The New Ideologues of the North Caucasus Jihadists

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 38

Result of the recent bombing of parliament in Grozny by Chechen rebels.

With nearly 300 attacks or incidents of militant-related violence tied to the “Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus” this year alone, it is apparent that the Chechen jihad is spreading through the North Caucasus even as it recedes within Chechnya itself. In descending order, the main sites of militant-related violence are now Dagestan, Ingushetia, the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), Chechnya and the Karachai-Cherkessia Republic (KCR). [1] The geographical shift in jihadi activities is now being mirrored by a shift in the Salafist ideologues favored by the North Caucasus jihadis.

Recent attacks have indicated the emerging role of the “Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus" (IEC), which serves as an umbrella group for the armed Islamist movements in the region, particularly in a period when the group’s activities have largely moved to the republics neighboring Chechnya, a country that has experienced two brutal wars since 1994 and was the major theater of violence in the North Caucasus over the last decade.

The leader of the IEC, Doku Umarov, appeared last August in a video clip saying that he was resigning from the leadership of the "Emirate,” only to withdraw his resignation a day later, stating that the clip was fabricated and he was still Amir. Three top Chechen rebel field commanders (would-be leader of the Emirate and Amir of the Vilayat of Nokhchiycho [Chechnya] Khusein Gakayev, Umarov’s former successor Aslambek Vadalov and Tarkhan Gaziyev) and one Arab commander, who goes by the name “Muhanad”, then renounced their bayat (oath of allegiance) to Umarov while insisting they were not withdrawing from the Emirate (Kavkaz-Tsentr, August 13; Daymokh.org, October 7; see also Eurasia Daily Monitor, October 8). Though Umarov’s official dismissal of the four commanders in August was accompanied by an appeal from Commander Supyan Abdullayev to reconsider their positions, a later videotape statement named another 25 commanders who supported the replacement of Doku Umarov (Kavkaz-Tsentr, September 20; Daymokh, October 14).

These developments suggested that the IEC is divided between "jihadists" who want to link the North Caucasus to the global jihad and to take advantage of the presence of Umarov and his reputation to secure funds and those who are aiming to “re-Chechenize” the resistance movement, stop regional expansion and take advantage of the large amount of support that the Chechen cause has in Muslim countries. Among those supporting the jihadist faction are the leaders of armed groups in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. The ongoing attacks and daily violent incidents in the North Caucasus suggest an increased capability of the jihadist faction in the IEC to expand their operations in the region.

The movement’s links with the global jihad, particularly on the propaganda level, are also increasing. Lately the interest shown by jihadist web forums in North Caucasus developments has been growing and they are reaching out to both Russian and Arabic speaking audiences by including pages in the Russian language to disseminate jihadist materials. On August 28, jihadist web forums released a new documentary-style video entitled "The Caucasus: 50 years," stating that jihad against Russia will last as long as 50 years, as the late Amir Ibn al-Khattab predicted. [2] The Arabic-language video is reminiscent of propaganda videos that jihadists used to release in order to mobilize young Arabs after the Second Chechen War erupted in 1999.

Significantly, there is another development in this context; the North Caucasus jihadis’ linkage to the global jihad is now at a level in which clerics have become influential and are sought out for fatwas and advice. The well-known Jordanian Salafi-Jihadist ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Syrian cleric Abu Basir al-Tartusi condemned "the breaking of the oath of allegiance to Doku Umarov by some field-commanders." Before the death of the KBR’s Amir Sayfullah (a.k.a. Anzor Astemirov) in March, the Arabic-speaking commander corresponded with al-Maqdisi, seeking his advice on a number of issues. Since 2009, al-Maqdisi has become an active promoter and propagandist of the jihadi movement in the North Caucasus. He concluded a recent statement on the issue of field commanders renouncing their allegiance to Doku Umarov by saying:

"What we know about the Amir Abu Uthman Umar Doku [i.e. Doku Umarov] is all good and the religious judges in the [Caucasus] Emirate still praise him [because] he refers to the scholars for opinion and consultation, and under his leadership the Caucasus Emirate declared the abolition of all manifestations of jahiliya [ignorance]. The brothers in the Caucasus agreed on him… and jihad went through under his leadership. According to the accounts of our trustworthy insider brothers, the Amir Abu Uthman has not committed [any kind] of violation that permits disputing his leadership and revolting against him. Anyone who is keen to [preserve] the reputation and interest of jihad should obey him and help him to unify the jihadi forces and should not initiate breaching his orders or demanding to change him without a legitimate reason approved by the Shura Council. Such demands by some of the mujahedeen without a considerable legitimate reason will damage the prestige of the Emirate, make disputes over leadership very easy and will divide the mujahideen" (as-ansar.com, September 4).

Tartusi also sent a message to Umarov by saying, "The mujahideen, led by Amir Doku Umarov, are the legitimate governors of the country and the people. People must engage in obedience and be loyal to them. The Amirs of Jihad should, in return, consider the interests of the people and take care of them… [they should] be closer to the people and more merciful to them” (hanein.info, August 25).

These rulings from global jihadi ideologues suggest that that there is a shift in the movement’s orientation in seeking advice and religious opinion. While the Arab fighters in Chechnya from the mid-1990s to the beginning of the 2000s relied on classic Salafi scholars such as Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Ibn Saleh al-Uthaymeen (1925-2001) in these matters, there is a rising number of North Caucasus jihadis who aim to link themselves to the ideologues of global jihad.

Notes:

1. Based on open source analysis in Islam, Islamism and Politics in Eurasia Report 23, Monterey Institute for International Studies, September 13, 2010.
2. Global Islamic Media Front:  http://www.shamikh1.net/vb/showthread.php?t=69550; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sdoOweIpCw&feature=related.