by Gordon M. Hahn
Russian law enforcement officials have leaked to journalists and the main website of Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin, Kavkaz tsentr, has confirmed that CE amir ‘Ali Abu Mukhamad ad-Dagistani’ (born Aliaskhab Kebekov) was killed in a Russian special counter-terrorist operation on April 19th in Buinaksk, Dagestan (www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2015/04/20/108763.shtml). Reportedly, among the other mujahedin killed along with Dagistani was the amir of the Untsukul District (Raion) of Dagestan, who had just recently declared the bayat (Islamic loyalty oath) to Dagistani.
In March of last year it was announced that Dagistani had succeeded the CE’s founding amir, ‘Abu Usman’ Dokku Umarov, who was killed in a Russian clandestine operation by poisoning in September 2013, which was reported by the CE just days before the announcement of Dagistani’s succession. Dagistani-Kebekov rose rapidly up the ranks of the CE’s Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV), the CE’s network in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan.
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 (“Amir IK Ali Abu Muhammad – Avtobiografiya,” VDagestan.com, 24 June 2014,http://vdagestan.com/amir-ik-ali-abu-muxammad-avtobiografiya.djihad).
Dagistani was appointed by al-Bara’s successor, the notorious Seifullah Gubdenskii (born Magomedali Vagabov), to be the DV’s qadi. Within months he was appointed to succeed Gubdenskii as the CE’s qadi by CE amir Dokku Umarov, the position from which Dagistani would succeed Umarov to become the CE’s present amir.
Dagistani-Kebekov’s foreign studies in Syria mark yet another case from among the new generation of CE leaders who studied abroad. Despite his ties to Syria, 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 the Islamic State’s (IS) 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 IS of amirs representing some 70 percent of the CE’s mujahedin, including the amir of the CE’s powerful Dagestan Vilaiyat, as well as the amir of one of the two fronts comprising the CE’s Chechnya network or Nokchicho Vilaiyat. Dagistani initially tried to chart a more or less neutral course between IS, on the one hand, and Al Qa`ida, Jabhat al-Nusrah and other groups, but he was soon forced to side with the latter against IS. In January he issued a restrained but nonetheless blistering critique of IS, the “false” decision to declare the caliphate made by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the betrayal of him by DV amir ‘Abu Mukhammad’ Rustam Asildarov and several others in joining IS.
Who Will Succeed Dagistani?
The mujahed most likely to succeed Dagistani as the CE’s amir is the abovementioned Abu Usman al-Gimravii (born Magomed Suleimanov), the DV’s chief qadi and amir of its Mountain Sector. A dark horse candidate would be the Chechen amir of the CE’s Chechnya network or Nokchicho Vialiyat and amir of the Riyadus Salikhiin Martyrs Brigade, amir ‘Hamzat’ Aslan Byutukaev. However, the center of gravity of the CE has been Dagestan and the DV for five years, and any attempt to put a Chechen back on the throne would risk a split within the CE. That is something the organization cannot afford, given the recent split and defections to IS.
For more on the CE and Dagistani, see Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (Jefferson, N.C., McFarland Books, 2014).
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 also 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 at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.