by Gordon M. Hahn
On 15 June 2015 a videotape from amir of the Caucasus Emirate’s (CE) declining Chechnya network, the Nokchichi Vilaiyat (NV), and the amir of the CE’s Ingushetiya network, the Galgaiche Vilaiyat (GV), was published on the NV’s ‘InfoChechen’ site. In the video NV amir ‘Khamzat’ Aslan Byutukaev and GV amir Abdurakhim declared the bayat to the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) and its ‘caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (http://infochechen.com/tribuna/310-podtverzhdaetsya-prisyaga-amirov-vilayata-nokhchicho-i-vilayata-g1alg1ajche-khalifu-abu-bakru-al-bagdadi.html). This nearly completes the process of the CE’s full integration into IS begun in the last days of 2014.
The CE has consisted of four networks which are referred to as concrete administrative-territorial units or vilaiyats (governates): (1) the NV, (2) GV, (3) the United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya and Karachai (OVKBK), and (4) the CE’s most powerful network, the Dagestan network of Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV). In November 2014, a small DV cell or ‘jamaat’ from Aukhovskii village took the bayat to IS’s Baghdadi. 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) and the amir of a key DV sector covering Dagestan’s capitol, Makhachkala, issued an announcement that they had taken the Islamic loyalty oath or “bayat” to IS and Baghdadi. Days later, amir Markhan, the amir of the Eastern Front under the CE’s Chechen NV, followed suit (www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/12/25/107471.shtml). Since there are only two fronts under the NV, Markhan could have be taken half of the NV mujahedin with him already at that time. Overall the previous CE defectors must have ‘taken’ already hundreds of CE mujahedin and thousands of potential recruits to IS, though it remains unclear whether they plan to go to the Levant. The DV and NV Eastern Front alone could comprise as much as 80 percent of the CE’s already dwindling forces. These defections were already a severe blow to the CE, which has seen its capacity diminish since 2011, following the surge in emigration to Syria since 2012.
Now, with NV amir Khamzat and GV amir Abdurakhim going to IS, the CE is left with the weak OVKBK which has carried out only a handful of minor attacks in the last year or more and small remnants of the other three vilaiyats, which have not done much better, excluding the major NV attack in Grozny in December of last year. Indeed, it remains to be be seen whether an independent, Al-Qa`ida-allied CE will survive these defections at all.
We still have not heard official CE confirmation of previous reports from family members and others that the DV’s shariah court qadi and its Mountain Sector amir Abu Usman al-Gimravii (born) would succeed his close associate Ali Abu Mukhammad ad-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Kebekov) as the CE’s amir after Dagistani’s death at the hands of Russian forces in March. Gimravii, who I predicted would be Dagistani’s successor upon his death, is probably the last chance for the traditional CE to survive the relatively rapid killings of two successive CE amirs in September 2013 and March 2015 and the mass defections of top level amirs to IS this year.
Gimravii will find it difficult to revive the CE and just as difficult to join his former colleagues and join IS. Gimravii harshly condemned the Aukhovskii jamaat for risking dissension (fitna) and division within the CE and noted that the CE takes no side in the IS-AQ dispute. 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 in declaring allegiance to an “unknown entity,” who “has not been recognized by scholars, hides out of sight, lacks the strength to defend Muslims, and does not see or know Muslims.” When DV amir Asildarov defected he was also the first to issue a harsh attack, beating CE amir al-Dagistani to the punch. Gimravii referred to Asildarov as the DV’s “former amir” and condemned his action as “treachery” and a “violation of the bayat” he had taken to CE amir Dagistani. He warned Asildarov that violating the bayat is a “serious offense” which carries with it “grave consequences” for each who commits it.
More importantly, the CE defections to IS 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. This coup of bringing almost all of the CE into IS is likely to enhance the stature of Umar al-Shishani (born Tarkhan Batirashvili) and his North Caucasian colleagues in IS.
The non-IS CE’s place within the Al-Qaida/Jabhat al-Nusra branch of the global jihadi revolitonary movement has also been shaken recently in Syria by the expulsion from Jeish al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA), also called the Caucasus Emirate in Sham (Syria), of the JMA’s amir Salahuddin al-Shishani and his Crimean Tatar naib Abdul Karim al-Krymskii this month as well. It remains how may of the CE-tied mujahedin have followed Salahuddin and Krymskii and where they will go. Could they return to the Caucasus? Will they also defect to IS, creating an even more powerful CE IS with affiliated networks both in the Caucasus and ‘Sham’?
For nearly two decades, many in our Washington think tanks and US mainstream media maintained the myth that the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin and their predecessors had little or no relation to the global jihadi revolutionary movement. Just last year, Jamestown Foundation and Mairbek Vatchagaev, the former spokesman of the late Aslan Maskhadov, president (1995-2005) of the CE’s predecessor organization, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya or ChRI (1991-2007), claimed that “the North Caucasus resistance remains a separate movement that has not developed solidarity networks with the Middle Eastern radicals.”
In fact, the CE has been integrated deeply into the global jihad for about a decade with ties going back nearly two decades. Last week’s announcement that two of the last top-ranking CE amirs yet to take the loyalty ‘bayat’ to IS and al-Baghdadi had done so is just the final stage of a long integration process that now fully institutionalizes a longstanding de facto relationship already ongoing for many years. Refusal to recognize this fact led to the Boston Marathon attack and even played a role in the failure to uncover the 9/11 plot. Does more American blood need to be spilled before academics and DC think tankers speak the truth about the North Caucasus mujahedin?
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.