August 2010 saw violent incidents all across Russia’s North Caucasus region, above all in Dagestan, where rebels and Russian police dealt heavy blows to each other. On August 21, forces from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and local police supported by army units conducted a joint special operation and killed the leader of Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat, Emir Seyfullah (aka Magomedali Vagapov), who was hiding in a private house in Dagestan’s mountainous village of Gunib (www.rosbalt.ru, August 21). Apart from being the military commander of his own Sharia Jamaat, Emir Seyfullah also was the chief qadi (supreme judge of the Sharia court) of the entire Caucasus Emirate. That means that he in fact was one of the top leaders in the North Caucasus resistance movement. A highly educated man who held two degrees in Islamic theology from Islamic schools and proficient in several languages, Emir Seyfullah was held in high esteem by his comrades-in-arms and was steadily advancing toward assuming the post of Emir of Dagestan. Doku Umarov, Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, himself attached high hopes to the late Emir Seyfullah. Although killing Emir Seyfullah was no doubt a big success for Russian law enforcement, the painful blow nonetheless had little, if any, impact on the jamaat itself. Almost everywhere across Dagestan, armed jamaat members have been striking Russian interests, inflicting dozens of casualties on Russian law enforcement personnel (www.kavkaz.tv, September 2).
While Emir Seyfullah had waited for a long seven months to be selected for his post, following his death Umarov quickly picked his successor. Literally a week after Emir Seyfullah was killed, Emir Hassan (aka Israpil Velijanov), the former emir of the Southern Front, was made the new leader of the Dagestani rebels (www.jamaatshariat.com/-mainmenu-29/14-facty/1197-2010-09-01-01-45-00.html). With his appointment, tensions at the border with Azerbaijan may also arise. Emir Hassan comes from the region bordering Azerbaijan as he may have close contacts with the Azerbaijani Jamaat to coordinate activities, as was already the case in the time of Emir Abdul-Majid (aka Ilgar Molachiev) from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008. The incumbent Dagestan emir, by all accounts, had been preselected as a replacement to Emir Seyfullah should the latter be killed. Nevertheless, Emir Hassan was not seen among those whom Emir Seyfullah brought together for his final meeting (shura). Little is known about Emir Hassan except for his close association with Emir Abdul-Majid. His zone of influence includes the city of Derbent on the Caspian Sea and the entire southern part of Dagestan bordering Azerbaijan, which is a strategically important region.
Meanwhile, the rebels attempted to kill Bekmurza Bekmurzaev, Dagestan’s minister for ethnic policy, information and external relations, in an explosion. His driver died on the spot and the minister himself was rushed to the hospital with severe injuries (www.iron-times.ru/?category=6&news=16899). Two of his predecessors in the post were killed by militants in 2003 and 2005. This ministerial position is considered one of the most dangerous given the fact that it is charged with carrying out agitation and propaganda against the militants. No wonder the armed rebels have made the official holding this post one of their primary targets.
No sooner had the media started to portray the incident as a serious blow against the Russian authorities than the rebels compelled everyone to forget about it: indeed, the following day, September 5, a suicide bomber, tried to drive through the gate of the 136th Motorized Rifle Brigade, which is deployed near the town of Buinaksk, around 1:00 a.m. However, the sedan driven by the suicide bomber ran into a truck and that in fact saved the Russian military from experiencing massive casualties. According to various reports, the power of the explosive that went off was equal to 30 kilograms of TNT. Investigators claim the suicide bomber had yet another explosive device of the same power. It is already an established tradition that each explosion is followed a short time later by a “twin” blast that usually targets people who arrive at the scene of the first blast, such as investigators, prosecutors or top-level public officials. This time, the investigators’ car became the target of the second explosion. They were lucky enough to pull back in time, and this saved their lives. The terrorist attack at the military base ended up killing 5 soldiers and wounding 39.
The site of the tragedy was visited by Dagestani leaders and Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/173866/), who made a number of contradictory statements. The president of the Dagestani republic, Magomedsalam Magomedov, for his part tried to describe the incident as an “an accident waiting to happen,” and started to claim that the regional law enforcement agencies, such as the FSB and interior ministry, work professionally and coherently, which will allow them to decapitate the armed underground that would soon end its influence throughout the republic (www.riadagestan.ru, September 5). This means that Magomedov cannot even offer a realistic vision on how to neutralize the rebels in the near future. Furthermore, a little later, the same day, he admitted that the rebels are powerful enough to carry out those kinds of acts (www.rosbalt.ru, September 5). The leader of Dagestan appeared to confirm that the jamaat in his troubled republic represents a force whose influence on the local population is worth taking into account. An attempt to ignore it as one of the political forces in Dagestan would be nothing other than self-deceit and would lead to a false prognosis of what might happen there in the near future. It should be remembered that the world heard about the Buinaksk military base back in December 1997 when it was first attacked by the rebels under the command of Emir Khattab (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/170905/).
Suicide bombings are always painful for Russian authorities, since they are special incidents. Therefore, this tendency has found its niche in the rebel tactics against the Russian government. The recent suicide bombing in Dagestan was reportedly carried out by Zamir Terekbaev, a 26-year-old resident of the village of Andrei-Kurgan in the Neftekumsky district of Russia’s Stavropol region who was originally from Dagestan (http://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/173905/).
One of the more interesting features of the Dagestan attack is the participation of young people in suicide bombings which continues to show the weakness of regional authorities, whose appeal to young people is much lower than that of the rebels. Suicide bombings organized by North Caucasus rebels are always ostentatious, as they intend to demonstrate the limitations of the Russian authorities even in the most protected military garrisons. On the other hand, suicide attacks highly amplify the image of the rebels as valiant modern-day Robin Hoods among the local population, especially young men.
On September 6, a freight train was once again bombed in Dagestan, resulting in the derailment of six cars. The following day, September 7, rebels bombed a car in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala. Police officers were attacked and then in the evening an explosion occurred at the Irganaisk hydroelectric power plant in Dagestan, causing a severe blackout. It still remains unclear what caused this latest incident. If officials in Moscow determine that here too the rebels had a hand in the attack, then the reputation of Dagestani authorities may reach an even lower point in the Kremlin.