The year ended unexpectedly for Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat. Completely by accident, a group of Khasavyurt city policemen encountered a car that disregarded their demands to stop. As a result of the ensuing gun battle, all four occupants of the vehicle were killed (Interfax, December 31). To the joy of the Dagestani authorities, among those killed was emir al-Bara (Umalat Magomedov), the leader of the Sharia Jamaat. Al-Bara was appointed to this position by the Chechen leader Dokka Umarov as recently as April 2009. The jamaat officially acknowledged the death of their leader just two days after the incident (www.jamaatshariat.com/ru, January 4). These days the lives of Dagestani emirs are terribly short. Thus, to replace emir Rabbani (Rappani Khalilov), who died in September 2007, emir Abdul-Madjid (Ilgar Mallachiev) was assigned. He died only one year later, in September 2008, and was succeeded by emir Muaz (Omar Sheikhulayev), who in turn was killed in February 2009. Finally, the current emir al-Bara was killed on New Year’s Eve, December 31, just 10 months after assuming his position. Three of his accomplices –Anwar Baidulayev, Shamil Magomedov, and Ibrahim Ibiyev– died together with al-Bara.
This latest killing of a Sharia Jamaat emir was hailed as a sensational success, since, according to the Russian siloviki, along with the dead bodies was a ledger detailing the militants’ financial transactions. Although it is unlikely that the militants would be driving around on New Year’s Eve, when all of the military and police forces were on full alert, with a full account of “who gave and who will give,” rejecting such a possibility outright is imprudent. According to Federal Security Service (FSB) officials, this accounting ledger detailed tens of millions of rubles that arrived from abroad (Turkey, the UAE, Georgia, and Azerbaijan), as well as from local businessmen (RIA Novosti, January 1).
It is worth mentioning that the FSB publicizes such finds very often, which makes this latest claim very suspicious in the sense that it could just be an element of ideology against the militants and provides an additional mechanism of applying pressure on neighboring states, primarily on Georgia and Azerbaijan, charging them with supporting terrorism.
It did not take long to receive a response to the elimination of the Sharia Jamaat’s leader. On the morning of January 6, a vehicle laden with explosives attempted to penetrate the perimeter of a road police (GIBDD) base in Makhachkala. As the vehicle approached the gate it collided with a squad car. The resulting explosion killed six police officers instantly; 14 more were hospitalized with various levels of trauma (www.gazeta.ru, January 6). The explosive payload is estimated to have been equivalent to 50-60 kilograms of TNT. The blast radius extended as far as 200 meters, with the crater measuring one meter in depth. Almost nothing remained of the perpetrator’s vehicle (www.grani.ru, January 6).
The most salient quality of this incident is that it was nearly identical to the one that took place in the city of Nazran last August, where a militant was able to infiltrate a morning formation of interior ministry personnel and create an explosion that took the lives of 20 and wounded 138 (RIA Novosti, August 17, 2009). Thus, in both cases the attacks were undertaken in the morning hours during shift changes, when roughly twice as many security personnel are located on site than at any other time of the day. The government has only just begun to recover from numerous attacks by suicide bombers in the summer and fall of 2009, when the Makhachkala attack again reminded them that such actions are not temporary and limited to specific seasons, but that the militants’ tactics are more diverse than in the past. Thus, in previous years, the governmental authorities felt more or less at ease in the winter months, when attacks by anti-government forces would be reduced by several times as compared to summertime. Today the frequency of militants’ activity is independent of the time of year, which indicates a higher level of sophistication.
It is also noteworthy that as recently as January 3, in an interview with Caucasus-Online, one of the militants’ ideologues, Movladi Udugov, was unequivocal in his assessment that “the beginning of large-scale operations against the Russian occupiers is imminent” (www.kavkasia.net, January 3). It is not clear whether he meant the actions of martyrs, but nonetheless this interview resonates well with what is happening today in the North Caucasus. Udugov also indicated that the militants achieved an important psychological victory over the enemy in 2009.
In part, his words are supported by the very actions of the militants. For instance, since the beginning of 2010, three policemen and a Russian interior ministry serviceman were wounded as a result of two explosions that took place in Chechnya on January 6 (RIA Novosti, January 6). In a continuation of the rail war in the vicinity of Ingushetia’s village of Barsuki, a cargo train was derailed by an explosion on January 4 (www.ingushetia.org, January 4). As a response to militant activity in the region, government authorities have been forced to bring back armored trains to the region (www.infox.ru, January 5). Police in Ingushetia come under fire daily. In addition, powerful explosive devices were discovered on a busy road in Kabardino-Balkaria.