Popular North Caucasian Islamic Preacher Turns Up in the Middle East and Joins Islamic State

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 99

North Caucasian Islamist Preacher Nadir Abu Khalid (Source: Caucasian Knot)

One of the most “fashionable” Islamic preachers in the North Caucasus, Nadir Medetov, has unexpectedly surfaced in the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East after being put under house arrest by the Russian security services for the past 6–7 months. How Medetov “evaded” house arrest and now suddenly appeared in the Middle East pledging allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State is one of several questions about this militant preacher of Islam, who is quickly becoming a fixture of the North Caucasus militants fighting in the Middle East.

Better known on the Internet as Nadir Abu Khalid (Jamaatshariat.com, May 23), Medetov studied in the Sharia department of the Islamic University of Medina, in Saudi Arabia. The jihadists dubbed him a sheikh, even though he was not formally one: the only feature of a sheikh Nadir Abu Khalid possessed was that he could perform the davaat (call). He did not write anything that could have put him on a par with fairly ordinary Middle Eastern sheikhs.

In a professionally made video, Nadir Abu Khalid is shown in a mosque saying how happy he is to be in the Caliphate and taking an oath of allegiance to Islamic State’s leader, Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Receiving Nadir Abu Khalid’s pledge in the otherwise empty mosque is Abu-Jihad, a.k.a. Islam Seit-Umarovich Atabiev, a 31-year-old native of the village of Ust-Jeguta in Karachaevo-Cherkessia who was well-known during the period when a separate Karachay jamaat still existed. Abu-Jihad is an important figure in the system of the Caliphate since he reports to Umar al-Shishani and is responsible for recruiting North Caucasians. The IS apparently shot this video for propaganda purposes and staged a special reception for the new arrival. Abu-Jihad is Umar al-Shishani’s right hand man who specifically targets the North Caucasians in Syria and Iraq as part of his informational campaign.

Nadir Abu Khalid is shown in the video with a Kalashnikov in his lap still wearing his backpack like he just got off a bus from Makhachkala (YouTube, May 23), in an apparent attempt to show the resolve of the new arrival to enter the war immediately after taking the oath. The video is a high-quality, professionally made piece.

The video says that Nadir Abu Khalid was detained by Russian authorities and forced to choose this path. It is unclear whether he would have joined Islamic State if the authorities had not detained him and put him under house arrest for the past 6–7 months. According to the video, the preacher was detained on October 8, 2014, and spent over half a year under house arrest by the Russian security services. It is quite rare for Islamic preachers to be placed merely under house arrest in Russia, and it is particularly strange in this case given that the police claimed they found arms in his car (although the weapons may have been planted there to provide the pretext for his arrest (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 28, 2014).

Nadir Abu Khalid was also known outside of Dagestan. Thanks to his intensive posting of videos on the Internet, he was acknowledged and respected in the North Caucasus, especially among young people. He did not call for jihad or disobedience; instead, Nadir Abu Khalid’s lectures were focused on Islamic lessons, the values of Islam and examples from the personal life of the Prophet (Archive.org, accessed May 28). Ahlu Sunna, a Salafist organization in Dagestan that operates officially and distinguishes itself from the armed underground movement, ardently defended Nadir Abu Khalid after he was arrested.

Despite being under constant surveillance by the security services and the police as a consequence of his house arrest, Nadir Abu Khalid still managed to leave not only Dagestan, but also the Russian Federation, and reach territory under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

It is also unclear why a popular preacher from the North Caucasus went so far away from home when he could have joined militant jihadists in Dagestan. At the time of his detainment by police, Nadir Abu Khalid may have disliked the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Aliaskhab Kebekov, and thus chose not to join the homegrown Islamic organization. However, now that some militants in the North Caucasus have pledged allegiance to the caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the preacher could have joined the Islamic State without leaving his home region. Yet, Nadir Abu Khalid ignored all his friends from the local jamaat and went to the Middle East to die for the caliph there. Does that mean he considered the efforts of the local jihadists in the North Caucasus worthless, not worth of dying for? If so, why did he not criticize them? A reference to the call by al-Baghdadi to travel to the land of Islam (Ia800309.us.archive.org, accessed May 28) is nothing but self-justification: it does not explain the position of Nadir Abu Khalid, who spread Salafist ideas in Dagestan.

Nadir Abu Khalid’s arrival in the Middle East may spark an exodus from Russia of young people who trusted him. That was the purpose for shooting the video of him taking an oath of allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Clearly he will replace Abu-Jihad as the preacher to the North Caucasians fighting in Iraq and Syria—unless he is dispatched to the frontlines to die heroically for the caliph.

Thus, Nadir Abu Khalid’s flight from Russia to the Middle East may further increase his influence in the minds of young people who have been deceived by preachers and who advance the idea of building the “true” Islamic State in the Middle East.