The uneasy situation in Russia’s Kabardino-Balkaria republic in the troubled North Caucasus region has been making headlines over the past month. Most often it is about armed assaults and explosions against Russian law enforcement officers (siloviki). The initial festive mood of the Russian authorities after the killing of the leader of the local Islamist Jamaat, Anzor Astemirov (the Emir Seifullah), soon faded and then changed to alarm as the Yarmuk Jamaat managed to acquire a new leader unusually expeditiously.
Following the liquidation of Astemirov on March 25, members of the jamaat, in an apparent revenge for the loss, intensified their strikes against Russian authorities across Kabardino-Balkaria as the Emir Abdullah (Asker Jappuev), Astemirov’s long-time close associate and deputy, became the jamaat’s new leader (www.islamdin.com). Little is known about Jappuev. He was born in 1971 in the town of Tyrnyauz in Kabardino-Balkaria. His close relative Adamey Jappuev, who sometime in the past also had been the late Astemirov’s deputy, was killed last year. The Yarmuk Jamaat’s new leader has been on the list of the Investigation Committee of Kabardino-Balkaria as a fugitive since 2007, when he and 12 comrades in the jamaat were accused of killing four hunters and five gamekeepers on November 4, 2007 (www.regnum.ru, November 15, 2007). The hunters may have been killed after accidentally discovering a militant base in the mountains. Whatever the case, there is no clear explanation for these killings.
The Yarmuk Jamaat’s current leader, Emir Abdullah, is an ethnic Balkar. As a Chechnya war veteran, he is known to have participated in the Chechen armed resistance movement under the leadership of military commander Shamil Basaev. According to a statement by Emir Abdullah posted on his jamaat’s website, he was appointed leader of the Yarmuk Jamaat in accordance with the will of his predecessor, Emir Seifullah (www.islamdin.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=751:-l-r&catid=27:2009-02-09-17-38-17&Itemid=16). This looks somewhat strange since until recently it was believed that the jamaat leader was elected (with the consent of the North Caucasus insurgency leader and head of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov) rather than appointed by the former emirs. In Emir Abdullah’s own words, he mourned the death of his predecessor for almost one week, but claims that the jamaat leaders’ death would have no consequences for the insurgents other than causing “unity in their ranks.” He also names three people as his role models: Shamil Basaev, Said Buryatsky and Anzor Astemirov. After hearing these names, it is not hard to guess that the new jamaat leader is a man ready for resolute action and a more belligerent approach than the more judicious and philosophizing Emir Seifullah. Taking into account the current leader’s ability to quote some suras and ayats from the Koran, it could be assumed that he has Islamic education as well. Also, Emir Abdullah has solemnly pledged his allegiance to Doku Umarov, the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate.
In a video statement published on the Yarmuk Jamaat’s website, Emir Abdullah specifies all of the operations he has conducted lately against Russian authorities. Immediately before Astemirov was killed, his group “tested a new explosive device” in the Elbrus sector under his command where he served as naib, or the emir’s representative. He gives no explanation on the nature of the “new” device, but it might be separate components of explosives. A little later, Emir Abdullah’s militants fired shots at two police officers. The jamaat leader claims that they also attacked an alleged traitor who seems to have given up one of their comrades to the authorities. Emir Abdullah mentions an avalanche during a sports contest in the mountains on March 15 and alleges that it was not a natural disaster but was instead the result of a special operation his militants perpetrated. An explosive device with the force of 10 kilograms of TNT was detonated, but since children participated in the contest, it was decided to not target the people but instead direct the blast in the air.
The leader of the Yarmuk Jamaat uses harsh words in his communication, warning that more powerful strikes can be expected. Then, on April 7, militants in his Jammat attacked a police patrol, killing two officers and wounding one. On April 10, the chief of the criminal investigation department of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry, Zuber Shukaev, was eliminated. As a propaganda tool, then Emir Abdullah quotes a high-ranking police boss who allegedly admitted that it is impossible to fight the insurgents, since for every militant killed you have ten new ones.
Meanwhile, on May 12, two police officers were wounded in a blast that rocked the town of Baksan in Kabardino-Balkaria (http://www.islamdin.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=754:2010-05-12-12-41-08&catid=2:kavkaz&Itemid=3). Three days later, using the typical militant tactic of first making a false call to police before starting an operation, unidentified men driving a car fired shots and wounded one police officer in the town of Tyrnyauz (www.regnum.ru, May 16). In May alone there have already been five armed assaults against the police in this small town in Kabardino-Balkaria. On the night of May 16, an explosive device was thrown into the yard of the republic’s Minister of Construction and Architecture, Adib Abregov. The explosive presumably was thrown from a car driven past his house. That same day there was an incident in the village of Dugulubrey in the Baksan district, in which several automatic shots were fired at the gate of a yard.
Thus, we can see the intensification of militant activities in Kabardino-Balkaria, which may be attributed to the new leader of the Yarmuk Jamaat. In addition to the usual reports coming from Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia in the northeastern Caucasus, there are similar reports on insurgent activities in Kabardino-Balkaria in the Northwest Caucasus. Car-bomb explosions and mobile militant groups firing at police patrol cars at night attest to the “maturing” of the Yarmuk Jamaat and its ascendancy to the ranks of the Dagestan and Ingush Jamaats.
Residents of Baksan, Tyrnyauz and Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital, appear to have grown accustomed to the rise in insurgent activities, which are no longer seen as unusual. People are now openly discussing what has brought their young compatriots to the point where they have to hide from government authorities. The major reason arguably is the inability of the Russian government to honor the individual’s right to have a worldview that differs from the official line declared by Moscow and enforced by its viceroys in the North Caucasus. This appears to be the driving motivation forcing local youths into the arms of the militants in Kabardino-Balkaria and other parts of the North Caucasus.