Russia explores Al-Qaeda in Dagestan

According to the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee, more than half of all terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus in 2010 have occurred in Dagestan which is located with Chechnya and Georgia to the west, Azerbaijan to the south and the Caspian Sea to the east. The government claims groups have links to Al Qaeda and have received training in Taliban camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Russia has stepped up its anti – terrorist activity this year and both police and militants have been wounded or died in a string of shoot-outs over past months.

It is estimated that there have been around 300 deaths of militants in the North Caucasus over the past 12 months, splitting insurgents into smaller units. However the Kavkaz – Jihad website containing a translation of a transcript of a recent message from the Amir of Wilayah Dagestan, Hassan (ha) in October shows that fighters quickly regroup under new leadership and that he has renewed the Bayah (oath of allegiance) given to the CE Amir, Abu Uthman (ha) on behalf of the Mujihideen of Dagestan. Hassan stated, “we will continue to bring horrors to the infidels, in their territories. They think that this (Dagestan and the Caucasus) is the only place of this war. Insha’Allah, we will carry this war into their territory, with the help of Allah.”

Two young women did just that earlier this year in Moscow when 27 year old schoolteacher Mariam Sharipova travelled from her mountain village in Balakhani, Dagestan to blow herself up in a metro carriage at Lubyanka station on the 29th March killing herself and 26 others. Within the hour another young woman, 18 year old Dzhennet Abdullaeva detonated a suicide belt at Park Kultury Station. In total with both attacks, 40 people died and over 100 were injured.

Mariam was alleged to have been married to Magomedali Vagabov. Both Vagabov, reputed to be the rebel emir of Gubden and Chechen militant leader Duko Umarov were said to have masterminded the metro bombings. Following the attacks Vladimir Putin declared “terrorists will be destroyed, we know they are lying low, but it is already a matter of pride for law-enforcement agencies, to drag them out of the depths of the sewer.” In August 2010 Vagabov was eliminated by the Russian Federal Security Service in the Dagestani village of Gunib.

Last year Umalat Magamedov, the leader of Dagestan’s Shariat Jamat who was allegedly the husband of Dzhennet Abdullaeva was killed in a shoot-out in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. Public opinion has however turned against the Security forces carrying out the assassinations after a series of scandals resulting in anti-government protests. Security Services are also being hit financially due to the recession.

Dagestan has a long history of resistance fighting and was the birth place of legendary fighter Imam Shamil who founded a movement named Muradism in the 19th century uniting Dagestan and Chechnya in their struggle for freedom against Russian domination. Dagestan is considered to be Russia’s most ethnically diverse province where 30 languages are spoken.

The BBC reports that “the republic has oil and gas reserves and also the fisheries potential offered by a share in the resources of the Caspian sea. However, it is prey to organised crime and regional instability. The crime barons may prosper but the people are amongst the poorest in Russia. They live in the shadow of lawlessness and the threat of violence.” Researchers claim there are links between poverty, drug crime and radicalisation in the region.

According to a recent Guardian report from Luke Harding, one local source within Dagestan stated that “some Muslims are turning to radical Islam, with sharia law seemingly providing an alternative to the corruption and lawlessness that plagues Dagestan.”

The latest gun attack in December on a police patrol in Makhachkala which killed a policeman came after officers stopped a Lada car to check documents. This incident followed a Kremlin crackdown on militants in the region. Earlier this month local militant leader Nabi Migibdinov was assassinated by Russian Special Forces. He was linked to an attack on a patrol post in Buinaksk, south Russia in 2009 where 11 people died.

Another feared insurgent Akhmed Abulkemirov, considered to be one of the most cruel and dangerous militants linked to a string of terrorist attacks, was also killed during a government operation. Back in November, Voice of Russia reported the death of Abdulmuninov who was the Imam of a local mosque in Kizlar region and was alleged to have joined a terrorist group and had articles containing Jihad appeals published regularly on extremist websites.

Islamist terrorism was first recognised to be a primary problem in the late 1990s, when thousands of young Dagestanis were accused of Wahhabism. Followers often refer to themselves as “Muwahhidun” (unifiers of Islamic practice) and refer to the essential oneness of God (tawhid). They adhere to the teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab and are more often known as Salafi, following the forefathers of Islam. There were regular round ups of Wahhabi suspects in the North Caucasus who were then taken into custody by local authorities, interrogated and often subjected to months of torture. Local police forces are seen to be rife with corruption, poorly paid officers have resorted to capturing “suspects” (who may not necessarily have links to terrorism) and are later released on production of cash.

Caucasus analyst Emil Souleimanov states that “Many of them never made peace with what was done to them in prisons, and have turned to violence to retaliate the humiliation. In cases where someone’s relative was killed or seriously wounded, their brothers, sons or cousins have pledged oaths to take revenge for the sake of family honour. As it is difficult for individuals to combat authorities on their own, many young Dagestanis have joined the insurgent movement in the mountains, where they were exposed to the basics of Sulafism.” This conservative form of Islam is considered more radical than the traditional form of Sufi Islam that has existed since the 8th century.

Interfax reports that Dagestani leader Magomedsalam Magomedov recently addressed the Congress of Dagestan Peoples requesting that the forum’s delegates should ask the Russian President to consider offering an amnesty to militants. Referring to numbers killed over the past year, Magomedov stated, “I am not happy about these statistics, we are talking about the extermination of Dagestanis.” He added, “those who embarked on the path of armed struggle should surrender their arms and return to a peaceful life and they are guaranteed a fair trial, as well as legal and social aid.”