By Gordon M. Hahn
The battle between the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qa`ida (AQ) for predominance in the North Caucasus continues apace. Information on the scale of the split and defection of CE amirs and mujahedin from CE amir Ali Abu Mukhamad ad-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Kebekov) to IS (for the history of the Caucasus jihadists’ interaction with jihadists in Syria and Iraq, see https://gordonhahn.com/2014/04/01/the-caucasus-emirate-and-other-north-caucasus-mujahedin-in-syria-implications-for-russia-eurasia-and-the-global-jihadi-revolutionary-movement/ and https://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/25/the-caucasus-emirate-in-the-levant-and-the-is-aq-fitna-complete-parts-1-and-2/).
Background: The CE Split and the Rise of the Caucasus Emirate of the Islamic State
As noted earlier, in November 2014 a small DV cell or “jamaat” from Aukhovskii village took the bayat to IS’ Baghdadi. The DV’s Shariah Court judge and its Mountain Sector emir, Abu Usman al-Gimravii, condemned the Aukhovskii jamaat for risking dissension (fitna) and division within the CE and noted that the CE takes no side in the IS-al-Qaeda dispute. However, he implicitly criticized Baghdadi’s declaration of the caliphate and himself caliph by asking how CE mujahedin could commit such treachery and destruction in regard to the CE by declaring allegiance to an “unknown entity,” which “has not been recognized by scholars, hides out of sight, lacks the strength to defend Muslims, and does not see or know Muslims.” On December 19, a more damaging defection occurred when the the amir of the CE’s largest network – its Dagestan network or the ‘Dagestan Vilaiyat’ (DV) – Abu Muhammad al-Kadarskii (born Rustam Asildarov) issued an announcement that he had taken the Islamic loyalty oath or “bayat” to IS and its ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi. Videos of the bayat to IS and Baghdadi given by amir Abu Ibrakhim of the DV’s Khasavyurt Jamaat and the amir of the DV’s Babayurt Jamaat appeared on December 29th, signaling they were following the DV amir Asildarov to IS. Jihadist Abu Imran asserts that the DV’s Tsumadin Jamaat defected from Dagistani’s CE to join IS in January.
Days earlier, the CE’s Chechnya network, the Nokchicho Vilayat (NV), also began to see defections to IS. Markhan, the amir of the CE NV’s Eastern Front (VF) followed the Dagestanis. Since there are only two fronts under the NV, Markhan could be taking half of the NV mujahedin with him. Days later, NV VF subunits issued videos announcing their bayat to IS. These included amir Usama of the Vedeno Sector, amir Yakub of the Eastern Sector, and amir Hamzat of the Itumkala Sector.
Nevertheless, the CE defectors will be taking hundreds of CE mujahedin and perhaps thousands of potential recruits ‘with them’, though it remains unclear whether they plan to go to the Levant. Since April 2010, the DV has been responsible for some 70 percent of CE attacks, suggesting it constitutes as much of a percent of the CE’s overall number of mujahedin. DV and NV Eastern Front could comprise some 80 percent of the CE’s forces, which were already dwindling as a result of defections to Syria and Iraq since late 2011-early 2012. Therefore, these defections are a severe blow to the CE. More importantly, the DV and NV Western Front defections mark the de facto creation of a Caucasus Emirate of the Islamic State (CE IS) – the final stage of the CE’s integration into the global jihadi revolutionary alliance, institutionalizing ties that had been developed over many years.
The Caucasus Emirate of the Islamic State
More recently regarding the recently emerging Caucasus of Emirate faction loyal to the Islamic State, what can be called the ‘Caucasus Emirate of the Islamic State’ (CEIS), a recent article on IS Russian-language forum, FISyria.info, discussed which jamaats in the CE’s Dagesyan network, the so-called Dagesdtan Vilaiyat (DV) have endorsed former CE DV amir ‘Abu Muhammad’ Rustam Asildarov’s bayat to IS and self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It claimed that the “majority of the armed units in Dagestan (in particular Rabbanikala [Kizlyar – GH], Tabasar, the Southern region, Lezginstan [DV Sothern Sector – GH], Babayurt, Khasavyurt [key to DV’s Northern Secto – GH), Shamilkala [Makhachkala, key to DV’s Central Sector – GH], and others) and Chechnya stated their oath, together with other armed units of mujahedin located in other regions of the Caucasus.”
Oddly, a major center researching jihadism, Intel Center, has failed for almost three months to note the CE defections to IS. On March 7th, it listed 31 jihadi organizations that have given the bayat to IS and Baghdadi, but the list did not include the CEIS, though it did include Boko Haram, which had declared for IS just days earlier to the posting and many weeks after the bulk of the CE declared for IS. The list includes these groups only:
SUPPORT/PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO IS
• al-I’tisam of the Koran and Sunnah [Sudan] – 1 Aug. 2014 – Support
• Abu Sayyaf Group [Philippines] – 25 Jun. 2014 – Support
• Ansar al-Khilafah [Philippines] – 14 Aug. 2014 – Allegiance
• Ansar al-Tawhid in India [India] – 4 Oct. 2014 – Allegiance
• Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) [Phillippines] – 13 Aug. 2014 – Support
• Bangsmoro Justice Movement (BJM) [Phillippines] – 11 Sep. 2014 – Support
• al-Huda Battalion in Maghreb of Islam [Algeria] – 30 Jun. 2014 – Allegiance
• Heroes of Islam Brigade in Khorasan [Afghanistan] – 30 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• The Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria [Algeria] – 30 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• Jundullah [Pakistan] – 17 Nov. 2014 – Support
• Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) [Pakistan] Statement – 25 Sep., dated 12 Sep. 2014 – Support
• Islamic Youth Shura Council [Libya] – 22 Jun. 2014 – Support
• Jaish al-Sahabah in the Levant [Syria] – 1 Jul. 2014 – Allegiance
• Faction of Katibat al-Imam Bukhari [Syria] – 29 Oct. 2014 – Allegiance
• Jamaat Ansar Bait al-Maqdis [Egypt] – 30 Jun. 2014 – Allegiance
• Jund al-Khilafah in Egypt [Egypt] – 23 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• Liwa Ahrar al-Sunna in Baalbek [Lebanon] – 30 Jun. 2014 – Allegiance
• Islamic State Libya (Darnah) [Libya] – 9 Nov. 2014 – Allegiance
• Lions of Libya [Libya] (Unconfirmed) – 24 Sep. 2014 – [Support/Allegiance]
• Shura Council of Shabab al-Islam Darnah [Libya] – 6 Oct. 2014 – Allegiance
• Mujahideen Indonesia Timor (MIT) [Indonesia] – 1 Jul. 2014 – Allegiance
• Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSCJ) [Egypt] – 1 Oct. 2014 – Support
• Tehreek-e-Khilafat [Pakistan] – 9 Jul. 2014 – Allegiance
• Okba Ibn Nafaa Battalion [Tunisia] – 20 Sep. 2014 – Support
• Mujahideen of Yemen [Yemen] – 10 Nov. 2014 – Allegiance
• Supporters for the Islamic State in Yemen [Yemen] – 4 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• al-Tawheed Brigade in Khorasan [Afghanistan] – 23 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• Supporters of the Islamic State in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques [Saudi Arabia] -2 Dec. 2014 – Support
• Ansar al-Islam [Iraq] – 8 Jan. 2015 – Allegiance
• Leaders of the Mujahid in Khorasan (10 former TTP commanders) [Pakistan] – 10 Jan. 2015 – Allegiance
• Boko Haram [Nigeria] – 7 Mar. 2015 – Allegiance. 
Politically, the IS has responded to the CE-loyal amirs, like Dagistani, who condemned the defectors to IS. In a March 3rd posting on FISyria he directed a defense of the caliphate declaration directly to the CE leadership’s opposition statements on its websites VDagestan and Kavkaz tsentr.
The Caucasus Emirate and Al Qa`ida
Thus, as noted, the original CE has taken the side of AQ, Jabhat al-Nusra, and leading jihadi theo-ideologist Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi in the dispute with IS and its declaration of the caliphate. AQ continues to compete with IS by courting the establishment CE versus the CEIS. CE websites have been relying on written statements by Maqdisi and AQAP’s Harys an-Nazari. In early March, Nazari issued a videotape detailing Al Qa`ida’s long-time support for jihadists in the North Caucasus. The video ends with an inscription reading: “We are coming.” In one of the video’s sequences ‘Abu Walid’ Muslim Margoshvili can be seen from his early days with the CE. Margoshvili now heads.
AQ, the rump CE and its amir, Dagestani-Kebekov, received some good news in early March. Dagistani’s new DV amir Sayd Abu Mukhammad Arakanskii, whom Dagistani appointed after Asildarov’s defection to IS, received the bayat from Umar Balakhanskii, the amir of the CE DV’s most powerful sector, the DV’s Central Sector (TsS), announced in a DV Ts video. However, the DV is not what it used to be, given the defections reported by IS’s FISyria.net. The defection of key Mahkachkala Sector and several other sectors and jamaats mentioned as having given the bayat to CEIS’s Asildarov came under the DV TsS.
In addition, while IS has been taking a beating around Kobane and Tikrit of late, the CE-loyal and AQ-loyal ‘Jeish al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar’ (JMA or Army of the Immigrants and Helpers), sometimes called the Caucasus Emirate in Sham, has recorded a battlefield victory in early March taking the village of Milyakh in Syria and announcing plans to march on Handarat. The JMA’s amir is the Salahuddin al-Shishani, who was sent by the late CE amir ‘Abu Usman’ Dokku Umarov to be his envoy to the Syrian mujahedin in 2012 along with now IS northern front amir Tarkhan Batirashvili and several other amirs, who, except for Batirashvili and Margoshvili, have all since been killed. The announcement of the victory at Milyakh was made by Salahuddin’s naib and the JMA’s military amir, the Crimean Tatar Abdul Karim al-Krymskii.
The video of the JMA’s assault on Milyakh can be seen here: www.akhbarsham.info/2015/02/25/115/
The video of the JMA’s assault on Handarat can be seen here: http://www.akhbarsham.info/2015/03/07/118/
There has still been no announcement of who is the amir of the breakaway CEIS. It is logical to assume, however, that former CE DV amir Asildarov will take that position, since he is the highest-ranking and most powerful CE amir to defect to IS. The NV’s amir, ‘Hamzat’ Aslan Byutukaev, who is also amir of the Riyadus Salakhin Martyrs Brigade, has still not come forward either way and appears to remain loyal to Dagsistani’s CE for now.
For now, the CE’s other two vilaiyats – the United Vilayat of Kabardiya, Balkariya, and Karachai (OVKBK), which covers Russia’s North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkariya and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, and the Galgaiche Vilaiyat (GV), based in Ingushetiya, appear to be remaining loyal to the original CE, despite the video greeting sent to IS by the amir of the latter. The amir of the OVKBK, declared his nayat to the CE and Dagistani in February.
A key question is whether the CEIS will be moving amirs and mujahedin to Iraq and/or Syria for training or trying to entice IS operatives there to come and replenish the CEIS’s ranks and capacity.
A second key question is whether the competition between the CE and CEIS will lead to a radicalization of tactics in an attempt to outbid the other side in the hunt for recruits and external support.
A third question is whether we will see skirmishes between CE and CEIS jamaats in Dagestan and Chechnya.
http://fisyria.info/2015/03/03/%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%B4%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B1%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B9-%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%82-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BE%D0%BF%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%BE/ and http://www.tayhid.lact.ru/e/3169862-podrobnyiy-otvet-na-poslanie-opublikovanno.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute. Dr. Hahn has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER) at CSIS from 2010-2013.