Militant Actions Shake Up Dagestan

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 47

Makhachkala

The frequency of militant actions carried out by the members of the Sharia Jamaat in Dagestan increased drastically in late November and early December. Practically not a day goes by without news reports about armed assaults on police forces in the capital of Makhachkala and the towns of Khasavyurt, Buinaksk as well as others. These militant actions in Dagestan are more than a series of isolated incidents that occur sporadically. Since early 2007, the militants in Dagestan as well as in Ingushetia have adopted the tactic of daily harassment of representatives of the law-enforcement authorities, including the local branches of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB).

During a meeting with students of the Makhachkala Road Transportation College on December 4, Dagestani Deputy Interior Minister Colonel Magomed Ismailov, who heads the republic’s Public Security Police, stated the following: “In districts and cities gunshots and explosions can be heard all the time and there are many instances when youth are drawn into criminal groups” (http://www.riadagestan.ru/news/2008/12/04/74556). It appears that the federal center concurs with this point of view, because at a coordinating meeting held on December 3 in the town of Essentuki (Stavropol Krai), the deputy prosecutor general for the Southern Federal District, Ivan Sydoruk, noted that more than 80 percent of all crimes of a terrorist nature registered in Russia take place in the Southern Federal District and that of these, a majority occur in Chechen Republic, Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/chechnya/1093351.html). In other words, these are precisely the region, in which the members of the military underground representing the North Caucasian resistance movement are active.

Another unpleasant piece of news for the leadership of Dagestan was the news on December 3 that the head of the local administration of the village of Chokh in the republic’s Gunibsky district, Salim Salimov, had been abducted along with his 12-year-old nephew (www.newsru.com/russia/03dec2008/4oh.html). Salimov was abducted by unidentified persons in broad daylight on the busy Makhachkala-Gunib highway. It should be recalled that this was in the area where an anti-terrorist operation aimed at identifying the members of the Sharia Jamaat was launched in December 2007 and lasted for nine months until it ended unsuccessfully in August, after the local population expressed its disapproval of the measures implemented by the military and special services in the area over the course of the operation. Thus it is probable that the militants abducted Salimov and his nephew.

On December 2, the eve of the abduction, several attacks on police were carried out in Makhachkala, killing two police officers and wounding three (Interfax, December 2). According to Dagestani First Deputy Interior Minister Colonel Valery Zhernov, the assailants belonged to a sabotage-terrorist group operating in Makhachkala. Unlike the leaders of North Ossetia-Alania, the Dagestani authorities are not trying and unable to hide the fact that there is an armed underground movement in the republic. The Dagestani FSB identified an assailant killed by security forces during the December 2 attacks as Rizvan Kurbanov, a 16-year-old high school student from the city of Kizilyurt (http://www.regnum.ru/news/1092641.html). Youth has already become a distinguishing feature of the resistance movement: the ranks of militants are increasingly filled by young males between the ages of 16 and 18, who join the resistance for various reasons. This is not unique to Dagestan and noticeable throughout the entire North Caucasus region. This also represents a danger for the armed underground, given that militants who are so young do not have the requisite combat experience, and this trend could lead to temporary problems within the resistance movement.

Apart from the aforementioned militant actions, there were also attacks in various parts of Dagestan involving hand grenades and improvised explosive devices. Thus the situation in the republic remains tense and Dagestani society is afflicted by the same processes as in Ingushetia, where the public did not accept the authorities personified by Murat Zyazykov, Ingushetia’s former president, and Musa Medov, his Interior Minister, and insisted on their removal. Unlike in Ingushetia, however, Dagestan is also plagued by inter-ethnic problems, and against this backdrop the actions of the militants complicate the security picture for the authorities more than in the neighboring republics. The unifying factor for the many nationalities and ethnicities of Dagestan could be a common ideology, and in this sense the republic’s Salafi adherents possess a certain advantage because they offer a unified concept of Islamic education that transcends ethnicity and other Islamic movements. On the other hand, Sufism, with its many living sheikhs representing different brotherhoods (or tariqats), divides the Islamic community of the republic and makes it significantly weaker compared to the monolithic Salafi organization. At present the Salafi community presents itself as a militarized social structure, which makes it qualitatively better than the liberal Sufi polity of Dagestan.

Equally interesting was the call for negotiations with the militants made by the Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights non-governmental organization at the press conference held in Moscow on November 24 (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1233995.html). It is perhaps not justified to pay much attention to this isolated fact since human rights organizations usually do not carry much weight in Russian society. This is even more so in conservative Dagestan, where all politics is aimed at satisfying Moscow’s interests, which received federal budgetary handouts in exchange for constantly expressing excessive loyalty to everything that emanates from the Kremlin.

Yet the appeal for negotiations made by the Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights had a surprising postscript: during a press conference in Makhachkala on December 3, the chairman of Dagestan’s Committee on Religious Affairs, Akhmed Magomedov, also insisted that it is necessary to conduct a dialogue with the militants (http://kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1234464.html). During the press conference it became clear that he had engaged in this initiative earlier, having held talks with the leader of Dagestan’s Salafis, Magomed Kebedov, in the late 1990s. According to Magomedov, however, the authorities set preconditions that could not have been fulfilled each time, which made the meetings fruitless. Even today he is skeptical about their efficacy.

Nonetheless, we are witness to the fact that the idea of holding dialogue with the militants has re-emerged for the first time since 1999 events. It is likely that this was undertaken for the purpose of gauging public attitudes. Dagestan is not an ordinary Russian region, where each committee chairman can have his own opinion. Even though it is difficult to imagine that the authorities would spearhead negotiations with militants under current conditions, Magomedov’s deserves attention. What is most important is that someone voiced what has been considered taboo since 1999.

The aforementioned appeal sounds even more relevant against the backdrop of the assassination of Jabir Kamaludiov, the 23-year-old nephew of the leader of Dagestani Salafis, Magomed Kebedov (Kommersant, December 4). The republic’s police already declared that the deceased was a supporter of militants, although Jabir repeatedly stated that he was pursued by law enforcement authorities because they wanted to exert pressure on his uncle and even suggested that he kill Magomed Kebedov. The Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights expressed doubts that Jabir was involved with the militants given that today, any young man who refuses to follow the tenants of Sufism, which has been the traditional Islamic movement in Dagestan for the past two centuries, is considered a potential militant sympathizer. The vogue of Sufism among the ruling elites has undermined young people’s trust in the Sufi sheikhs and Sufism in general. A negative attitude toward Sufism is also becoming prevalent among Dagestan’s secular intelligentsia.