Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 15

Dagestani First Deputy Prime Minister Gitinomagomed Gadzhimagomedov warned on April 19 that religious extremists, above all “Wahhabis,” are continuing to try to seize power in Dagestan while working to destabilize the republic. Referring to the latest wave of attacks in the republic, Gadzhimagomedov said that police, prosecutors and FSB personnel, who are waging an “uncompromising fight against the extremists,” are being targeted. “The authorities are in control of the situation in the republic,” he added. “We have enough resources and means to prevent Wahhabi terror and neutralize their attempts to destabilize the situation in Dagestan.” Shamil Zainalov, a Federation Council member representing Dagestan, likewise said that the latest terrorist attacks in Makhachkala and other towns of the republic were revenge on law-enforcement bodies for their uncompromising position in fighting extremism and crime. He also said that high youth unemployment in the republic was winning adherents for the religious extremists. “More than 30 percent of young residents of Dagestan are unemployed,” he said. “Often, college graduates are unable to find jobs. Wahhabis exploit this.”

In the latest incident, two suspected militants were killed on April 19 when their car blew up in central Makhachkala, apparently as they were preparing an attack, NTV reported, citing Dagestan’s Interior Ministry. The victims – one of whom died immediately, the other of whom died later in the hospital – were reportedly from the Dagestani village of Machada and are believed to have previously committed several serious crimes. NTV suggested that the men were assembling a bomb inside the car when it went off. NTV also reported that the car’s license plates were attached with adhesives so they could be replaced quickly. The Associated Press reported that investigators believe the explosion was a botched attempt to kill a local prosecutor.

On April 17, the Sharia Jamaat claimed responsibility for the bombing two days earlier of a prosecutor’s office in Makhachkala. On April 15, two explosions hit the prosecutor’s office of the city’s Leninsky district, injuring at least six people and causing a massive fire that almost completely burned out the building’s interior. The Sharia Jamaat said in its claim of responsibility, which was posted on the Kavkazcenter website, that three bombs had been dropped on the roof of the prosecutor’s office from a neighboring building. The group claimed six employees of the prosecutor’s office were killed in the attack.

On April 13, a bomb that exploded as a police patrol passed by on the road linking Makhachkala to the airport killed one policeman and seriously wounded two others. A short time later another bomb went off on a road in Makhachkala near a group of police officers, slightly wounding several of them.

In a statement posted on the Kavkazcenter website on April 10, the Sharia Jamaat claimed that it had “disabled” the head of one of the republic’s anti-organized crime directorates, whom it called “one of the more active enemies of Muslims,” on April 6. The group was apparently referring to an attack on Colonel Saigit Zabitov, head of the anti-organized crime department of the Khasavyurt police, who was rushed to the hospital after being shot in the head and leg while driving in his car. The Sharia Jamaat also claimed it blew up “the headquarters of a motor-rifle brigade of the occupation forces” in Buinaksk on April 7, causing “losses among the infidels.” This apparently referred to the powerful improvised explosive device that detonated near the headquarters of the 136th independent motorized rifle brigade of the North-Caucasus military district in Buinaksk. Interfax reported on April 8 that the blast broke windows and caused minor damage on several floors of the building but no casualties.

The Sharia Jamaat, which has killed dozens of policemen and other law-enforcement personnel in Dagestan, said in its Kavkazcenter statement: “In addressing those who have still not abandoned the occupation ‘law-enforcement bodies’, we once again state that it is not our aim to destroy you. Our aim is to sweep away the power of persecution and establish the power of God. You have become an obstacle in our path, using weapons to protect this profane system that is fighting against the laws of God, your Creator, and is guilty of the destruction and enslavement of your forefathers! And it is using you as cannon fodder, chattel and slaves to protect their satiated lives and limitless power.”

Along with the Sharia Jamaat attacks, Dagestan has been experiencing other forms of unrest. On April 16, some 2,000 residents of the Dagestani district center of Botlikh blocked a highway running through the village in order to protest the construction of a military base in the district. Kommersant reported on April 17 that the residents are angry that the authorities want to give the military more than 200 hectares of horticultural land and that the demonstrators, some of whom were armed, vowed to defend their land to the death. In Kizlyar, meanwhile, demonstrators mainly from the ethnic Avar community continued street protests in an ongoing dispute over the process of choosing the head of the district municipality, the Caucasus Times reported on April 15.

On April 8, more than 350 followers of two rival Sunni Muslim groups clashed in the Dagestani town of Derbent in what observers said was a battle for control over Russia’s oldest mosque. Twenty-four people, including four police officers, were hospitalized with knife wounds and other injuries and police detained 200 people. ISN Security Watch reported on April 11 that the fight pitted followers of Sirazhutdin Huriksky, who preaches a fundamentalist strain of Islam, against backers of the Spiritual Board of Dagestani Muslims, which accuses Huriksky’s follower of being “Wahhabis” and claims control over the Derbent mosque. The Spiritual Board of Dagestani Muslims is supported by the republic’s government.