by Gordon M. Hahn
In an eight-minute June 2014 audio, the amir of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin, Sheikh Ali Abu Muhammad ad-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Alibulatovich Kebekov), filled in some details of his biography. It reveals, among other things, that Dagistani-Kebekov studied Islam in Syria.
According to his autobiographical audiotape, Dagistani-Kebekov was born in 1972 in the village of Teletl, peasant family, father from tukkhum of the Boroshits (Boroshity). He graduated high school in 1989 and matriculated into a technical-economic university. While continuing his formal studies, he studied the Koran and the Arabic language under several unnamed Sufi sheikhs.
In 1995 he took lessons on Islam with Sheikh Hamza Tsingitsap, who graduated from Tunisia’s Ez-zitouna University, the oldest educational establishment in the Arab world developing from the Ez-Zitouna madrassa founded in the year 737.
In the year 2000, Dagistani-Kebekov went to study in “Sham” or the Levant, more specifically Damascus, Syria. He immediately entered the third year course at Madhab Al-Nurranni then entered Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Foundation and took lessons independently with Sheik Dr. Mutahar Ali Rakhimullah. However, Dagistani calls Nabil Mahar from Algiers, with whom he studied after his tenure under Rakhimullah, his “first teacher,” implying that Mahar was the first teacher to have a profound effect on him. Through study of the hadiths, Mahar opened for Dagistani the way to the “people of the Sunna,” he acknowledges – that is to Salafism, strict tawhid and takfirism.
Graduating from the university in 2005, he then returned to Dagestan and continued his studies in Makhachkala, the republic’s capitol. He and Dr. Rakhimullah, who accompanied Dagistani back home, began teaching in a madrassah in the village of Takakh near Makhachkala. However, soon the director and owner of the madrassah, Murtazali Karachaev, “treacherously kicked them out, crudely violating the contract” they had agreed upon. They then went to Kyzylyurt to teach in another madrassah where Murtazali also taught and Dagistani helped him. Later, Murtazali left for Khasavyurt and began teaching there.
Dagistani decided to continue studying independently the teachings of Jordanian jihadi philosophers Abu Mohammed Asem al-Maqdisi, Abdul Aziz Azzam Aziz, Ibn Taimiya, and Muhammad Bin ‘Abd-al-Wahhab. He began to study “deeply” the themes of “aqid and jihad.” In 2009, when the “infidels” killed Rakimullah, he and Abu Usman al-Gimravii (born Magomed Suleimanov), who was then “a qadi of Dagestan” (now the DV’s chief qadi and amir of its Mountain Sector), decided on the latter’s proposal to go “on the path of Allah, on the path of jihad,” which they did in 2010 and where they “remain to this day.” They immediately met with the DV’s then amir al-Bara who was killed in January 2010. Dagistani then recounts his recent jihadi career, known to anyone familiar with the CE’s recent history: his appointment by al-Bara’s successor, Seifullah Gubdenskii (born Magomedali Vagabov), to be the DV’s qadi, his appointment as the CE’s qadi by late CE amir Dokku Umarov, and his succession of Umarov to become the CE’s present amir.
Dagistani-Kebekov’s foreign studies mark yet another case from among the new generation of CE leaders who studied abroad. As I detailed in my recently published book, the three young amirs who helped build and consolidate the CE’s networks outside of Chechnya – specifically in Dagestan (Gubdenskii-Vagabov), Ingushetiya (Sheikh Said Abu Saad Buryatskii born Aleksandr Tikhomirov), and Karbardino-Balkariya (‘Seifullah’ Anzor Astemirov) – studied abroad in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
Whether Dagistani-Kebekov’s ties to Syria – not the only between the CE and the Levant – will influence or has in the past shaped his and the CE’s stance vis-a-vis the jihad in the Levant is hard to guage. Dagistani-Kebekov is on record saying that at least initially he was opposed to the decision made by his predecessor as CE amir, Dokku Umarov, to send a group of amirs, including ISIL’s infamous Umar al-Shishani (born Tarkhan Batirashvili), to Syria in 2012. That decision can be seen to have backfired on the CE, given the December 2014 defection from it to ISIL of amirs representing some 70 percent of the CE’s mujahedin, including the amir of the CE’s most powerful network, the Dagestan Vilaiyat based in Dagestan, as well as the amir of one of the two fronts comprising the CE’s Chechnya network or Nokchicho Vilaiyat. The obvious question is: Will Dagistani continue to go against the tide moving against Al Qa`ida and towards ISIL, extant both on his own front in the global jihadi revolutionary alliance and in the overall movement, or will he take the leap, join ISIL, and likely bring the remainder of the CE with him in the bargain?
 “Amir IK Ali Abu Muhammad – Avtobiografiya,” VDagestan.com, 24 June 2014, http://vdagestan.com/amir-ik-ali-abu-muxammad-avtobiografiya.djihad.
 Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (Jefferson, N.C., McFarland Books, 2014).