The Dagestani Jamaat (Part 2)

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 49

Following the events of summer and fall of 1999, the realities of Dagestan’s life suggested a whole new attitude toward Salafi adherents was emerging. Dagestan is generally considered a region with age-old, well-established Muslim traditions, but the republic was not ready for the demands made by the Jamaat following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The population at large was happy to point to “traditional Islam” as a guarantee of an easy life spent symbolically fulfilling the norms and rituals of Islamic teaching, rather than really making an effort in one’s religious observance, as demanded by the Salafis. The notion of “traditional Islam” was tantamount to non-interference in family matters and the formal observance of Islamic norms.

In addition to the ideological challenge posed by the Jamaat to the official religion associated with the current leadership, there is also the ill will toward the local leaders caused by the mass abductions of young people. According to the republic’s prosecutor office, 75 people have been abducted by men in uniform in the period between 1999 and the first seven months of 2007 (Kavkazky Uzel, August 23). Forty-one of these were later found, four discovered dead and the fate of the remaining 30 is still unclear. These are only those who were abducted by uniformed assailants. If those kidnapped by the FSB and those that disappeared without a trace were counted, the numbers would be significantly higher.

Official figures in 2000 showed that there were 25,000 Salafi adherents in the republic, but two years later the figure suddenly dropped to 800, suggesting that number-juggling was done in Moscow in order to show how successful the fight against the radicals was going (Dagestan News Agency, September 5, 2005).

Unlike Chechnya, Dagestan does not have forest-covered mountains in which small groups of guerrillas can hide. This means that insurgents are forced to conceal themselves in the large settlements of the republic, making the attitudes of locals towards them a key issue, given that members of the resistance will be easy to identify. The actions of Russian troops against insurgents in urban areas always cause harm to neighboring dwellings. The authorities believe that this will elicit a negative reaction towards the insurgents, but the reality is that the indignant, angry backlash is directed solely at the Russian armed forces. Slain guerrillas are respected by the local youth as examples of bravery to be emulated.

Salafi views are becoming increasingly popular within that part of the Dagestani population that can be characterized as the intelligentsia. The percentage of those within that sector who sympathize with this kind of Salafi current is very high. In one of his interviews, the republic’s interior minister admitted that the armed resistance is composed of a variety of people but includes many with higher educations. Examples include such men as Magomedtagir Gashimov, the former dean of the theology department at the Caucasus Civic Institute, Abuzagir Mantaev, a PhD student in the government department and Makhach Rasulov, a graduate student at Dagestan State University and author of a number of articles on religious topics in local newspapers, and Zubail Khiyaso, the 70-year old former deputy minister of culture and director of the Kumyk-language theater, who was killed along with other Jamaat members during a siege of his apartment (, November 16, 2005;, September 7).

Young Dagestanis who reside in Moscow or other large Russian cities tend to take the Salafi approach to Islam, and are always joined together in a structure invisible to the authorities that is also called a “Jamaat.” It may often seem that young men outside Dagestan are more likely to be Salafi adherents, though a cause for this phenomenon may be found in the discriminatory policies pursued by the government towards young men from the North Caucasus.

The Goals of the Jamaat

As the late Rappani Khalilov, the Jamaat’s leader who was killed during a special operation against militants in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district in September 2007, told Radio Liberty in March, the Dagestani resistance organization has only one goal–“the freeing of Muslim lands from Russian occupation and the creation of a state based on sharia law” (Radio Liberty, March 30). This is, in all probability, the maximum that the insurgents are aiming for, with the minimum being a strong position from which to demand that the Russian army be withdrawn from the republic, and that Dagestanis are able to decide what sort of state they would like to create.

A much simpler goal involves energizing all those who would fight against illegitimate rulers–that is, against the republic’s current leaders. This particular objective seems to have been met, since Dagestan is currently viewed, along with Ingushetia, as one of the most unstable areas in the North Caucasus. This state has led to new military units being moved into the republic and new bases being created (Kavkazsky Uzel, August 23).

In answering a question about the objectives of the attacks he had launched, Khalilov clearly listed the targets of his subordinates: “The targets of our attacks are those gangs that are often called ‘law-enforcement bodies: the ‘FSB’, ‘MVD’, ‘prosecutor’s office’ and others. Valid military targets include the henchmen of the kafirs (infidels) from the DUMD [the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan, the republic’s official Muslim body] and the kafirs from the Russian Orthodox Church” (Kavkazsky Uzel, August 23).

The Structure of the Jamaat

Jamaat structures are uniform across the North Caucasus and do not vary due to ethnic or regional differences, perhaps in rare exceptions. For nearly eight years, one of the best-known leaders of the Dagestani Jamaat was Rappani Khalilov, a native of the city of Buinaksk and an ethnic Laks. He was replaced as commander of the Dagestani sector of the Caucasus Front by Amir Abdul-Madzhid, who also began as a member of the “Shariat” Jamaat at the start of the second military campaign in Chechnya in 1999 and was one of Khalilov’s closest associates. The “Shariat” Jamaat has units across the entire republic. The republic is divided into zones, such as the Buinaksk, Gubden, Makhachkala, Kizliar, Khasavyurt, Botlikh and others. Amir Abdul-Madzhid himself and others in the sector’s command are members of the Military Council of the Shura under Dokka Umarov and, since Umarov’s recent proclamation of a “Caucasian Emirate,” Amir Abdul Madzhid has been made “Vali of the Vilyat of Dagestan”–that is, the resistance’s de facto ruler in Dagestan. All of the vilayets are united under the leadership of Dokka Umarov, who is considered the personal ruler of this “virtual” emirate, but in fact, each vali is autonomous not by virtue of the formation of an emirate, but strictly due to the absence of authority of Dokka Umarov among those fighting under the flag of the resistance movement.

Locally, the zones are divided into small groups based in various settlements, with large cities such as Makhachkala, Kaspiisk, or Buinaksk having numerous cells, each responsible for a district or neighborhood. Certain particularly active groups have taken individual names while still remaining part of the Jamaat. These include “Dzhundullah” (The warriors of Allah) in Khasavyurt, “Seifullah” (The sword of Allah) in Buinaksk and “Yasin” in Makhachkala.

According to Mirzobala Mirzobalaev, the head of the investigative office of the Dagestani prosecutor’s office, several terrorist groups controlled by Chechen extremists operate under the collective “Jennet” name. These are highly secretive organizations with their own intelligence and security structures and motivated by strong ideological views (, November 16, 2005). This admission clearly shows that the official authorities admit that the Jamaat has a network of cells across the whole republic. The reference to “Chechen extremists” is an attempt to placate Moscow by shifting attention away from Dagestan’s internal problems and towards Chechnya.

An apparently independent group called “Yasin” operates independently of the Makhachkala cell and has been charged with “destroying the munafiqs [hypocrites] and ideological enemies of Islam.” One of the operations undertaken by this group in 2007 was the killing of Kur-Muhammed Ramazanov, the deputy head mufti of Dagestan (, July 30). The deaths of two Dagestani ministers of ethnic affairs, in 2003 and 2005, were also probably the work of this organization.

The Hunt for Rappani Khalilov

Rappani Khalilov was the Dagestani rebel most eagerly sought by security personnel. The military, the FSB, the police and representatives of the local government were all after Khalilov, and they all have lists of their comrades killed by his men that are waiting to be avenged (at total 45 deaths, according to conservative estimates). When an announcement was made in early June 2007 that a large-scale operation aimed at capturing Khalilov was under way, the whole of Dagestan waited with bated breath, some with concern, others with anticipation. Over five thousand soldiers, policemen and commandos were used in the operation, with FSB and Russian Interior Ministry spetsnaz units arriving as reinforcements from Moscow (,,, June 9). The propaganda blitz accompanying the operation made it seem like Rappani Khalilov’s fate was sealed. The initial wide-scale radio and TV coverage eventually petered out when reporters started to realize that no tangible results would be forthcoming—they turned out to be right.

There were a number of such operations over the last several years, each of them ending with a proclamation of Khalilov’s death (, May 20). Yet every time, much to the fury of the security services and the Russian Ministry of the Interior, Khalilov made statements in the media refuting his “untimely demise.” Following a tradition well established in Chechnya, these types of failures have led the Russian security services to label every slain guerrilla “a most important and key leader” and claim that this specific man was responsible for a dozen unsolved murders. Such methods tend to make one think that the resistance is entirely composed of high-ranking commanders who have no subordinates whatsoever.

In the middle of September 2007, Dagestani security forces, working jointly with the FSB, killed Khalilov by chance during a special operation; indeed, at first, they did not recognize the body, and Khalilov’s death was handled with great caution out of fear of being mistaken yet again. During the three days before the “Shariat” Jamaat confirmed Khalilov’s death, many believed it was just the latest farce (, September 20). The Russia special services will justifiably view the operation in which Khalilov was killed as one of the most significant carried out in the North Caucasus. On the heels of the killing of Shamil Basaev, they eliminated their most implacable foe in Dagestan.

The new leadership of the “Shariat” Jamaat, in the person of Amir (Vali) Abdul-Madzhid, will continue to follow the course mapped out by its previous leader, Rappani Khalilov, given that Abdul-Madzhid was Khalilov’s right hand and has preserved his links and contacts and, no less importantly maintains good relations with the Chechen rebel commanders. Under Abdul-Madzhid’s leadership, the “Shariat” Jamaat took an oath of allegiance to Dokka Umarov in his new capacity as the Emir of the Caucasian Emirate. Thus, the Dagestani Jamaat did not have to undergo serious changes in tactics due to the loss of Rappani Khalilov as its leader.

Important Actions of the Dagestani Jamaat

1. In January 2002, seven soldiers were killed in Makhachkala when a radio-detonated bomb exploded in the path of a truck carrying 30 soldiers of the 102nd Interior Forces brigade.

2. On May 9, 2002: 45 people were killed and 100 wounded when a bomb exploded during a Victory Day parade in Kaspiisk.

3. On August 27, 2003 Magomedsalikh Gusaev, Dagestan’s minister of ethnic affairs, was killed.

4. On April 15, 2005: a bomb exploded in the prosecutor’s offices in Makhachkala.

5. On May 20, 2005: Zagir Arukhov, Dagestan’s minister of ethnic affairs, information, and external policy was killed.

6. In July 2005, a bomb that exploded near a column of military vehicles killed 10 and wounded 30.

7. In early August 2006, Bitar Bitarov, the prosecutor of Buinaksk, was killed and Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, Dagestan’s interior minister, suffered head injuries.

8. Kur-Magomed Ramazanov, the deputy head mufti of the republic, was killed

9. On April 1, 2007: Abulbasyr Omarov, the deputy head of the attorney general’s office of Dagestan was killed.

10. On August 3, 2007: Lieutenant-Colonel Abdulmazhid Rasulov, the deputy chief of police of Buinaksk, was killed.


Even this short overview of the situation in Dagestan makes it abundantly clear that the most destabilizing factor in the republic is the Dagestani Jamaat. Though there are many criminal elements active in the republic, the struggle of the armed opposition is evident and blows struck by it are the most damaging to the authorities of the republic.

The struggle against the insurgents has been the catalyst for a conflict between the local elites, headed by President Mukhu Aliev, and Moscow’s appointees, especially the minister of interior, Adilgirei Magomedtagirov. By pointing to the ineffectiveness of the FSB and the interior ministry, the local elites hope to get the current appointees replaced by men more willing to work with the locals. Moscow is unwilling to upset the current balance and over the last several years has steadfastly defended its appointees (including the minister of the interior, the republican prosecutor, the republican minister of justice, etc.) against the local notables.

These conflicts among those in power only benefit the Jamaat, and it has taken this opportunity to establish cells all across the republic and to raise the training of its members to levels unmatched in all of the North Caucasus, even in Ingushetia. The Dagestani Jamaat is far more numerous than the one in Ingushetia and successfully operates in a republic that is more than twelve times larger than Ingushetia, making “Shariat” the most able of all the North Caucasus Jamaats. This high level of preparedness makes the Dagestani sector of the Caucasus Front a key factor in the overall activities of the resistance movement headed by Dokka Umarov.

The Dagestani jamaat has a widespread base of support among the highly educated Dagestani youth within the republic itself and across the entirety of Russia and is the largest organization of its type in the North Caucasus. This means that the Russian government can look forward to difficult years ahead unless a new policy is chosen in dealing with the adherents of Salafi teaching. Violence must be replaced by more effective ways of fighting for the hearts and minds of young men, and the government should no longer see every non-Sufi Muslim as a Salafi.


Bagautdin (Magomed) Kebedov, born 1945, is the spiritual leader of the Salafi adherents in Chechnya and Dagestan. A native of the village Vedeno (though born during the Chechen deportation, when the village was given to Dagestanis from the nearby areas), he organized illegal groups for the study of Islam in different regions of Dagestan during the Soviet period. In 1989, he organized a Jamaat group that became the forerunner of an Islamic party and co-founded the Islamic Renaissance Party. In 1997 moved to Chechnya, in August 1999 led the incursion of Dagestani forces into the Botlikh district, at which time he requested assistance from Shamil Basaev.

Ahmad-kadi Akhtaev (1942-1998) was born in the village of Kudali in Dagestan. An ethnic Avar, one of the leaders of the Dagestani Salafites and an adherent of liberal views, he was opposed to the possibility of armed conflict in Dagestan over Sufi beliefs. His strange death led to increased confrontation with the authorities and increasingly unified Chechen and Dagestani forces based on Salafi ideology.

Rappani Khalilov, an ethnic Lakh, was born in Buinaksk in 1969. A known participant in the armed resistance staring in 1999, in 2001 was a member of the military shura (council) of the North Caucasus divisions commanded by Shamil Basayev. In 2002-2003 commanded the “Shariat” Jamaat in Dagestan, later commander the Dagestan sector of the Caucasus front. He was given the rank of brigade general and commander of the Dagestan front of the Armed Forces of the Chechen republic of Ichkeria by order of Dokka Umarov on September 24, 2006. One of the key resistance leaders in Dagestan, he was responsible for over 50 terrorist attacks directed at the Federal authorities (Vremia Novostei, June 9). He was killed by federal forces in the village of Novy Sulak, on the outskirts of the Dagestani city of Kizilyurt, on September 17, 2007 (Chechnya Weekly, September 20).

Rasul Makasharipov, killed July 6, 2005, was one of the most notable Dagestani resistance leaders, considered an equal to Rappani Khalilov. According to Dagestan’s security services, Makasharipov personally led scores of attacks against the federal forces deployed in the republic.

Bammatkhan Sheikhov, leads a group in the Buinaksk district, south-west of Makhachkala.

Abdulkadyr Mutashev, leads a group in the Gubden district, west of Izerbash and south of Buinaksk.

Magomedali Vagabov, leads a group in the Karabudakhkent district, south of Kaspiisk and north of Gubden.

Hadzhi Melikov, leader of the Makhachkala group, killed in action August 26, 2006, is an associate of Rasul Makasharipov.

Shamil Abidov, killed January 14, 2006, is considered one of the chief leaders of the Dagestani Jamaat.