In the wake of the killing of Caucasus Emirate (CE) amir ‘Ali Abu ad-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Kebekov) on April 20th, responses are coming in from across the global jihado revolutionary alliance. Al Qa`ida in the Maghreb sent its condolences to the CE (http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2015/04/22/108780.shtml). The CE’s affiliate in Syria, Jeish al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA or the Army of Emigrants and Helpers), posted on its website, Akhbar Sham, the announcement issued by VDagestan.com, the website of Dagistani’s native Dagestan Vilaiyat, the CE’s network in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan (http://www.akhbarsham.info/2015/04/21/131/).
Meanwhile, the New York Times and other sources, including those the NYT cites, continue to get the CE and jihadism wrong, now a decade’s practice, at least.
The mistakes often err in one direction – making the Caucasus mujahedin, first elements within the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya and after 2007 the Caucasus Emirate (CE) – appear in one way or another as ‘moderate’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For example, the NYT (www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/world/europe/aliaskhab-kebekov-reported-killed-russia.html?_r=2) incorrectly represented the amir Dagistani’s policy change on suicide bombings. It wrote: “Mr. Kebekov, an expert in Shariah who lacked military experience, seemed an unlikely choice to lead the group. His best-known edict as leader may be his ban on the use of “black widow” suicide bombings carried out by women, which terrorized Russia for years. The bombings, a hallmark of Mr. Umarov’s tenure, killed dozens of people in the Moscow Metro, in a bus and train station in Volgograd, and in numerous attacks in Dagestan, Chechnya and elsewhere in the northern Caucasus.” In fact, Dagistani did not ban but only recommended that female suicide bombers not be used. He also recommended using suicide bombings only against representatives of the Russian and local North Caucasus state apparatus and not against civilians. The NYT also was wrong in the assertion above that a female suicide bomber carried out the attack in the Volgograd train station in December 2013. That suicide bomber was a male, as I wrote about in detail at the time. Moreover, the ‘ban’ on shakhidkas was not issued because of any moral compunction, but rather in order to preserve those who can give birth to more mujahedin.
The NYT also quoted Kavkaz uzel‘s (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru) Grigorii Shvedov, who notes: “The situation is somewhat paradoxical… The people who have been killed are perhaps the less radical ones, because those who have dedicated themselves to the Islamic State, they are the more radical ones.” This is a difference without a meaningful distinction. Shvedov is correct in noting that Dagistani’s demise benefits the CE IS (the portion of CE mujahedin who have defected to IS since December) in the struggle for dominance within the North Caucasus jihadi movement, but there is no truly meaningful difference between the CE and AQ, on the one hand, and the Islamic State (IS), on the other hand, in terms of theo-ideology or goals. IS uses more brutal tactics and that is the only element of substantial difference in terms of more or less radicalism. In a 2011 video, when Dagistani was still ‘just’ the CE’s qadi, he explicitly stated: “We are doing everything within our power to establish the caliphate.”
The CE, AQ, IS, the CE IS and the tens of other jihadi groups in the global jihadi revolutionary movement all remain committed to the goal of creating the global caliphate. Dagistani and those CE amirs and mujahedin who remained loyal to him and remain loyal to the CE, have allied with AQ – not joined, as some sources have reported recently – against IS. Thus, the only real difference between AQ and IS and between the CE and the CE IS are rooted in IS’s challenge to AQ for the leadership of the global jihadi revolutionary alliance – now split in two by AQ and IS – signaled by IS’s declaration of the caliphate without consulting with or deferring to AQ’s preference.
Yet we find similar distinctions from delusion in analyses of jihadists in Syria, such as AQ-tied Jabhat al-Nusrah, alongside which the JMA and other North Caucasian-led or -dominated groups fight: “Instead of putting Nusra and the Islamic State in the same basket, the West should look beyond the Nusra Front’s ideological affiliation and encourage its pragmatism as it seeks an end to the Syrian conflict” (Lina Khatib, “The Nusra Front’s Game-Changing Rise in Syria,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 24 March 2015, http://carnegie-mec.org/publications/?fa=59483).
In a sense, the Dagistani’s demise is almost meaningless. Another amir will take his place – likely Gimravii, as I noted yesterday. The CE may survive or not. If not the mujahedin will simply join IS or go, as thousands have already, to Iraq and Syria and join up with their CE and North Caucasus brothers there.
Readers need to exercise extreme caution when consuming other sources on the subject of the CE and jihadism in the North Caucasus.
The US mass media and the Washington DC area think tanks that media use as sources have repeatedly distorted the facts or, in some cases, innocently gotten it wrong.
In the 1990s, early 2000s and even later, they said the CE’s predecessor organization, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, had no jihadists and no ties to AQ and the global jihadi movement. This was false.. After 2007 when the CE was formed and declared jihad, some continued this argument while others adopted more sophisticated forms of denial such as silence. Others, such as radio Free Europe radio Liberty, insisted the CE was a Putin false flag operation and praised amir Umarov for his ‘restraint’. Others said the CE was virtual and local jamaats were only interested in local issues and grievances not the formation of any Caucasus-wide Shariah-law, Salafist state, no less a global caliphate. They were wrong. If those in Washington had held my position on the CE as a global jihadi revolutionary group allied with AQ and the global jihadi revolutionary alliance (now alliances), the CIA would have taken the Russian FSB’s warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev more seriously, the Tsarnaevs would have been watched more closely, the trial just completed in Boston would never have been, and, most sadly, four people would be alive rather than dead and hundreds would not have been maimed and traumatized.
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.