Last month, before the start of Ramadan, the top leader of the Chechen/Caucasian rebels, Dokku Umarov, issued a video statement that revealed possible uneasy relations between the North Caucasus insurgents and their supporters and sympathizers in Muslim countries, mainly in the Middle East.
On the video, Umarov can be seen sitting with several bearded militants, including two standing behind him with machine guns, and a black flag of Jihad with the slogan “Victory or Heaven” in Arabic and a picture of a saber on it. Umarov first speaks in Chechen, but then suddenly switches to Russian. An Arab to the left of Dokku Umarov turns his head to the leader and starts telling him something in Arabic. In the end the Arab says in Russian: ‘I will always obey you (Dokku Umarov) until you go on the path of Allah”. Umarov then says in Russian, looking at the camera, that “today amir Mukhannad, amir (commander) of the Jamaat (Islamic group) that used to be headed by Khattab, Abu-Walid, and Abu Khafs, has given Bayat (an oath of loyalty) to me as the Supreme Amir of the Caucasian mujahideen. I became amir after the death of such leaders like Dzhokhar Dudaev, Maskhadov, Yandarbiev, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, and Shamil Basayev. Mukhannad, who came to Chechnya to fight Jihad from an Arabic country that is far from the Caucasus, a person who completely devoted himself to the cause of Allah, would never have given Bayat to a man who does not fight for Allah, but has other goals.”
This scene of Mukhannad’s public Bayat to Dokku Umarov inspires a question: what did Umarov and his brothers-in-arms need this show for? It is definitely just a show, given that last July Umarov appointed Mukhannad to be a deputy of Akhmed Yevloev (Magas), who at the same time was appointed by Umarov as the military commander of the Caucasian rebels (see Chechnya Weekly, August 2). This means that Umarov already regarded Mukhannad as a person loyal to him back this past summer. So, why, this past September, did Umarov want Mukhannad to give him an oath of loyalty again and make videotape the ceremony?
Dokku Umarov’s speech on the video provides a possible answer to the question. Umarov says that Mukhannad would never have given an oath to man “who does not fight for Allah, but has other goals.” This phrase by the rebel leader reveals that some influential people in the Muslim world may doubt that the goals of Umarov’s struggle have a religious character. Most likely, Mukhannad’s public oath was needed as proof of Umarov’s sincerity.
Dokku Umarov says in the video message that “each step of a mujahideen in the North Caucasus he makes in the name of Allah. The problem is that not all alims (Islamic scholars) of the mujahideen in the Caucasus can speak Arabic and thus Muslims on the streets (Umarov means ordinary Muslims outside Russia) cannot always understand properly what we are fighting for. We are fighting for the triumph of Allah’s word in this world and for establishing the rule of Sharia law in the North Caucasus.” It should be noted that during his video message, Umarov repeated three times that the rebels in the Caucasus are fighting for Allah’s cause. It appears that he was trying to persuade somebody who is skeptical about such words coming from him. At the same time, Mukhannad, the new commander of the Arab fighters’ squad in Chechnya, who replaced such predecessors as Khattab, Abu Walid, and Abu Khafs, is needed to give Umarov’s words credibility.
At the same time, Dokku Umarov focuses on the fact that he is just a successor of slain Chechen rebel leaders, including Shamil Basayev, and can also be trusted.
This video can be regarded as a kind of fundraising effort by Umarov – his advertisement aimed at attracting investors from Arab countries and getting them interested in helping the rebels in the Caucasus. Mukhannad plays a crucial role in this fundraising effort because of his Arab origins,
Today, Turkey is the main foreign funding source for the Caucasian insurgency. The money comes from Turkish sympathizers of the Chechen separatists and from the Caucasian Diaspora in the country. Last year, Umarov’s envoys in Turkey reorganized the local Chechen Information Center to make it the main structure to collect money for the militants. A colorful Turkish-language website Al Kavkaz, which is full of recent videos and photos of the rebels in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan, was created to advertise the Caucasian Jihad in Turkey.
Still, a lot of money is needed for the war in the whole North Caucasus, and the aid coming from Turkey is definitely insufficient. Prices for weapons on the Russian black market are getting higher and higher; the days when one could buy an RPG from a Russian soldier in Chechnya for a bottle of vodka are over.
Umarov wants to reestablish ties with Muslim organizations in Arab countries in order to ensure stable financial support of his forces in the Caucasus. However, each time that Chechen rebel leaders appeal to Arabs they have the same problem: they need to prove that they have the same goals as the international Jihadi movement. The main demand of the Jihadis on the Chechens is well known. It was posted on Azzam website in 1999: “If you (Chechens) fight for independence, we won’t support you … but we will support you if you fight Jihad.”
“Arabs never give money for nothing,” Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, the Chechen rebel leader killed by Russian secret agents in Qatar in 2003, once said in an interview. Muslim organizations and personalities who give money to Dokku Umarov want to be certain that the rebels in the Caucasus share their views on the model of an Islamic state. The model of the Jihadis is to establish an Islamic state using violent methods because “if monotheism isn’t achieved by Jihad it becomes tradition and not religion” (Murad Batal al-Shishani, The Rise and Fall of Arab Fighters in Chechnya, September 14, 2006). Jihadi-sponsors or potential sponsors of the Caucasian rebels are suspicious of the word “freedom” that is used in all the declarations of the Chechen rebel leaders. In his video message, Umarov says that “a Muslim cannot be an adherent of Islam without freedom. We want to be free in the Caucasus and have a Sharia state.” Nevertheless, the political form of freedom is democracy, but international Jihadis want to have a Sharia state in which people will be forced to follow all strict rules of the Islamic religion, as it was in Afghanistan under the Taliban or on the territory of Iraq controlled by al-Qaeda Sunni insurgency. You cannot have freedom where people are forced to do something, where only one ideology dominates and has the right to exist.
Despite such ideological problems, it seems that Umarov has good chances to increase his financial support from abroad. The reason for this is that regardless of what the Jihadis think about the Jihad in the Caucasus, they cannot ignore the fact that it still remains vibrant and resisting Russian occupation. While the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda in Iraq are encountering difficulty with their insurgencies, and while nothing has been heard recently about any successful operations of local mujahideen in Algeria, Palestine, Somalia, or Kashmir, the insurgency in the North Caucasus is on the rise, widening its area of operations to Ingushetia and the rest of the North Caucasus.