North Caucasus Conflict Spreads to Tatarstan

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 16

The Republic of Tatarstan, willingly or not, is starting to move down the same path as the North Caucasus region. This trend is exemplified by incidents in the republic’s capital Kazan on July 19, when an attempt was made on the life of the republican mufti, Ildus Faizov. On the same day, the deputy mufti of Tatarstan, Valiulla Yakupov, was killed (see EDM, July 26). Although Russian investigators said the attack was the result of a business-related conflict about funds allocated for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) (, few people found this explanation plausible. Under pressure from politician in Moscow and Kazan, the investigators were forced to consider other possible motives behind the crime, such as the victims’ professional activities (

Analysts in Moscow and Kazan were almost unanimous in putting the blame for the crime on Wahhabi extremists. The term “Wahhabis” is commonly used for people who oppose so-called “traditional” Islam, which is a euphemism for Islam that is under the complete control of the authorities (

The Russian media discerned the influence of the North Caucasian insurgency on how the events unfolded in Tatarstan. The influence of people in Tatarstan connected to the North Caucasus militants reportedly grew exponentially in the republic (

A video address by “Tatar militants” arrived just in time to lend credence to the fears of the Russian and Tatarstani politicians. The militants featured in the video were filmed against the background of the black jihadi flag and reaffirmed their oath of allegiance to Doku Umarov, which they claimed to have first taken as early as in 2007 (!). The video shows seven people armed with handguns and Kalashnikovs; all are masked except for the one speaking, who identifies himself as Tatarstan’s emir, Mukhamed, and speaks in Russian with a typical Tatar accent ( The emir declares that “the Mujahideen of Tatarstan” are “prepared to carry out all his [Doku Umarov’s] orders according to Sunna and Sharia” while brandishing a pistol with a silencer.

The video was apparently recorded in a forest and thus it is hard to identify the exact location. A leading expert on the region, Rais Suleimanov, commented on the video: “The leader of the Wahhabi underground is not ashamed of showing his face. He is probably speaking from one of the districts of Tatarstan, most likely the Trans-Kama region (Kama is a large river), where the landscape is more hilly and wooded. Their local supporters will now supply food and ammunition to their military training camp.” Thus the expert confirmed that the militants may have been speaking from inside Tatarstan ( The Tatarstani police, however, doubt the video was shot on the territory of the republic.

It is unclear whether the video was shot before or after the attacks on Tatarstan’s mufti and his deputy. If the recording was made after the attacks, it is strange that the emir did not mention them. If the video was recorded before the events, then it is likely a follow-up video illuminating the Tatar mujahideen’s role in the attack will soon appear.

One needs to bear in mind that as early as October 2006, prior to the official transformation of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria into the Caucasus Emirate in September 2007 (, Doku Umarov established two fronts beyond the limits of the North Caucasus region – the Volga and the Ural fronts ( At the time, this was perceived as a propaganda move. Later, in 2011, the fronts were transformed into vilayets (administrative subunits), and the Volga front was turned into the Idel-Ural vilayet within the Caucasus Emirate (

Whatever the case, the Russian authorities have confirmed on multiple occasions that they were actively prosecuting members of Tatarstan’s jamaat. In November 2010, near the village of Novoe Ametyevo in Tatarstan’s Nurlat district, a militant camp with ammunition was found and destroyed (, and three militants were killed in a shootout with law enforcement agents ( By 2010, local experts began to discuss the possibility that the Ingush-Dagestani scenario could unfold in Tatarstan, which would mean militarization of the Salafi community in the republic.

It would be a big mistake to underestimate the forces in Tatarstan that have emerged outside the official Spiritual Board of Tatarstan. At the same time, it is hardly justified to dramatize the situation and take seriously claims that an organized mujahideen force exists in Tatarstan at this time ( Rather, the latest video is a sign that, even in remote areas like Tatarstan, people might adopt jihadist ideas if the authorities do not stop persecuting Salafis. As long as the Salafis operate openly in the mosques, they are harmless, but as soon as they are driven out of the mosques, the Salafis will start to gather in Tatarstan’s forests. If events follow that track, the Russian Federation’s survival as a state will literally be placed in doubt. The spread of Salafi Islam in Tatarstan would be a greater headache for Russia than the insurgency in the North Caucasus. Tatarstan is rich in oil, extracting over 32 million tons per year – the third largest rate among Russia’s regions. In addition, Tatarstan is a transportation hub, with multiple pipelines and other important infrastructure for the Russian economy, unlike the North Caucasus, which is invariably subsidized by Moscow.

Thus, the actions of the newly announced Tatar Salafi group that pledged allegiance to Doku Umarov signal that the North Caucasus, where jihadist ideas took hold, also became the base for the proliferation of jihadist ideas throughout Russia. These ideas have spread first of all to Tatarstan, and neighboring Bashkortostan will apparently be next. More attacks by members of the radical Tatarstan jamaat connected to Umarov are possible in the Volga region. It will be clear before the end of this year how far the spread of jihadism in Tatarstan has gone. If it is only in a nascent stage, we are unlikely to hear something this year. Whatever the case, actions by people under the leadership of North Caucasian insurgent leader Doku Umarov are proliferating – a trend that has negative implications for Russia.