The Truth about the “Kataib al-Khoul” Ossetian Jamaat

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 36

The North Ossetian jamaat is undoubtedly the most exotic of all the North Caucasus resistance units. For the longest time this group was considered a fable, a fabrication used by ethnic Ingush for propagandistic purposes. Just a year ago, Aslanbek Kelekhsaev, the secretary of the Council for Economic and Social Safety of North Ossetia, called the existence of a “so-called Ossetian jamaat” a “myth” (RIA Novosti, September 13, 2006). Such views were easily clung to for two well-known reasons. First, there is the poor relationship between the Ossetians and the Ingush. Second, Muslims make up only 20-25% of the total Ossetian population, with the majority of the populace belonging to the Orthodox Church.

Nonetheless, the events of 2004-2005 have made it impossible to doubt that this part of the Northern Caucasus has a jamaat composed of Salafi adherents. Young Ossetians, partially under the influence of the Ingush jamaat and the Kabardino-Balkar “Yarmuk” jamaat, have formed their own militarized structure. This is unsurprising, since any attempt to control an Islamic society from the outside creates the basis for a parallel, unofficial social structure within it. During Communist times, Sufism provided this type of structure, while today the niche is filled by jamaats grounded in Salafi principles. Earlier a similar process occurred in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, even though many refused to believe that jamaats could appear in those republics. The authorities have tried to deny the existence of a phenomenon they do not want to face, but the truth is, with the exception of Adygeia, the entirety of the area between the Caspian and the Black seas is filled with various jamaat groups [1]. It should be noted that the Ossetian jamaat should not be mistaken for the “Missionary Jamaat of North Ossetia” headed by Ermak Tegaev, the famous Muslim leader and head of the Islamic Cultural Center [2]. That particular group is a political organization that unites those Muslims that oppose the official clergy supported by the local government.

The “Kataib al-Khoul” jamaat of North Ossetia is led by emir Saad and is very active in disseminating information about its activities within the republic. This continued coverage of the jamaat’s operations is not just irritating to the republic’s government, but also annoys much of the Ossetian population, since most people prefer to believe that the jamaat consists solely of ethnic Ingush, rather than Ossetians. Propagandist actions have included the fall 2006 declaration that the jamaat would pay $50,000 for the heads of Yamadaev and Kakiev, while earlier it was proclaimed that the jamaat would soon be able to shoot down airplanes. Another PR move sought to convince people that the FSB was going to attempt a special operation in the republic. In fact, the PR activity of the Ossetian jamaat outstrips that of “Yarmuk” and the Karachaevo-Cherkessia jamaat, providing an appearance of continued activity and accomplishment.

The jamaat has taken responsibility for attacking a military column on September 6, 2006, as well as exploding a bomb in front of the North Ossetian branch of the FSB on June 25, 2006. On the night of August 2, jamaat members attacked a car with three Ingush policemen on the road near the village of Maiskii. Statements have been made about members combating drug dealers and the owners of gambling establishments. The group took responsibility for the assassination of Cossack general Bimbolat Dzutsev, though the most important operation of the jamaat so far has been the downing of a helicopter carrying high-ranking military officials, resulting in the death of 15 men [3].

The main areas of jamaat activity are the eastern and central parts of the republic, including the capital of Vladikavkaz. These are regions with a large Digortsy population, a historically Muslim group. It should be remembered that religiosity, both among Muslim and Orthodox Ossetians, is quite low, with both religions including polytheistic customs that are part of traditional Ossetian beliefs.

The numbers of the Ossetian jamaat are fairly small and are unlikely to exceed two dozen active members, putting it on par with the Nogai organization. Unlike the Nogais, however, the Ossetians are located in the heart of the region, with the republic bordering Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Stavropol, providing a more dynamic playing field. Despite the fact that North Ossetia has the largest number of troops deployed (per square kilometer) of any republic in the region, no real confrontation has occurred between Federal forces and the local jamaat.

The structure of the jamaat is fairly standard, consisting of three operational groups – one located near the Ingush border, another in Vladikavkaz, and a third near Beslan and the airport. This means that all parts of the jamaat are fairly close to the capital and to Ingushetia, while two of the three locations are areas where large numbers of Ingush reside. Despite this fact, the jamaat is referred to as the “Ossetian jamaat,” a term that is appropriate for geographic, if not ethnic, reasons.

The fact that the jamaat probably includes ethnic Ingush is demonstrated by the group’s willingness to undertake operations in Ingushetia proper. Statements about such incidents have indicated that the Ingush jamaat had requested the Ossetian group’s participation [4]. A base is even being constructed in Ingushetia in order to allow the jamaat to hide and reorganize if necessary.

The jamaat’s participation in the Beslan tragedy is doubtful, since the slain attackers predominantly resided outside of the republic and included men from different ethnic groups. The theory that the attack was organized by Shamil Basaev, despite its faults, is more believable, since the participants included some of his men. The fact that a couple of Ossetians were part of the attack does not provide enough evidence for the Ossetian jamaat’s participation or assistance in this operation. In fact, the group was probably organized immediately after the Beslan events, in 2005, in order to provide a local unit that could be part of the North Caucasus resistance movement.

The Ossetian jamaat “Kataib al-Khoul” is heterogeneous in its ethnic composition and the youngest of all the military groups of the North Caucasus resistance groups. Its appearance is a consequence of the war in Chechnya and the spread of hostilities to Ingushetia, something that has allowed for direct participation in the hostilities and the recruitment of new fighters with minimal risk in Ossetian territory. Despite its youth, the group has demonstrated a capacity for action and poses a danger to Russia’s influence in the region.


1. Jamaats are not always purely Salafi, however, but may include men of other beliefs that have temporarily allied themselves with the militarized units of the resistance movement.

2. His non-violent views and his rejection of the military jamaat did not save him from being arrested at one time by the republic’s authorities on suspicion of destabilizing the Ossetian Muslim community.

3. “Kataib al-Khoul” statement, September 13, 2006. The helicopter had three crewmen and 12 high ranking officers from the Ministry of Defense and the headquarters of the North Caucasus Military District. Lieutenant-General Pavel Yaroslavtsev, deputy chief for supply, and lieutenant-general Viktor Guliaev, deputy chief of army medicine, were among the casualties.

4. “Kataib al-Khoul” statement, April 22, 2006.