Practically every month, Moscow boastfully announces it has killed a leader of one of the territorial branches of the Islamic underground armed resistance. However, the statistics regularly provided by Russian authorities concerning the insurgency raise doubts about the authenticity of these claims. Indeed, the number of militants the government has claimed to kill in a given year always exceeds by several times the estimate of the total number of militants that the government declared at the start of that same year.
The questionable nature of government claims about rebel deaths was highlighted again recently, when the slain leader of the Khasavyurt jamaat was replaced by a new appointee. It would not have been that interesting in itself, had the new leader not been a person who had allegedly already been killed—at least according to Dagestani police reports. Emir Islam (Islam Muradov) was named the leader of one of the largest jamaats of Dagestan (second only to Makhachkala) (YouTube, September 29).
Islam Visrailovich Muradov was born on September 29, 1985. He was previously a member of the Aukhov jamaat, which, according to the administrative division of the armed resistance of Dagestan, is part of the Khasavyurt sector. Muradov became widely known on April 24 when government forces conducted a military operation against a group of militants who were holed up in a home in the city of Khasavyurt (kommersant.ru, April 25). Dagestani law enforcement agencies said at the time that four persons were killed in the operation and that, according to preliminary information, they included Islam Muradov and his wife, Milana Abdulkhajieva. Another woman, Rusana Ibragimova, was shot dead by government forces in the same incident, as she was leaving the house. Ibragimova was in her ninth month of pregnancy (Kavkazsky Uzel, April 25).
In his short video, the new emir reassured his supporters that there are many people willing to fight in the ranks of the Dagestani insurgency. Muradov’s speech is quite disorderly: it has no central idea, resembling instead a collection of slogans. His appearance on the video eloquently demonstrates that one of the largest jamaats in the republic is led by a person who is completely ignorant about Islam, but is also driven by extreme hatred of the government. Muradov’s elevation to the position of emir will be an additional headache for Russian authorities, particularly in the area of its ties to neighboring jammats and in the realm of disinformation and propaganda. Dagestan’s Aukhov jamaat, for example, is closely connected to the Chechen jamaat and is made up mostly of Chechens who live in Dagestan and the areas of Chechnya adjacent to Dagestan.
Having learned that Islam Muradov is alive, the Dagestani Ministry of Interior attempted to discredit him on a website that operates under its auspices. About two weeks before Muradov’s appointment as emir, the website hinted that he betrayed his comrades, that he was an agent of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and so on (kavkazpress.ru, September 9). If he really was an agent of the police or the FSB, none of the government-controlled websites, especially one under the control of the police, would have disclosed his identity. Thus it appears the police were trying to tarnish the reputation of the potential leader of the jamaat because they consider him more dangerous than other members of the jamaat.
Journalists should ask the police how Islam Muradov managed to stay alive and why the authorities did not inform the public that he had survived after they conducted a forensic examination of the four militants killed in the April 24 operation. Unfortunately, there are no longer any journalists left in the North Caucasus who can ask such questions, which is why putatively slain militants suddenly reappear as jamaat leaders. No one can understand why a militant is occasionally “killed” several times, and the government forgets that militants were reported killed in earlier special operations.
The measures that the authorities take to thwart the rebels in Dagestan often simply illustrate how the authorities and the Dagestani population have nothing in common and do not understand each other. On September 27, for example, a counterterrorist operation regime was introduced on the administrative border of two districts of Dagestan, and it was announced publicly by a representative of the operative headquarters of the National Antiterrorist Committee (NAK) in Dagestan, who said the regime was introduced at 6 p.m., local time, on the administrative border of Dagestan’s Kazbekovsky and Gumbetovsky districts in order to search for and neutralize rebels (regnum.ru, September 27).
The authorities gave no indication they were concerned about the fact that the counter-terrorist operation regime lasted for three days—it was lifted only on the evening of September 30—and they gave no explanations concerning its length. Despite the involvement of a large number of police, FSB and military personnel, who blocked mountain trails to prevent the militants from escaping, nothing and no one was found (riadagestan.ru, October 1). In fact, it would have been surprising if the government and the security services actually managed to find anyone during the three-day counter-terrorist operation. In reality, such operations are mainly designed not to find actual rebels, but to establish control over certain areas and find out about people who are in the risk group—i.e., those inclined to help or join the armed opposition. The police normally take DNA samples from the suspects, who are registered with both the FSB and the police. This provides the government with a database about those who adhere to Salafist ideas. The website of Dagestan’s militants warned its viewers about this Russian tactic (vdagestan.com, September 28).
The authorities’ distrust of the population, unwillingness to explain their actions, and use of the same official formulas every year to justify their actions toward the people from the risk group end up totally alienating the people not only from the law enforcement agencies, but from the government as a whole. The government’s loss of authority within the population is matched by growing interest in the idea of a just Islamic state. Thus, the government itself is helping to spread radicalism in North Caucasian society as a whole. And this trend is most evident in Dagestan.