Sufi-Salafist Tension Deepens After Attack on Salafist Cleric in Ingushetia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 13 Issue: 54

Wreckage from the March 11 car bomb targeting Salafist preacher Khamzat Chumakov (

Enemies of the well-known Salafist preacher Khamzat Chumakov have been pursuing him for a while. In 2010, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded under the Salafist cleric’s car. Chumakov was badly wounded in the blast, losing his leg, but he remained alive and returned to preaching shortly thereafter (Interfax, March 11). Following that first attempt on Chumakov’s life, some people in the republic speculated that the insurgents targeted him for his calls for peace (Interfax, March 11). However, it became increasingly clear that the insurgents probably did not target Chumakov, because he remained a staunch critic of the Sufis. The Ingush Salafist cleric gained widespread recognition in Ingushetia precisely because of his criticism of Sufism, especially with regard to certain rituals and religious views.

The latest attack on Chumakov occurred on March 11, near the mosque where he was scheduled to give a sermon. The bomb was planted in a car that had been bought by an unknown individual in Dagestan, and it was detonated remotely (, March 13). The attack may have been a warning. A source in the local police said: “We did not have terrorist attacks for a while and now suddenly we get this big explosion. The attackers most likely tried to avoid casualties and send some message” (Zona.Media, March 11). The driver of a car passing by was injured, but Chumakov himself refused any medical treatment and left the scene immediately after the incident.

Khajimurat Gatsalov, the mufti of the neighboring republic, North Ossetia–Alania, reacted to the attempt on Chumakov’s life since he himself has been under pressure from the authorities for some time. Gatsalov called on the mosque parishioners to defend their imams: “The believers should guard and protect their imams. This is the reality in the Caucasus today, unfortunately” (see EDM, January 15). Unlike the North Ossetian mufti, Ismail Berdiev, the chairman of the Coordination Center of the Muslims of the North Caucasus, who is essentially the mufti of the Muslims of the North Caucasus, attempted to put the blame for the attack on the victim himself. Berdiev suggested that some of Chumakov’s followers who had disagreements with him may have attacked him (Zona Media, March 11). The mufti of the North Caucasus thereby practically sided with the authorities.

At the same time, in Chechnya, which also neighbors Ingushetia, regional officials pretended that nothing had happened, even though the Chechen authorities had recently threatened Chumakov for his “wrong” sermons and misleading the people with his Salafist views. It is impossible for anyone to preach a Salafist message in Chechnya, where just indicating Salafist sympathies can have serious repercussions with the authorities and the republic’s official mufti (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 3). In Ingushetia, neither civil activists, nor officials, nor Chumakov’s followers dared to even hint that Ramzan Kadyrov’s people may have been involved in the assassination attempt. Chechnya is the only republic in the North Caucasus where not a single Salafist mosque officially exists (that, however, does not mean that there are no Salafists in the republic).

According to Ingush civil rights activist Bagaudin Khautiev, various political forces in the republic may have been behind the attack on Chumakov. One possible reason for the attack could have been the conflict between the Salafist cleric and the mufti of Ingushetia, Isa Khamkhoev (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 3). Some figures in the administration of Ingushetia’s governor may also have been angry with Chumakov for his criticism of corruption among republican officials (, March 13). According to Khautiev, Moscow should intervene in the situation in the republic to prevent it from sliding into the kind of cycle of violence it experienced at the beginning of the 2000s.

In reality, however, neither the conflict between Chumakov and Khamkhoev nor the officials’ disgruntlement with Chumakov’s criticism of their corrupt practices is the main source of the conflict. Authorities in the North Caucasus are trying desperately to prevent the spread of Salafist ideology in the region. Even such sworn enemies as Ingushetia’s governor Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Chechnya’s governor Ramzan Kadyrov are prepared to put aside their differences to fight what they regard as their common adversary—Salafist teachings. Part of the North Caucasian population has switched from Sufism to Salafism. Step by step, Chumakov has built a large community of Muslims who reject Sufism. His influence spans Ingushetia, the North Caucasus and beyond: indeed, the sermons of the Ingush Salafist cleric are translated into Russian and circulated around the world. It can be said with certainty that Chumakov is currently one of the most influential Salafist preachers in the entire region. Chumakov has increasingly openly challenged Sufism, which means he is not only challenging the authorities of Ingushetia or Chechnya, but also any member of the Sufi majority in Ingushetia who was offended by Chumakov’s preaching against Sufism. Therefore, there are a number of persons in government structures who might have staged or even supported such an attack on the cleric. This particular case of violence indicates that the tensions between the Sufi majority and Salafist minority in Ingushetia and across the North Caucasus will continue to increase as the Sufi-Salafist divide further deepens.