North Caucasus Militants Announce New Leader to Replace Umarov

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 15 Issue: 6

After seven months without any communication from the Caucasus Emirate’s emir, Doku Umarov, the leadership of the North Caucasian rebels’ velayats on March 18 officially admitted the death of their leader (

The North Caucasian jihadists also announced their new leader—Abu Muhammad, who was the Caucasus Emirate’s qadi, or Sharia judge, under Doku Umarov. In a video posted on the Kavkaz Center website, the new rebel leader confirmed Umarov’s death and expressed his condolences ( In his speech, Abu Muhammad said the new emir was chosen by the four emirs of the velayats—Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and the united velayat of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay—and that he himself also participated in the process in his capacity as the Caucasus Emirate’s qadi (

According to the new Caucasus Emirate leader, his candidacy was proposed several times, and that he repeatedly rejected it but finally agreed to take on the responsibility. He asked all the emirs and militants of the North Caucasus to pledge allegiance to him, in a procedure known as bayat. All of the followers of the Caucasus Emirate emir around the world also must pledge allegiance to the new leader.

Exactly who is the new emir of the North Caucasian jihadis? He is officially known as Sheikh Ali Abu Muhammad (a.k.a. Aliaskhab Kebekov). The jihadis in the region endow a person with the title of sheikh if he understands and knows how to read Arabic at a minimal level. Therefore, the sheikh status of the new leader of the North Caucasian rebels should be treated with a certain degree of skepticism. Aliaskhab Kebekov was born on January 1, 1972, in the village of Teletl in the Sovietsky district of the Dagestani Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which today is the Shamil district of the Republic of Dagestan. He is an ethnic Avar. Ali Abu Muhammad is the first non-Chechen to become leader of the North Caucasian resistance movement since the start of the second Russian-Chechen war in 1999. Even though he was put on the federal wanted list in April 2012, it is clear that he joined the jihadis earlier from the fact that he has been accused of violating Article 208, Part 1, Point 2 of the Russian Criminal Code, which penalizes the “creation of an armed formation (unit, squad, squads or other groups) that is not allowed under federal law, as well as leadership in such a formation or its financing.” This formula means that by the time he was put on the wanted list he already had been the leader of an insurgent group. Moreover, Doku Umarov appointed him the Caucasus Emirate’s qadi in October 2010, which means that by 2012 he had already been in that leadership position for two years (

Prior to his appointment, Ali Abu Muhammad fought as a member of the group headed by Emir Seifullah Gubdensky in the Mountainous Sector of the Dagestani velayat. The future emir reportedly made an attempt to engage in honest business, registering a private passenger transportation company back in 2009 ( If this information is accurate, 2009 must have been the year he fully joined the militants of the Dagestani jamaat.

The new Caucasus Emirate emir also has a criminal past hardly compatible with his stringent Islamic views: in 1996, the judge of the Kirov People’s Court of Makhachkala, Gajimagomedov G. R., found Kebekov guilty of selling homemade alcoholic beverages. Kebekov pleaded guilty and received a mild punishment—a fine of about $150 (

Among the most high-profile crimes the new emir is alleged to have committed is ordering the murder of the well-known Sufi sheikh of Dagestan, Said Efendi Chirkeiskiy (

It is known that the future emir of the Caucasus Emirate personally took part in the operations of his group of militants in the Mountainous Sector in Gimry. In April 2013, police in Gimry tried to corner the then qadi of the Caucasus Emirate during a special operation, but Ali Abu Muhammad and his men managed to get away after an unknown shooter started firing behind the security forces, which distracted them from stopping Ali Abu Muhammad and his men from escaping into the so-called Black Forest near Gimry (

The new emir had issues with the Makhachkala Sector, as he and Rustam Aselderov replaced the sector’s emir, Bammatkhan Sheikhov, with their own man. That incident will have repercussions when the time arrives for pledges of allegiance (

It will also be interesting to see the reaction of the brigade fighting in Syria that is mostly made up of Chechens and North Caucasians. Its leader, Emir Salahutdin, pledged allegiance to Doku Umarov and was considered Umarov’s man ( It will be clear soon if Emir Salahutdin agrees to consider his unit part of the North Caucasian jihad.

The selection of Abu Muhammad is not the best strategic move by the region’s jihadis. The very fact that picking a successor to Umarov took months strongly indicates there was a serious conflict between the Dagestani and the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaats. Moreover, all channels of external financial support are under the control of Chechens living abroad, such as Doku Umarov’s brother (

All of the Caucasus Emirate’s media is also under the control of Chechens abroad, such as Movladi Udugov. Given these factors, the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate will be dependent on the Chechens abroad until he manages to establish his own channel of financial support.

Thus, the new emir will have to start many activities from scratch. Having no independent ties with the external Muslim world and jihadis, it will be hard for him to be free of the Chechen lobby in Turkey. The new emir will have to establish channels of command within the velayats in the region as well, which will take considerable time. The new leader of the jihadis will also have to win support from within the large Chechen diaspora in Europe, which has received the new emir’s appointment fairly coldly. A new era in the activities of the Caucasus Emirate has apparently arrived, but based upon the initial reactions to this nomination, it will not likely last as long as the era of Doku Umarov.