Analysts have believed that the Islamic State (IS) organization would dispatch people to the North Caucasus and include the region in its sphere of influence. The reality appears to be much simpler: the IS came to the North Caucasus through members of the Caucasus Emirate who pledged allegiance to the Middle Eastern organization.
Prior to the release of a YouTube video of top commanders from Dagestan’s Shariat Jamaat pledging allegiance to the IS, Usman Gimrinsky (Suleiman Magomedov), the qadi of the Caucasus Emirate and the emir of the Mountainous Sector of the Velayat Dagestan, lashed out against North Caucasians pledging allegiance to IS. In his address last December 14, Gimrinsky said that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is not the Caliph. Moreover, the Dagestani Muslim scholar stated that none of the well-known Islamic scholars of the world had recognized Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the Caliph, and that pledging allegiance to someone who is virtually unknown to anyone would cause discord inside the Dagestani jamaat (Vdagestan.com, December 14, 2014).
Gimrinsky addressed the militants in the Avar language—a surprising move for the qadi of Dagestan given that the organization consists not only of ethnic Avars, but also Chechens, Kumyks, Dargins, Laks and others. It is likely that by the time of his address, the qadi already knew some people in the Caucasus Emirate were under the sway of the IS or he had been asked to provide official guidance. In any case, the qadi’s address was not caused by the statement made by the former emir of the Aukhov jamaat, Suleiman, who switched allegiances to the IS in November 2014 (see EDM, December 4, 2014), otherwise the qadi would have delivered his address in Russian, which all of Dagestan’s ethnic groups understand.
The emir of Dagestan, Abu Muhammad (Rustam Aseldarov), and the former emir of the Shamilkala sector (city of Makhachkala), Abu Muhammad Agachaulsky (Arsanali Kambulatov), made a surprising statement about their switching allegiances to the IS (YouTube, December 20, 2014). Aselderov, who is wanted by the Dagestani police for committing grave crimes, including terrorist acts (05.mvd.ru, accessed January 8, 2015), has led Dagestan’s Shariah Jamaat for the past two years. Aselderov said the video was shot on December 16, 2014 and that his statement reflected a culmination of his struggle with the new emir of the Caucasus Emirate, Sheikh Abu Muhammad. According to the Dagestani rebel leader, the new emir of Caucasus Emirate should have rid himself of all his advisers and aides residing abroad after Doku Umarov’s death in the fall of 2013. The helpers abroad who have settled in Istanbul have directed the Caucasus Emirate’s fundraising activities and apparently have become the primary point of contention between the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate and his subordinates in Dagestan. The dismissal of the leader of Shamilkala sector of the insurgency, Emir Abu Muhammad Agachaulsky (Rustam Aseldarov) and of the emir of the Aukhov jamaat, Emir Suleiman (Suleiman Zailanabidov), were only some of the steps the new Caucasus Emirate emir took to undermine the influence of Dagestan’s emir. As a result, both leaders of the insurgency, Aseldarov and Zailanabidov, became opponents of the Caucasus Emirate’s leadership and have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. The appointment of the former qadi, Abu Muhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov), as head of the Caucasus Emirate instead of the Dagestani emir, Abu Muhammad (Rustam Aseldarov), may have contributed to the rivalry and the eventual split in the Caucasus Emirate leadership.
Videos featuring pledges of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quickly started to proliferate around the Internet. Usman, the deputy (naib) emir of the Southern Front and an ethnic Lezgin (YouTube, December 23, 2014), pledged allegiance to the IS. The emir of the Southern Sector, Abu Yasir, and his naib, the emir of Tabasaran, Abu Sumaya, also pledged allegiance to the IS organization (YouTube, December 23, 2014). Thus, a wave of support by the middle- and high-ranking Dagestani jamaat commanders spread.
The emir of the Caucasus Emirate, Abu Muhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov), scathingly criticized his opponents, telling them that they should go to their caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and fight under his flag there, but not in Dagestan, where everybody should be subordinate to him and pledge allegiance only to him (Dailymotion.com, December 20, 2014).
He explained that the Muslim rules on pledging allegiance do not envisage taking an oath of allegiance to someone who is a thousand kilometers away when one’s own commander is right next door. The emir of the Caucasus Emirate condemned the former emir of Dagestan who pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Abu Muhammad called this step an act of treason and warned the mujahideen of Dagestan and of the Caucasus Emirate not to help those who are splitting the mujahideen. Said Arakansky was appointed as the new emir of the Velayat Dagestan (YouTube, December 28, 2014). Little is known about the new leader of the Dagestani insurgency; however, what is known about him is that he was not chosen from among the well-known commanders currently serving the Dagestani jamaat.
Prominent Chechen commanders followed suit, pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Emir Yakub (Makhran Saidov), Emir Hamzat of the Itum-Kale sector (YouTube, December 28, 2014) and Emir Usam of the Vedeno sector (YouTube, December 28, 2014) took the oath.
This is the most serious conflict inside the Caucasus Emirate since the summer of 2010, when three Chechen commanders renounced their oaths of allegiance to Doku Umarov, who at that time was the head of this group (see EDM, August 13, 2010). That conflict lasted over a year before it was settled through the mediation of the current emir of the Caucasus Emirate, Sheikh Abu Muhammad, who was then qadi of the Caucasus Emirate (see EDM, July 28, 2011).
Today, the most combat-ready part of the Caucasus Emirate, the Dagestani jamaat, is on the brink of total collapse. The organization faces the same challenge as the Chechen militants in Syria and Iraq, who are split over recognizing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the Caliph. The influence of the North Caucasus militants in Syria and Iraq will, in the near term, have an impact on the deepening internal conflict occurring inside the Dagestani insurgency.