untsukul district and is the hometown of Ibragim Gajidadaev ( The authorities apparently regarded Magomedaliev as a supporter of the rebels; otherwise, they would have reacted to his death somehow, especially given that he was a close associate of one of the most powerful Avar politicians, Saigid Murtazaliev, the head of the federal Pension Fund’s branch in Dagestan, ( There are likely to be more reports about Murtazaliev’s ties to the rebels ( The authorities went to great lengths to downplay the fact that Magomedaliev was elected from the ruling party, United Russia ( 

The recent deaths of two other well-known Semender residents have attracted attention to the situation there as well. 

On the morning of July 9, Russian media reported the killing of the well known Dagestani journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev. The journalist worked for the Dagestani weekly newspaper Novoe Delo and the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) Internet information agency. Novoe Delo has the reputation for being in the opposition media because it publishes many articles critical of the authorities. Governments in the North Caucasus are even more averse to Kavkazsky Uzel because of its independent stance and the alternative views it provides. Akhmednabiev was on an alleged law enforcement hit list of those who supported the militants. The list became public in 2009 ( 

The death of the well-known journalist certainly was not the work of the militants. Akhmednabiev shunned topics related to the insurgency, citing in his numerous articles only the basic facts about special operations. At the same time, as a resident of Semender, he probably knew all the details about the various connections of Untsukul district council chairman Magomedkhabib Magomedaliev. Shortly before his murder, Akhmednabiev wrote about pressure on people who were detained during a wedding in Kizlyar, when members of Khizb ut-Tahrir organization, headed by the cousin of the Tsarnaev brothers, Magomed Kartashov were arrested for hoisting black flags during a wedding procession. The police regarded them as extremists ( 

Within days of the murder of the journalist Akhmednabiev, another well-known figure in the town of Semender was killed. On July 12, unidentified people shot dead the lawyer Magomed Guchuchaliev in the same suburb of Makhachkala ( While the killing was considered accidental, notable Russian media sources, citing the Interfax news agency, hinted that the lawyer had ties to the insurgents ( Such news may have been a planned “leak” by the FSB to ward off any suspicions of security services involvement. The republican law enforcement agencies may have persecuted Guchuchaliev for his ties to the insurgents. Also, there may have been a connection to the ousted mayor of Makhachkala, Said Amirov. The son of the slain lawyer, Sirazhutdin Guchuchaliev, was arrested during a May 31 special operation in Makhachkala. According to the law enforcement agencies, Guchuchulliev was a leader of the Makhachkala militant group. After his arrest, he provided testimony against Amirov, who was arrested on the next day ( 

The town of Semender has become a center of the struggle between the government and the rebels. It is possible that during the special operation in this town in March, the FSB obtained information concerning ties between Dagestani government officials and the armed underground. Those ties are apparently not based on a mutual interest in creating an Islamic state, but rather on a system of payoffs that the officials paid to shield themselves from rebel attacks. The standoff continues in Semender, where people with any connections to the rebels are being methodically eliminated.