by Gordon M. Hahn
The Islamic State has released its second Russian-language magazine/journal in the last few months. The new journal is Istok or the The Source. This follows a second issued several months ago called Furat Press. It is difficult as yet to compare IS’s two Russian-language magazines or to compare with its English language magazine Dabiq. The latter is already out in nine issues.
This first issue of Istok is an introductory issue of sorts and thus sets out IS’s theo-ideological and historical justification behind the idea of the caliphate and thus IS’s declaration of the same. The foundational nature of Istok‘s first issue, being limited to basics, is therefore a little boring but does not lack in interest. It provides a concise outline of IS’s theo-ideological orientation and reveals the Islamic sources it tends to rely on most in propagandizing its jihadi project as opposed to say Al Qa`ida’s or Jabhat al-Nusra’s. Later issues of Istok will certainly get into the issues of strategy and tactics, propaganda suicide bombings and other of IS’s choice methods of atrocity and intimidation.
More importantly and in line with its main purpose, it calls Russian-speaking Muslims to the IS jihad. There is some importance for IS in laying out the theo-ideological argument in Russian now. Indeed, the importance IS attributes to recruiting Russian-speaking Muslims is underscored by the fact that this is the second Russian-language journal/magazine put out by IS in recent months.
The reason for this propaganda activity is several-fold. First, Eurasia or the former Soviet Union contains a recruitment pool of Russian-language-speaking Muslims numbering in the several tens of millions. So this is IS’s next ‘market’. The leader of IS’s northern front and, according to some reports, the IS’s overall military amir is the Georgian ethnic Chechen-Kist Tarkhan Batirashvili (Umar al-Shishani or Umar the Chechen). IS’s northern front, limited previously to northern Iraq and Syria, will now be extended into the southern Caucasus consisting of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and Russia’s North Caucasus.
Second, at the end of last year and the beginning of this year the IS succeeded in gaining a foothold in Russia, in Russia’s North Caucasus, when several powerful amirs of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) defected to IS, declaring the bayat loyalty oath to IS and caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 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 mujahedeen 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. Days later, amir Markhan, the amir of the Eastern Front under the CE’s Chechnya network, the Nokchicho Vilayat (NV), followed suit. Since there are only two fronts under the NV, Markhan could be taking half of the NV mujahedin with him.
Overall the CE defectors will be taking hundreds of CE mujahedeen and thousands of potential recruits ‘with them’, though it remains unclear whether they plan to go to the Levant. The DV and NV Eastern Front could comprise as much as 80 percent of the CE’s already dwindling forces. These defections are a severe blow to the CE, which has seen its capacity diminish since 2011, following the surge in emigration to Syria since 2012. 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. Thousands of CE mujahedin and potential recruits already had defected to IS in Iraq and to Jabhat al-Nusra and numerous other groups in Syria since late 2011 or early 2012. So, IS is trying to consolidate that beachhead in the Caucasus and Russia.
Third, IS is competing with Al Qa`ida and Jabhat al-Nusra in the Caucasus. Numerous groups tied to the CE and led by North Caucasus Chechens or Georgian Kists fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria around Aleppo, Idlib, and elsewhere. The most important group is Jeish al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA or the Army of Emigres and Helpers), which consists of one or two thousand foreign mujahedin, including many Chechens, Dagestanis, Turks, Uighurs, Europeans, and Central Asians, etc. The JMA is also referred to the Caucasus Emirate in Sham (Syria) and is led by the CE’s emissary to the mujahedin in Syria, Salahuddin al-Shishani and his Crimean Tatar deputy or ‘naib’ Abdul Karim Krymskii, who maintain their bayat to the CE. In addition the CE’s amir Ali Abu Mukhammad ad-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Kebekov) was recently killed, weakening the CE further and thus making its amirs mujahedin more susceptible to defection. Therefore, it is precisely now that IS needs to compete with the JMA and thereby with AQ and Jabhat al-Nusra for the remainder of the CE and other mujahedin in Russia and Eurasia.
So finally, the North Caucasus and the CE opens a path to Eurasia and Europe. Eurasia’s Muslims are important as potential infiltrators into Europe and the West more generally. Several Eurasia-oriented jihadi groups have targeted Europe and elsewhere globally. Such groups include Central Asia’s the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has declared its allegiance to IS, Jund al-Khalifat, and the Islamic Jihad Union as well as Russia’s North Caucasus-based CE. In a 2011 video, the CE’s recently killed amir but at the time its chief qadi (Shariah court judge) Ali Abu Muhammad ad-Dagistani stated explicitly: “We are doing everything within our power to create the Caliphate.” But as the CE’s amir, Dagistani would side with AQ against IS on the issue of the IS’s declaration of the caliphate.
The leading global jihadi philosopher Abu Mohammed Asem al-Maqdisi thus endorsed the CE in 2009 as a top jihadi organization and urged Muslims to support it because it was the ‘doorstep into Eastern Europe’. Since its founding in 2007, the CE cells and operatives not only have carried out nearly 3,000 attacks in Russia, including 56 suicide bombings, but they have undertaken failed plots in Belgium (2010), Azerbaijan (2012) and elsewhere inspired several more; and published on its websites nothing but global jihadist propaganda from the likes of bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Anwar al-Awlaki. Chechen-born Eldar Magomedov led a 2012 al-Qaeda plot to attack targets in Spain and possibly France during the London Summer Olympic Games and was described by a Spanish court and police as al-Qaeda’s top operative in Europe. In late 2011 or early 2012, the CE’s founding emir, Dokku Umarov, financed and dispatched several emirs to Syria. Among them was Tarkhan Batirashvili, better known as Umar al-Shishani, the emir of IS’ northern or Syrian front. Some reports indicate he masterminded IS’ offensive in Iraq’s Anbar Province that led to Baghdadi’s declaration of a caliphate. Batirashvili’s brother, Tamaz, may have a more important if clandestine role in IS. At least seven other CE-tied amirs now head smaller groups in IS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other jihadist umbrella groups in the Levant. Many of them, including Batirashvili, say they plan to return to the Caucasus and CE to strengthen jihad at some future date, while several of them maintained their bayat to the CE emir. Also documented in my The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin, there have been CE groups operating in Pakistan and Yemen. Several IS cells consisting of North Caucasians have been uncovered in recent months .
 Firat Press, No. 1 – https://archive.org/stream/furat.press.1#page/n1/mode/2up
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.