Moscow’s Biggest Victory over the North Caucasus Rebels Since Fall 2000

The Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation announced that on June 9, the leader of the Ingush Jamaat, Emir Magas (aka, Ahmed Yevloev or Ali Taziev), was captured during a special operation conducted in the Ingush town of Malgobek. It was the first time since the end of 2000 that Moscow managed to apprehend a real rebel while still alive. Moreover, the man now under Russian custody is truly of the biggest caliber among the rebels engaged in the resistance movement across the entire North Caucasus region. Emir Magas is the military commander of all Islamist jamaats within the Caucasus Emirate and simultaneously served as the Emir of the Ingushetia Wilaiah and the rebels in that part of the Emirate.

Ali Taziev (aka Ahmed Yevloev –incidentally, he has been known among the armed opposition under the latter name and surname) has long been the symbol of the armed resistance movement. Born in the Chechen capital of Grozny in 1978, Magas started his career as a rebel in Chechnya and was among the few Ingush who fought under the leadership of the military commander Shamil Basaev in 1995-96. During the time between the two Chechnya wars, from 1996 to 1999, the only thing known about him is that he lived in Ingushetia and served in the police force. Magas did not join the police force in order to gain a position from which to attack the Russian authorities but, rather, to earn a living since wages in the police corps was quite decent at the time. A man of few words, who always avoided journalists and television cameras, his whereabouts were unknown by many, including his own comrades.

With the beginning of Russia’s second Chechnya military campaign, Emir Magas, once again joined Shamil Basaev. Together, they left the besieged capital city of Grozny in early 2000 and headed to the mountains of Chechnya, where they continued to fight against the Russians in the Vedeno and Nozhay-Yurt districts. Then, Basaev ordered Magas to go to Ingushetia in order to coordinate the activities of the small scattered groups of rebels who were helping the Chechens in adjoining territories between Ingushetia and Chechnya. Under the command of Magas, the first united Shariat Jamaat of Ingushetia was organized. The Russian authorities declared Magas dead on many occasions (www.kp.ru, June 11), but “resurrected,” he continued to strike ever more ferociously. The assault organized by Magas against the interior ministry in Ingushetia in 2004 caught Moscow by complete surprise, as the Russian authorities never imagined that Magas was capable of putting together such a large-scale operation with the participation of Shamil Basaev. During the attack on Nazran dozens were killed and hundreds were wounded and a cache of several thousand firearms was taken as a part of the military booty (www.kommersant.ru/doc-y.aspx?DocsID=1201048).

Emir Magas is considered the organizer of dozens of crimes perpetrated across Ingushetia including shootings, armed assaults, killings, armed robberies, kidnappings, etc. He is believed to have also participated in the assault on a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan on September 1, 2004. One of the latest charges against Magas is the attempted assassination of Ingushetia’s President, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, on June 22, 2009. The atmosphere of terror that Magas has created throughout Ingushetia has forced many, including local government ministers, to pay hundreds of thousands of US dollars to ensure their security (www.ingushetia.ru, June 10). Many rebel operations have been perpetrated by others besides Magas, and despite his recent arrest, it would be naive to anticipate rapid changes in such occurrences.

In all probability, Emir Magas was not among those who staunchly advocated the reorganization of the North Caucasus armed resistance movement by establishing the Caucasus Emirate as its new structure. The information of his pledged allegiance to Doku Umarov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate, was the latest news regarding Magas’ choice on the matter. On the other hand, it is improbable that Magas belongs to the group of Salafists. Similar to his late friend and commander, Shamil Basaev (who is also erroneously believed to have been a Salafist) –Magas was known to be a Sufi, not associating himself with Salafists. As far as his political tenets are concerned, Magas is a downright radical.

Given the unprecedented smear campaign in the Russian press against Emir Magas (http://news.yandex.ru/yandsearch?cl4url=www.vz.ru%2Fsociety%2F2010%2F6%2F9%2F409344.html), it could be concluded that the Russian authorities have so far failed to extract the desired information from him and are now trying to portray him as a traitor to his young supporters and sympathizers through “information leaks.” The Russian state’s machinery of coercion has many tools at its disposal to break the spirit of the arrested rebel leader, but Magas appears to have proven to be an exceptionally hard nut to crack, thus explaining the purpose of the smear campaign claims that he had given important information to the Russian authorities. It would be more reasonable to anticipate that he would disclose more general information in the course of his cooperation with Russian authorities. However, no sooner had the footage been aired on Russian TV showing him captured and taken to a Moscow prison than the information on his defection was “leaked.” The second perplexing detail in the Magas story is the location where he was allegedly apprehended; there was no incident in the town of Malgobek on the day he is claimed to have been captured in the Russian special operation. The third conundrum is that talk started in mid-May by representatives of the Ingush Diaspora in Moscow insisting that Magas had been arrested half alive in Ingushetia and delivered to Moscow. How could the Ingush living in Moscow have known about his arrest well in advance of the official announcement? The operation also might have involved the use of some sort of chemical gas that would have left Magas incapacitated.

With the capture of Emir Magas, officials in Moscow once again were quick to announce that they have delivered a knockout blow to the North Caucasus resistance movement (www.rus.ruvr.ru, June 10). This claim has been made every time a senior rebel leader has been killed, from the two Chechen Presidents, Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, killed on March 8, 2005 and on June 17, 2006, respectively, to the most famous rebel military commanders, Shamil Basaev and Hamzat (Ruslan) Gelaev, killed on June 9, 2006 and February 28, 2004, respectively, to the emirs of jamaats in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. But the death of a leader brings little change in the jamaat structure, apart from some tactical modifications. A jamaat can become more radical and belligerent though, which is exactly what happened after the death of Anzor Astemirov. His replacement, Emir Abdullah, has been organizing assaults and explosions on almost a daily basis in the vicinity of the capital city of Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria. Such assaults were never as frequent when Astemirov was the emir of the local jamaat. The arrest of Magas will hardly bring about the major changes that the Russian authorities are probably expecting. Any changes depend not on Magas or the Federal Security Service (FSB), for that matter, but on those who continue their struggle in the ranks of the jamaat.