REPORT: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin Threat to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games


October 2013 

By Gordon M. Hahn


In May 2010 then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree on guaranteeing security at the 2014 XXII Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Russia’s southern resort city of Sochi and creating a special “operational staff” towards that end to be led by the head of the first department of Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the Federal’naya slyuzhba bezopasnosti or FSB.[1] On June 3rd FSB Chief Alexander Bortnikov warned of a terrorist threat facing the Olympic Games, based in specific chatter among the amirs of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin that Russian security services were picking up.[2] The CE’s main website, Kavkaz tsentr, demonstratively noted Bortinkov’s warning.[3]

There can be little doubt that the ‘Caucasus Emirate’ (CE) – the jihadist group of some 1,000 mujahedin fighting in Russia’s North Caucasus – will attempt an attack on or around the February 2014 XXII Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, Russia. The CE and its amir Doku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov have openly declared their intent and would desparately like to spoil Russia’s hosting of the Olympics to be held in the CE’s front yard, the North Caucasus. A successful attack would not only strike a blow against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian infidels. Both Putin personally and Russia nationwide are invested in the Games’ success, not to mention the security of Russia the CE and global jihad so threaten. A successful attack also would strike a blow in favor of the CE, in particular its reputation within the global jihadi revolutionary alliance. Indeed, the CE is obliged to attack the ‘infidel’ Games which will be held on what the CE considers its sovereign Muslim territory stretching from the Caspian to the Black Seas.

The CE’s several efforts on the international stage far beyond Russia’s borders in recent years also make the Sochi Olympics an attractive target for CE amir Doku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov. Now part of the global jihadi revolutionary movement and alliance, the CE operatives planned and participated in three ultimately interdicted terrorist cells and plots in Belgium (2010), the Czeck Republic (2011), and Azerbaijan (2012). The CE likely inspired the Chechen Lars Dakaev’s failed plot to bomb the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that published caricatures of Mohammed, setting off violent demonstrations around the Muslim world, as well as a foiled plot to attack targets in Gibraltar during the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games and later elsewhere in Europe being planned by a group of three terrorists, two of them from the North Caucasus. The leader of the group planning the latter attack, an ethnic Chechen and/or Dagestani, Eldar Magomedov, was said by the Spanish court and police to be AQ’s leading operative in Europe. The CE definitely inspired the successful Boston Marathon bombings that killed four and wounded 260. The Games represent a tempting ‘international’ soft target given the multinational nature of its participants, attendees, and television audience.

This GGSI white paper examines CE intent, motive, likely perpetrators, operations and tactics. It concludes that the CE and its sub-networks have primarily religious but also political, historical, and ethnonational incentives to attack the Games and have said as much.

The CE has several options in terms of perpetrators it can assign or who will volunteer to undertake operations in response to Umarov’s July 2013 call to attack the Games. These include one or more of the following CE subunits: the CE’s Dagestani network, the CE’s Kabardino-Balkariya network, and the Riyadus-Salikhiin Martrys Brigade (RSMB). Additionally, the CE could partner with one or more foreign global jihadi groups with which it maintains ties. Candidates for this role include predominantly Russian-speaking groups with origins in post-Soviet Eurasia now based in Waziristan such as: the Islamic Jihad Union, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Tatar ‘Bulgar Jamaat’, Kazakhstan’s Jund al-Khalifat. Other groups such the Taliban, Al-Qa`ida (AQ) or its affiliates could also contribute to an attack on the Games.

Operationally, the Sochi Games can be spoiled by an attack directly targeting the Games or other places such as Moscow or high-level Russian officials during the Games’ duration. In terms of tactics, the CE deploys all tactics, ranging from suicide bombings and car bombings to mid-scale assaults, road mines, single assassinations of officials, and drive-by shootings of police posts and checkpoints. In terms of a preferred major attack on or during the Games, a combined suicide bombing and assault attack along the lines of Mumbai or Westgate is likely. This could include the use of ethnic Russian suicide bombers, who would raise less suspicions among Russian security and law enforcement organs. An attack on or around the Games could potentially include some of Syria’s at risk chemical weapons acquired by CE or other mujahedin after the fall of Bashyr Assad’s regime.

CE Intent to Attack the Games

Discussion of a possible attack or an actual attack should be no surprise. To the contrary, the CE mujahedin promised to attack the Sochi Games years ago. As early as February 2007, even before the CE’s October 2007 founding, the Jamaat Shariat – the Dagestani affiliate of the CE’s predecessor organization, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI) – issued a detailed warning that it would seek to prevent or attack the “pagan gathering and games”: “If, by the Will of Allah, by this time the victory of Muslims has not come yet, we shall attack any of so-called participants of Olympiad who represent countries at war against Islam and Muslims.”[4] In 2010, by then the CE’s most powerful network, the Dagestani network called the ‘Dagestan Vilaiyat’ (DV), issued another such threat even though there still had been no IOC announcement that Sochi had won the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. In August 2010, DV mujahedin promised “operations in Sochi and across Russia and more ‘surprises’ from the horror of which you will blacken.”[5] The DV’s threat needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness. The DV is the CE’s most numerous and powerful network. It currently carries out at least 70 percent of all CE attacks, and it has been tied to foreign plots in the Czeck Republic in 2011 and in Azerbaijan in 2012.

Umarov’s Call

CE amir Doku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov issued the most ominous threat to attack the Games in a June 2013 video statement. In terminating a moroatorium he had declared on CE attacks against civilians in January 2012, Umarov explicitly called on “the mujahedin of the Caucasus Emirate and the mujahedin on the territory of Russia” to use “maximum force” in order to prevent the Sochi Games from being held and to attack the Games if they begin. In the video Umarov sat wearing his usual camouflage fatigues before the black global jihadi flag, flanked by the amir of the RSMB ‘Khamzat’ Aslan Byutukaev on his left and Abu Abdurrakhman al-Maghribi, possibly the new qadi of the CE’s Chechnya network, the Nokchicho Vilaiyat (NV), on his right.[6] Umarov emphasized: “They [Russia] plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land along the Black Sea, and we as mujahedeen are obliged to prevent that, using any methods allowed to us by the almighty Allah.” “I call on you, every mujahid, either in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan or on the territory of the Caucasus to exert maximum force on the path of Allah to disrupt this Satanic dancing on the bones of our ancestors.”[7] Umarov’s call to attack the Games leaves no doubt that the CE will exert all possible effort to execute an attack the scuttles or bloodys the Games.

CE Motives

The CE’s fundamental motive for attacks against or around the Sochi Games is religious, that is Islamist/Jihadist: to further the cause of the global jihad that amir Umarov and the CE have been dedicated to for at least the six years. The articulations of this goal by CE leaders are by now numerous.  The most recent include the 2011 statement by the CE’s qadi, Abu Mukhammad ad-Dagestani, that the CE is doing everything within its power to bring about the caliphate and Umarov’s statements of support for the “global jihad” (global’nyi dzhikhad) explicitly expressed most recently both in his call to attack Sochi and in another June 2013 video declaration to relatives of the mujahedin.[8] There are also more immediate political, historical, and instrumental ethnopolitical motives for the attack or, at least in the case of the latter, factors possibly influencing the selection of operatives and targets.

The political motives are as obvious as the religious ones: to strike a blow against both Putin’s authority inside Russia and Russia’s reputation on the world stage and for the CE’s reputation within the global jihadi revolutionary movement and alliance.

The historical motive is tied into the ethnopolitical one. The Sochi Games will be taking place precisely on ‘Red’ or ‘Bloody’ Hill, the site of a Russian massacre of the Muslim ethnic Circassians that capped off Russian conquest of the area, and there is a small domestic and international movement to boycott the games in light of this history and Russia’s refusal to adequately acknowledge, own and honor the extent of the bloodletting. This in part explains Umarov’s reference to Muslim “ancestors’ bones” in his June call to attack the Games. This historical motive ties into an ethno-national one. Muslim ethnic Circassians include several nationalities, including the Adygs (Adygeis), Kabards (Kabardins), Cherkess, Abkhaz, and others.

Sochi is located in the North Caucasus’s Krasnodar Territory or Krai, a region that has seen very little terrorist activity over the years. In March 2010, amir Umarov promised the CE would “liberate Krasnodar Krai, Astrakhan and the Volga lands” from infidel rule.[9] Krasnodar surrounds the Adygeya Republic named after the ethnic Adygs; that is, Adygeya is embedded within Krasnodar and thus has no border with any other Russian region. As a result of Russian conquest and colonial rule, ethnic Russians make up the majority of not just Krasnodar’s population but Adygeya’s as well, with the Muslim Adygs making up 27 percent. Regarding, the Adygs’ ethnic cousin Kabardins are one of the two titular nationalities of the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkariya (KBR), the Cherkess are the same in the North Caucasus republic of Karachaev-Cherkessiya (KChR). There are some Circassian Abkhaz and Shapsugs but most reside in Georgia, with the former compromising the overwhelming majority in Georgia’s breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, recognized as an independent state by Russia after the 2008 Georgian-Ossetian-Russian war.

The Kabardins are somewhat more numerous than the other Circassian groups, and the KBR has seen significant jihadi activity waged by the CE’s network for the KBR and KChR, the United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya, and Karachai or UVKBK. Hence, it is perhaps, therefore, no surprise that an ethnic Kabardin, OVKBK amir and then CE qadi ‘Seifullah’ Anzor Astemirov, asked the world leading jihadi philosopher, Abu Muhammed Asem al-Maqdisi for a fatwa regarding the propriety or impropriety of Muslims’ participation in the Sochi Games. This is not to say that the CE is driven by nationalist motives but that the selection of participants in such an attack could be influenced by such issues as the OVKBK’s desire to be represented among the attackers in the plot.

Likely Perpetrators

            Like other jihadi, terrorist and revolutionary organizations, the CE is a highly decentralized network of barely connected sub-networks. The CE’s structure includes four actual and one virtual network, each with different strategies and tactics but all adhering to the following goals: (1) establishing full CE sovereignty from the Caspian to Black Seas, (2) linking up with other jihadi groups in Eurasia, and (3) eventually uniting with the mujahedin of ‘Khorosan’ based in Waziristan, Pakistan to help establish the global Caliphate. The CE itself is structured as shown in Table 1 below. Among the CE’s Eurasian allies are the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Tatar ‘Bulgar Jamaat’ (BJ), Kazakhstan’s Jund al-Khalifat (JK). All are part of the global jihadi revolutionary alliance along with other groups, including the Taliban, AQ and its affiliates. Below I review likelihood of each vilaiyat’s possible participation in a CE-sponsored attack on the Sochi Games.


Table 1. The CE’s Key Structures (Russian republics each encompasses in parentheses).


Dagestan Vilaiyat or DV (Dagestan)

Galgaiche Vilaiyat or GV (Ingushetiya, North Ossetiya and perhaps Georgia’s South Ossetiya)

Nokchicho Vilaiyat or NV (Chechnya)

United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya, and Karachai (KBR and KChR)

Nogai Steppe Vilaiyat or NSV (Stavropol and Krasnodar Krais, including Adygeya)*

Idel-Ural Vilaiyat (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and some 20 other regions, as self-declared)**


* The NSV appears to exist on paper only, with no mujahed, amir, jamaat or other structure identifying itself as belonging to it.

** The IUV has declared its loyalty to amir Umarov and the CE, but Umarov has never explicitly acknowledged the IUV’s existence or its affiliation with the CE.


The Dark Horse – The CE’s Nogai Steppe Vilaiyat

The CE regards both Krasnodar (including Adygeya) and Stavropol Krai as part of its Nogai Steppe Vilaiyat (NSV), for which no amir, jamaat, or sector has ever appeared. The CE legitimizes its claim of sovereignty over Krasnodar and Adygeya as Muslim lands on those territories’ inclusion in the Crimean Khanate conquered by Imperial Russia under Catherine the Great.[10] The Adygs of Adygeya – in close proximity to Sochi, Krasnodar – on occasion have seen a small jihadi element over the years. A jamaat from Adygeya announced its existence and declared its loyalty to the CE and amir Doka Abu Usman Umarov in September 2009.[11] A month later Russian authorities announced the arrest of “the leader of Adygeya’s Wahabbis”, one Asker Setov, who resisted arrest and fired on police.[12] There have been no conclusively jihad-related violent incidents in Adygeya since then.  However, the CE site ‘Kavkaz tsentr’ continued to claim that state security and law enforcement organs were following closely and harassing those in Adygeya they suspected of radical Islamic sympathies and had arrested and beaten 8 such suspects recently.  Security forces also reportedly declared they wanted two Adygs on suspicion of belonging among the mujahedin.[13]

In March 2009 three agricultural airplanes disappeared in Adygeya.[14]  There was a spate of bomb attacks shortly after Sochi won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games, but apparently none were connected to the mujahedin.  They were likely the result of inter-clan and criminal competition for control over resources appearing in Sochi as a consequence of the massive construction projects required for Sochi to meet the challenge of hosting the Olympics. In April 2010 a letter from a CE supporter appeared on the CE’s main website, Kavkaz tsentr. The site titled the letter/article “Russian Terrorists Are Committing Outrages in Emirate Sochi,” and the author referred to Sochi as “an occupied city.”[15]

A wakeup call came one month later when on May 26th when a massive car bomb detonated in downtown Pyatigorsk, the capitol of Stavropol’ Krai (Territory) adjacent to Krasnodar.  The attack eventually took the lives of 9 and wounding some 42.  The breakdown of casualties between state agents and civilians remained unclear, but the majority appear to have been civilians.  Stavropol is a step closer to Krasnodar and Sochi than the North Caucasus’s titular Muslim republics in the western North Caucasus, the KBR and KChR. Stavropol is also considered by the CE to be under its NSV but had seen little jihadi activity prior to the Pyatigorsk attack. Although no CE force claimed responsibility and it remained unclear who the perpetrators were, the attack’s modus operandi was clearly jihadi and consistent with the recent CE attacks.

An attack would not necessarily have to be organized by a group from a base in Krasnodar or Adygeya, though they offer quicker transport to any target in Sochi and would minimize the risk of being interdicted. Moreover, there are other more powerful and likely perpetrators or contributors to a CE attack on the Games, and more recently they have established networks in Stavropol – the CE’s Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV).

The CE’s Dagestan Vilaiyat Spearhead

According to my data, the CE’s DV has carried out approximately 60 percent of CE attacks and jihadi-related violent incidents since spring 2010: 267 in 2010, 315 in 2011, and 304 in 2012. Similarly, it has carried out some 50 percent of the CE-perpetrated suicide bombings in Russia since 2010: 6 of 14 in 2010, 3 of 6 in 2011, 4 of 8 in 2012, and 3 of 5 so far in 2013. Given amir Umarov’s call for “maximum force” and the need for a truly significant attack to scuttle or mar the Games, the DV is the most likely leader of any such operation. The DV could team up with the CE’s first suicide bombing unit, the RSMB, founded by Shamil Basaev and AQ operative Ibn al-Khattab in the 1990s and after a brief hiatus revived by amir Umarov in 2008, as he announced in April 2009.

There are other factors that dictate giving the lead role to the DV. It appears that Russian intelligence has not infiltrated the DV as successfully as it has the CE’s other networks in Chechnya, Ingushetiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. For example, there have been few if any reports from the mujahedin about such infiltrations. Moreover, only one Dagestan resident appeared on a federal list of 88 suspects wanted for terrorism activity. The list was attached to an official document outlining the marine security perimieter for the Sochi Games and thus appeared to be related to measures to secure the Olympics.[16]

The OVKBK and Its Dry Run at Elbrus

As briefly alluded to earlier, the mujahedin of the CE’s OVKBK have a special ethno-national and historical claim to any CE operation targeting the Games in Sochi. Ethnic Kabard and Cherkess mujahedin from the OVKBK’s area of operations in the KBR and KChR are more likely to be irked by the Games, given that it is their co-ethnics’ ‘bones’ upon which they will be occurring. OVKBK operations have been carried out almost exclusively in the KBR, which is located in the western North Caucasus and therefore closer to Sochi than the eastern North Caucasus republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, where usually most CE activity is concentrated. The CE’s first Shariah Court qadi and the OVKBK’s first amir, ‘Seifullah’ Anzor Astemirov, is the icon of the OVKBK, and he devoted special attention to the Games as reflected in his request for a related fatwa from Maqdisi mentioned above.

Astemirov’s organizational efforts as OVKBK amir helped boost that network’s capacity to a cresecendo in 2010 and 2011. However, it has fallen off in the past two years from a peak of approximately 113 attacks/violent incidents in 2010 to 87 in 2011 and 52 in 2012. This year the OVKBK is set to be the least potent of the functioning vilaiyats, with perhaps as few as 20-25 attacks and violent incidents. In late spring 2011 virtually the entire OVKBK leadership was wiped out in a Russian counter-terrorist operation, and the OVKBK has never recovered.

However, in February 2011 the OVKBK carried out what looked like a practice run for an attack on the Olympics that included attacks on multiple targets in the republic’s Mt. Elbrus ski resort zone in the KBR’s Elbrus District. On February 18th, a group of OVKBK mujahedin killed three and wounded two tourists from Moscow traveling in a van in Zayukovo to the. A few hours later another group of mujahedin blew up a ski lift’s support poles, bringing down 30 of the 45 cabins but causing no injuries. Hours later they attempted to attack a hotel with a vehicle-borne IED in the resort near Terskol, but the bomb was discovered and disarmed. These efforts and the shooting of a local policeman’s home on the same evening in Lashkuta, some 15 kilometers south of Zayukovo, were claimed in an OVKBK statement published on its official website,, on February 20th.[17]

In response to these events a counter-terrorism operation with an especially strict regime was declared across an area of some 2,000 square kilometers, including all of Elbrus District and part of Baksan District, another area of high jihadi activity in the past year. Roads were closed from 9pm to 6am. The mujahedin had taken a step toward their goal, as the resort area was largely shut down. Nevertheless, on February 22nd a fire fight between mujahedin and security services left six servicemen wounded and one Spetsnaz (Russian special forces) killed and, given varying reports, three to five mujahedin were left dead.[18]

The OVKBK’s Central Sector then rose to provide cover for the Elbrus area brothers.  The OVKBK command claimed it had carried out two more attacks that occurred on February 19th, including an attack that killed a traffic police inspector in the KBR capitol, Nalchik, and claimed responsibility for the February 22nd attack on a MVD Spetsnaz group. In the ensuing battle, in which the security services were forced to use aviation, the mujahedin claim to have wounded 3-5 Spetsnaz troops. As the general counter-terrorism operation continued, the OVKBK claimed responsibility for another attack on February 23 that wounded a senior police lieutenant and a major attack on February 25th in Nalchik on several targets simultaneously. The operation was reminiscent of the 13 October 2005 attack by some 200 mujahedin on the capitol. In this new attack, OVKBK mujahedin attacked the FSB building, the FSB’s sanatorium ‘Leningrad’, and four traffic police posts with grenade launchers.[19] These attacks wounded some 11-13 people, including one traffic policeman.[20] Another attack on a gas station on February 26th was not claimed by the OVKBK in its report on its attacks for the month of February. Nevertheless, the authorities were forced to declare further counter-terrorism operations in several areas of the republic as a result of these attacks.[21] This level of operational activity in February was unprecedented for the OVKBK and perhaps for any CE vilaiyat during a winter month and marks a real peak of intensity and capacity in its continuing operational surge.

The religious, political and economic strategic logic behind the OVKBK’s February 2011 attacks is applicable to the logic of an attack on the Sochi Games. The multiple attacks in Elbrus had several purposes from the mujahedin’s point of view. The first was to foil the prospects of major investments being made by Moscow in the Caucasus, in particular in the tourist industry in the KBR and other North Caucasus republics. In 2010 Moscow had announced a major investment plan to build a cluster of tourism spots across the North Caucasus in order to drain the pond from which the CE jihadists recruit. The crown jewels of which would be the newly revamped Sochi as well as the KBR State Preserve centered around the Mt. Elbrus resort attacked by the OVKBK. The goal of developing the cluster is to reduce unemployment, especially among young men. Future investments and the overall plan are put at risk as long as the region remains plagued by jihadi violence and the resulting counter-terrorism operations.

The OVKBK acknowledged they were battling to prevent the success of Moscow’s development project. In an article, the OVKBK noted: “Of course, if you look at these plans of the infidel through the eyes of the uneducated to whom such concepts such as Islam, Faith, Obligation to God, Honor, Dignity, Freedom and Solidarity with the Islamic ummah are alien, then these plans look wonderful. … If this strategy is implemented, then, the North Caucasus will become a leading center of health resorts and ski tourism (perversion) in Russia and CIS countries, a major supplier of ecologically clean drinking products, a transport hub and an attractive region for living, the authors promise. There you are!” The author turns then to what is “most dangerous from these projects.” They will increase the number of “perverse establishments” corrupting the morals of Muslims and bringing some of them into the service industry, and “already succeeding generations will be far from Islam and Jihad, please protect us from this All Mighty Allah.” In addition, “a large part of the profits and taxes from these projects will go to the struggle against Islam and Muslims. This is the real goal of these capital investments.” Therefore, “the fact that the mujahedin of our Vilaiyat have begun to shoot infidel tourists is fully justified from the point of the view of the Shariat,” he notes, basing this on three points. “First, the Caucasus Emirate is in a full state of war with “infidel Russia,” and the citizens of Russia are our enemies. Second, the incomes from tourism on our lands will go directly into the pockets of our enemies. Third, the appearance on our lands of hundreds of thousands of dirty infidels annually will negatively influence the moral state of our peoples.” Therefore, the mujahedin must step up the tempo of attacks on tourists and the undermining of the tourist industry, he concludes.[22] Obviously, much of this could be said about bringing thousands of foreign tourists to the land where Muslim and Circassian bones lie.

A second benefit is that moving major operations westward to the KBR and targeting a winter resort, they send a message about a potential target that is further westward and also a winter resort zone – the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The mere threat of attacks at the Games could limit investments in them, attendance, and thus their success. Finally, the attacks in Elbrus could have been a ‘dry run’ for attacks on a similar target and environment that will be the Sochi Olympic Games. Unfortunately for the CE, the OVKBK’s decimation largely negates these last two purposes.

Foreign Global Jihadi Partners

Finally, foreign global jihadi revolutionary groups could get involved in one or more Sochi plots. The CE could partner with some of the Russian-language, Eurasia-centric jihadi organizations exiled in Waziristan such as the IJU, IMU, JK, BJ and AQ and its affiliates. The most likely of these would be the BJ. Being a Tatar-dominated organization with roots in Tatarstan and/or Bashkortostan, it is more likely to have mujahedin capable of operating in a Russian milieu. After the BJ, the IJU, IMU, and JK are the most likely partners, given their recent communications with the CE, in particular the CE’s support of the JK by publishing its predecessor group’s first declarations and the influence among some Kazkahstani youth of the late CE operative, propagandist, and theo-ideologist Sheikh Said Abu Saad Buryatskii (born Aleksandr Tikhomirov), who traveled and lectured extensively in Kazakhstan before joining the CE in spring 2008.

AQ should be seen as a jihadi group interested in attacking a major international ‘infidel’ event. In addition to providing perhaps greater capacity through the provision of financial, organizational, travel, and other logistical support to perpetrators, it could facilitate the supply and selection of an experienced international team recruited from Waziristan-based groups and AQ affiliates to assist the CE in carrying out a more sophisticated attack.

The First Plot?

There may already have been a CE plot to attack the Sochi Games, despite the fact that Umarov’s supposed moratorium on such attacks was still in force. On May 10th, 2013 Russian intelligence claimed to have foiled one CE plot being hatched in Abkhaziya to carry out a series of attacks at the Sochi Olympics. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) announced that security forces in Russia and Abkhaziya had uncovered the plot in its “early stage.” The plot was said to be “coordinated” and “managed personally” by CE amir Umarov, was backed by Georgia’s intelligence services, and involved a so-called “Abkhaz jammat” and other CE-tied underground jamaats, presumably consisting of Circassian and/or Chechen elements, based in Turkey and connected with the Georgian special services. The report emphasized that Umarov “maintains close ties with Georgia’s special services.” The plot was foiled when three members of the Abkhaz jamaat’s leadership had been detained in the special operation.[23]

According to the NAK report, after a long investigation that began in August 2011, Russian and Abkhazian security forces carried out a special operation on 4-5 May in Abkhaziya uncovering several large stores of weapons, ammunition, and explosives that included: two antitank rocket launchers, three shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, a mortar with 36 ordinances, a flame thrower, 29 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 15 anti-tank and anti-infantry mines, 39 grenades, 2 machine guns, a sniper’s rifle, and 12 improvised explosive devices, among others. Umarov is said to have ran the transportation of materiel to Abkhaziya through Georgia.  The FSB claimed that the arms were to be transferred to Sochi in 2012-2014 for attacks to be carried out both before and during the Games. According to the report, the FSB first destroyed an Abkhaz jamaat cache of weapons in August 2011 in the village of Plastunka on the outskirts of Sochi. In February 2012 a courier of the jamaat was captured on Abkhaz territory in possession of 300 detonators which, according to the report, were transported to Abkhaziya through Georgia.[24]

Although one needs to take them with a grain of salt, the Abkhaz, Georgian and Turkish connections in this alleged plot have some logic. There are large Abkhaz, other Circassian, and Chechen diasporas in Turkey, for example. In particular, the Russian security services’ claim that Georgian security organs supported the CE operation should not be rejected out of hand. Since Russia’s post-war recognition of the independence of both South Ossetiya and Abkhaziya, the Georgians have begun a campaign for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics. Towards this end Georgia has encouraged Circassian nationalism, attempted to develop ties with Kabardin, Cherkess, and Adyg Circassian nationalist movements formerly, and lobbied for the recognition of the Russian massacres and exile of the Circassians as genocide.  Abkhaziya’s Abkhaz are also a Circassian people and include a significant diaspora based in Turkey, where an underground group tied to the Abkhaz jamaat plot and the Georgian special services was said to exist, according to the report. In 2011 Tbilisi eliminated visa requirements for residents of Russia’s North Caucasus and established a television station, Kavkaz One, which broadcasts anti-Russian propaganda to the North Caucasus peoples and supports other ethnic Muslim minorities in Russia. Moreover, former allies of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili turned political opponents, like former Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze, as well as one former U.S. government official, have claimed that Saakashvili’s regime is supporting the CE mujahedin. Furthermore, elements in the Georgian government have cooperated with U.S.-based think tanks that have interviewed CE jihadists, such as late CE qadi and OVKBK founder and amir ‘Seifullah’ Anzor Astemirov, an ethnic Kabardin from the KBR.[25] More recently, a Georgian investigation has determined that an August 2012 incident in which a group of some 11 mujahedin were killed in Georgia’s Lopata Gorge near the Russian Dagestan-Georgian border were primarily Chechens from Europe who had received visas through Tbilisi. This suggests that rather than entering Georgia to carry out attacks as first was thought, these mujahedin were moving from Georgia to the North Caucasus and may have had Georgian sponsors.[26]

Georgia in fact has had a long history of harboring Chechen separatist and jihadist fighters in the Kodori Gorge and facilitating transfers of funds to the CE’s predecessor organization, the Chechen separatist ‘Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya’ (ChRI) and allied foreign jihadists in the 1990s and 2000s. So much so that the U.S. got involved by establishing the ‘Train and Equip’ program in Georgia’s Kodori Gorge designed in part to help the Georgians finally expel the fighters after a change in heart in Tbilisi brought about by Saakashvili’s desire to have Georgia become a member of NATO.

Regarding the existence of an Abkhaz jamaat, it should be noted that the CE’s Dagestan Vilaiyat created an Azerbaijan jamaat to carry out the Azerbaijan ‘Eurovision’ plot.[27] Therefore, the creation by the CE of a jamaat tasked with carrying out operations outside Russia would not be a novelty.  To this one can add the Azerbaijan ‘Eurovision’ plot mentioned previously, the CE-tied Belgium plot uncovered in 2012 and the Dagestani cell broken up in the Czeck Republic in 2011.

Regarding the Chechen-Turkish diaspora connection, increasingly Islamized Turkey hosted an international conference on the North Caucasus at which many delegates reportedly called for recognizing the CE as the legitimate authority in the region. This conference received considerable coverage on CE websites.[28] In addition, fighters from Turkey have been found fighting with the CE somewhat more frequently of late. In May 2012, for example, NAK as well as the CE’s main website, Kavkaz tsentr, reported the killing of a volunteer mujahed from Turkey named Sheikh Abdusalam who, according to the announcement, was the amir of an unidentified subunit of mujahedin in the CE’s DV.[29]

Further evidence will be required to before a reliable assessment of the veracity of the information published by Russia’s NAK can be made regarding the extent of this plot, official Georgian involvement, and any to these which the Lopata Gorge incident might have had.

Tbilisi seems to have changed its policies since the rise of practical Prime Minister Bidzina President Ivanishvili as counterweight to the populist-nationalist President Mikheil Sakashvili. Ivanishvili’s majority in parliament has begun an investigation into the Lopata Gorge incident. Moreover, after a September 2013 shootout in the Georgian city of Batumi in which two civilians and one policeman were wounded, Georgian law enforcement disclosed publicly that one of the participants was a resident of Chechnya. Yusup Lakaev, a Grozny resident, acknowledged that he had crossed Georgia’s border illegally. Lakaev was arrested along with two Georgians and was then identified by Russian law enforcement as one of those on a list who pose a threat to the Games.[30]

Regardless of whether or not Georgia was involved in this plot and/or the Lopata Gorge incident, it seems likely that at least one plot against the Sochi Games has been hatched by the CE but foiled by Russian intelligence. 

Operational and Tactical Options

Even in the unlikely event that the Abkhaziya-based plot was entirely trumped by Russian authorities, the scale of the plot indicated by the weapons stores allegedly captured suggests the kind of attack that we should expect the CE and/or others are planning. Similarly, both the DV’s Azerbaijan ‘Eurovision’ plot and the OVKBK’s February 2011 operations in and around Elbrus ski resort district featured common operational features that could be the model for a Sochi operation. The former envisioned attacking the Eurovision festival itself and several targets such as hotels around Baku, the assassination of President Ilham Aliyev, followed by a retreat into the provinces, further attacks, and the establishment of a permanent insurgency.

Thus, both the DV Eurovision plot and the OVKBK Elbrus operation included plans to attack several objects in the central target zone, hit soft targets populated by civilians attending entertainment events, and upon withdrawal subsequent attacks in areas peripheral to the central targets spreading over an increasingly larger area. With or without the complicated and less feasible last stage for Sochi, both plots are similar to the November 26-29, 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India that killed 166 and included a hotel siege and an attack on a Jewish center.

A Sochi Plot – Mumbai Plus

The DV is most likely to be assigned by amir Umarov to lead what is likely to be an effort to carry out a major attack on a scale and operational model approximating 2008 Mumbai. OVKBK elements could also be included. Umarov might also try to include representation of the Vainakh ethnic groups within the CE, the Chechens and Ingush, in any Sochi operations since he is an ethnic Chechen and has worked with the Ingush before the CE under the ChRI. CE mujahedin are familiar with deploying various tactics and weapons, so a multi-pronged attack involving several targets and using mortars, firearms, vehicle-born and mine IEDS is likely.

Martyrdom Operations

Moreover, attacks on or around the Sochi Games would almost certainly include the 51 successful suicide bombings since its inception in October 2007. Another 25-30 or so failed (no casualties) and interdicted attacks have been attempted. The CE’s main suicide bombing unit, the RSMB, tends to operate in the Sunzha districts along the Chechen-Ingush border and recruit martyrs among the Vainakhs. However, as noted earlier, the DV has been leading the charge when it comes to CE suicide bombings. The DV can claim no fewer than 17 suicide bombings in Dagestan since 2009 as well as the CE’s perhaps most spectacular suicide bombing operation – the March 2010 double suicide bombing on Moscow’s subway system. The Moscow subway bombings were carried out by the wives of the DV’s then amir ‘Salikh’ Ibragimkhalil Daudov and his naib and the DV Central Sector’s amir Seifullah Gubdenskii, born Magomedali Vagabov. Daudov was also the mastermind behind the Azerbaijan plot, and the DV’s present amir Abu Mukhammad (born Rustam Asildarov) was then Daudov’s naib and the amir of the DV’s powerful Central Sector.[31]

In autumn 2010, DV founded its own suicide brigade, the Riyadus Salikhiin Jamaat (RSJ), inspired by the CE’s RSMB. Since then, as noted above, the DV and Dagestan have led the CE and Russia’s regions, respectively, in the number of suicide bombings. The DV RSJ has specialized lately in recruiting ethnic Russian converts to carry out suicide bombings. The DV under Daudov and his successor ‘Khasan’ Israpil Velidzhanov recruited a group of ethnic Russian converts in Pyatigorsk Pharmaceutical Academy in Pyatigorsk, Stavropol who were later involved in several failed and successful suicide bombing operations. On December 31st, 2010 the RSJ’s first major plot to bomb Red and Manezh Squares during the New Year’s Eve celebrations there failed when one of two would-be suicide bombers accidentally detonated her bomb durng preparations. The ensuing investigation led to a call by Russian security officials to be on the lookout for five potential suicide bombers that included two ethnic Ukrainian-Russians, husband and wife Vitalii Razdobudko and Maria Khorosheva. On February 14th, 2011 the pair carried out two separate suicide bombings in Gubden, Dagestan that killed two policeman and wounded another twenty-seven. The New Year’s Eve plot female bombers, Razdobudko, Khorosheva, and another ethnic Russia, one Viktor Dvorakovskii, were recruited at the Pyatigorsk Pharmaceutical Academy. Dvorakovskii was preparing to carry out a suicide bombing, according to Russian intelligence, but was wounded and captured in July 2011 after throwing an IED at police after they tracked him down. Most recently, and ethnic Russian mujahed, calling himself ‘Abdul Malik’ and fighting under the DV in Dagestan, recruited and deployed the ethnic Russian female suicide bomber Aminat Saprykina, who killed herself, Dagestan’s leading Sufi sheikh 74-year old Said Atsaev Afandi Chirkeiskii (born Said Atsaev), and six others in a suicide bombing at the sheikh’s home on August 28th, 2012.[32]

Ethnic Russian suicide bombers would be most effective in penetrating the Games, more able to blend in and raise fewer suspicions among security personnel than North Caucasians, Tatars, Bashkirs, and less indigenous or outright foreign Muslims. Incidentally, three alleged mujahedin of the Tatarstan-based and CE-tied IUV, who were said to be planning to attack the ‘Universiad’ Youth Atheletic Games held in Tatarstan’s capitol of Kazan this past summer, died when a bomb they were allegedly transporting to Kazan exploded in their car in August 2012.

There are major opportunities for CE or other jihadist operatives to infiltrate Sochi before the Games and situate weapons and cadres, given the high levels of corruption in the North Caucasus and the flood of construction companies and new hires from Turkey and the North Caucasus. However, the CE and/or other perpetrators would not necessarily have to target Sochi alone or at all in order to scuttle or sully the Games.

Misdirection Plots

It cannot be excluded that Umarov’s call to attack the Sochi Games is a misdirection play aimed at prompting Russian intelligence and law enforcement organs to divert all of their attention and resources to Sochi, while the CE plans attacks elsewhere. Moscow is one obviously one alternative target, but there are others. The CE mujahedin have never carried out an attack in Russia’s ‘northern capitol’. As the native city of President Putin, Prime Minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev, and much of the Russian elite, St. Petersburg is a prime prospective target. Although more difficult, operations and tactics similar to those that could be deployed in Sochi and described above could also be used in Moscow and/or St. Petersburg. Russian intelligence and security organs appear to be aware of the misdirection issue, given the nature of recent maneuvers of a counter-terrorism nature in Belarus and Kaliningrad.[33]

An alternative would be to carry out assassination attempts against major figures such as President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and/or Krasnodar Governor Tkachev.

Sochi and Syria’s Chemical Weapons

The Sochi Games are in the offing just as another jihadi threat is emerging from the civil war in Syria threatening the quasi-Shiite Alawite Baathist regime of Bashyr Assad. Sunni Islamist, mostly AQ-allied forces, dominate among the Syrian revolutionaries and are further angered by ‘infidel’ Russia’s support for Assad. They are also keen on acquiring Assad’s chemical weapons. Moreover, the global jihadist revolutionary movement and alliance, including Russia’s Sunni CE mujahedin, is certain to strengthen as a result from their growing concentration in Syria. Too robust an American air campaign against Assad and Western-Arab arms supplies to the jihadist-dominated rebels will topple Assad and bring Islamists to power in Syria as a whole or in a rump state. As a result, jihadists are likely to gain at least some of Assad’s chemical weapons. This would offer the global jihadi and the CE new opportunities for further destabilizing Russia’s North Caucasus and attacking in and/or around the Sochi Games.

Some thousand mujahedin from Russia and the CE are fighting in Syria; most under the AQ-tied Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusrah (JN) in the thousands-strong foreign mujahedin unit, the Jeish Mujahirin va Ansar (Army of Émigré Jihadists and Helpers) or JMA. The JMA’s amir is an ethnic Chechen from Chechnya, Abu Umar al-Shishani. His top ‘naib’ or deputy is also Chechen. Moreover, Shishani commands the ISIL’s northern front, making the Caucasus mujahedin major players in the Syrian jihad. Thus, the CE and associated Russian-speaking jihadists from the North Caucasus, the rest of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia are playing the leading role among the foreign global mujahedin in Syria and a prominent role among the overall jihadi force in Syria, now the global jihad’s main front. Syria’s failing state is thus incubating a new jihadi force centered around the CE that is bound to turn on Russia and Eurasia after the Syrian war. CE-tied mujahedin are already garnering greater combat readiness and stronger ties to jihadists from across the globe. A jihadist victory in Syria will yield CE forces there some of the various weapons and an emboldened global jihadi movement centered closer to the Caucasus and Sochi.

Initially, CE amir Doku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov was ambivalent about CE mujahedin fighting in Syria, since their emigration drains CE capacity at home. However, he blessed their role this summer and even appointed an envoy to the JMA. The Caucasus mujahedin in the JMA now openly declare their CE affiliation. Umarov came to understand that while in the short-term the drain of CE fighters weakens the CE, in the long-term it benefits from: more battle-hardened cadres; new recruits, ties, and romantic cache` within the movement; and new supply channels. Most ominously, it is very likely that all of the groups, including the Caucasus-led JMA, who help the jihadists come to power in Syria will ask for a share of Assad’s chemical weapons. Should CE or other global ihadi elements eyeing Sochi attain them, it could enable Umarov and the CE to carry out chemical weapons attacks before or during the Games in Sochi and/or elsewhere in Russia proper. Elements within the CE have shown some intent to use WMD. In 2010-11 the CE published thrice the infamous al-Fahd fatwa that supports using weapons of mass destruction and killing 30 million Americans.

In sum, the threat posed to the Sochi Winter Olympics is certainly the most grave security threat ever facing any Olympic Games. Deep coordination and cooperation among all the world’s intelligence and security services will be required for them to proceed without a jihadist violent incident.



[1] “Ukaz Prezidenta Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 14 maya 2010 g. N 594 ‘Ob obespechenii bezopasnosti pri provedenii XXII Olimpiiskikh zimnikh igr i XI Paralimpisskikh zimnikh igr 2014 goda v g. Sochi’,” Rossiiiskaya gazeta, 19 May 2010,

[2] “Russian Security Chief Warns of Sochi Threat,” Associated Press, 3 June 2010,

[3] “Terband FSB opasaetsya ‘sryva olimpiada’,” Kavkaz tsentr, 3 June 2010, 11:58,

[4] It also threatened to attack a synagogue in Dagestan’s capitol Makhachkala.  “Dzhamaat ‘Shariat’ obeshaet atakovat’ Sochi i sinagogu v Shamilkale,” Kavkaz tsentr, 23 February 2007, 16:23,

[5] The posting was signed by Muhammad Sayid from the Press Service of Amir of the DV; Sayid is likely a key Dagestani mujahedin ideologist. “Press-Sluzhba Amira DF: My gordy uchasti nashikh brat’ev, nashi ubityie – v Rayu, vashi – c Adu,” Jamaat Shariat, 22 August 2010, 17:53,

[6] Abu Abdurrakhman al-Maghribi may be a Libyan national and the successor as NV qadi to the Libyan national and long-time global mujahed ‘Abu Khalid al-Libi’ (born Suleiman Osman Azzvei), who served as the NV’s qadi from 2010 until he was captured by Russian forces in spring 2012 while on his way abroad for treatment of wounds he received in Chechnya fighting under the CE. See

[7] Umarov’s June 2013 video can be viewed at Kavkaz Tsentr,

[8] See Umarov’s other June 2013 video at

[9] “Amir Imarata Kavkaz Dokku Abu Usman: ‘My osvobodim Krasnodarskii krai, Astrakhan i Povolzhskii zemli…”, Kavkaz tsentr, 8 March 2010, 11:38,

[10] Farkhad Hussein, “Simpatiyu k modzhakhedam i nenavist’ k Moskve i Krasnodaru,” Chechen Times, 25 December 2008,

[11] Dzhamaat al-Gharb, “Adygeya. Obrashechnie Dzhamaata ‘al-Garib k musul’man Adygei,” Kavkaz tsentr, 23 September 2009, 15:25,

[12] “V Krasnodarskom krae zaderzhan emir vakhkhabitov Adygei,” Kavkaz uzel, 9 October 2009,

[13] “Adygeya. Kafiry aktivizirovali presledovanie musul’man v Adygee,” Kavkaz tsentr, 12 May 2010, 15:14,

[14] Aslan Shazzzo, “V Adygee ischezli tri samoleta AN-2,” Kavkaz uzel, 25 March 2009, 20:30,

[15] “Russkie terroristy beschinstvuyut v imaratskom Sochi,” Kavkaz tsentr, 11 April 2010, 12:59,

[16] While jihad-plagued Dagestan had only one resident on the list, Chechen residents made up the list’s majority, and several on the list hailed from Ingushetiya and the KBR. There were more residents or natives (having been born there) of Moscow and several Central Asian states than from Dagestan. See the list in Rossiiskaya gazeta, 13 March 2013,

[17] “V Zayukovo ubity chetvero kafirov. Vilaiayat KBK IK,”, 18 February 2011, 22:33,; “O poslednykh sobytiyakh v Vilaiyate KBK,”, 20 February 2011, 05:06,; and Timur Samedov, Musa Muradov and Khalim Aminov, “Boeviki otkryli vserossiiskii kurort,” Kommersant, 21 February 2011, pp. 1 and 3,

[18] “V Kabardino-Balkarii spetsnaz prechesyvaet raion boev silovikov s boevikami,” Kavkaz uzel, 24 February 2011, 13:46, and “V gorakh Kabardino-Balkarii idet boi s predpolagaemymi boevikami,” Kavkaz uzel, 22 February 2011, 20:50,

[19] “O poslednykh sobytiyakh v Vilaiyate KBK,”, 20 February 2011, 05:06,; “V Baksane rasstrelyan militseiskii murtad. Vilaiyat KBK IK,”, 23 February 2011, 22:46,; and “Press-reliz komandovaniya mudzhakhidov Ob”edinennogo Vilaiyata KBK,”, 1 March 2011, 12:45,

[20] “Kavkaz za nedelyu” obzor glavnykh sobytii s 21 po 27 fevrale,” Kavkaz uzel, 28 February 2011, 09:00,

[21] “Kavkaz za nedelyu” obzor glavnykh sobytii s 21 po 27 fevrale,” Kavkaz uzel, 28 February 2011, 09:00, and “Press-reliz komandovaniya mudzhakhidov Ob”edinennogo Vilaiyata KBK,”, 1 March 2011, 12:45,

[22] Abu Amin, “’Investitsii’ v Severnyi Kavkaz, ili popytka putinskoi svory ostanovit’ protsess otdeleniya Severnogo Kavkaza ot rusni i stanovleniya na ego meste islamskogo gosudarstva Imarat Kavkaz,”, 20 February 2011, 05:24,

[23] “Informatsionnyie soobsheniya,” National Anti-Terrorist Kommittee, 10 May 2012, and Pyotr Ruzavin, “Sochi-14 ugrozhali terakty?,” TV Dozhd’, 10 May 2012, 17:12, See also See also Kavkaz uzel,

[24] “Informatsionnyie soobsheniya,” National Anti-Terrorist Kommittee, 10 May 2012,; Ruzavin, “Sochi-14 ugrozhali terakty?”

[25] For more on Georgia’s flirtations with Circassian nationalism and the North Caucasus in general see, for example, Gordon M. Hahn, “Irrationality and Rationality in the Caucasus: Connecting All the Dots,” Russia – Other Points of View, 27 November 2010, and Thomas de Waal, “North Caucasus of the Bizarre,” The National Interest, 1 November 2010,

[26] See analysis of the Lopata Gorge case by Norwegian Helsinki Group member in Aage Borchgrevink, “Is Georgia a Terrorist State?, Open Democracy, 1 July 2013,

[27] The Azerbaijan jamaat’s amir was identified as one ‘Abdullah,’ who also he attended the DV shura of 19 October 2010. “Shura amirov Dagestana. Bayat Amira Dagestana Khasana, 19 October 2010,”, 1 December 2010, and Kavkaz tsentr, 1 December 2010,, last accessed 3 December 2010.

[28]  “Mezhdunarodnyi Kavkazskii Kongress v Stabmule priznal Imarat Kavkaz edinstvenno zakonnoi vlast’yu,” Kavkaz tsentr, 14 May 2012, 1:34,; “Mezhdunarodnyi Kavkazskii Kongress v Stabmule,” Kavkaz tsentr, 13 May 2012, 11:10 and 17:35,; and “Doklad Akhmada Sardali na Mezhdunarodnom Kavkazskim Kongresse v Stanbule,” Kavkaz tsentr, 16 May 2012, 14:33,

[29] “Opaznany lichnosti vsekh ubitykh v khode spetsoperatsii v Sergokalinskom raione Dagestana,” 4 April 2012, 17:05, and “Vilaiyat Dagestan. Kafiry soobshayut o Shakhade Sheikha Abduslam,” Kavkaz tsentr, 12 May 2012, 23:41,

[30] Kavkaz uzel, 17 September 2013, See the list in Rossiiskaya gazeta, 13 March 2013,

[31] A video hailing ‘Abdullah’ Busra Zakatalinskii’s martyrdom titled “Vilaiyat Azerbaijan, Imarat Kavkaz” shows then DV amir ‘Salikh’ Ibragimkhalil Daudov announcing at a DV shura his sending of Zakatalinskii to Azerbaijan. Asildarov is also present at the shura, sitting to Daudov’s left. See YouTube,, posted 13 January 2013.

[32][32] On Russia’s ethnic Russian mujahedin and suicide bombers, see Gordon M. Hahn, “The CE’s Ethnic Russian Mujahedin,” Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER), No. 46, 31 October 2011, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Gordon M. Hahn, “7th Sucide Bombing in Russia for 2012 Kills Dagestan’s Leading Sufi Sheikh,” IIPER, No. 60, 31 August 2012,

[33] See “Strategicheskie voennyie ucheniya ‘Zapad-2013,”, 26 September 2013, 19:50,

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