Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 03/2009

North Caucasus Weekly - Volume X, Issue 5

February 2009

North Caucasus Weekly (formerly Chechnya Weekly), The Jamestown Foundation


* New York Times Provides Fresh Details of Accusations against Kadyrov
* Kadyrov Calls Budanov a "Schizophrenic" and "Murderer"
* Kadyrov's Spokesman Defends Zakaev
* Militants and Police Official Killed in Dagestan as Ethnic Tensions Rise
* Rebels in Ingushetia Target Police and Servicemen
* Briefs
* Kadyrov Courts Akhmed Zakaev
By Mairbek Vatchagaev
* Salafi-Jihadis Turn Their Attention to the North Caucasus
By Murad Batal al-Shishani

New York Times Provides Fresh Details of Accusations against Kadyrov

The New York Times on February 1 provided fresh details about the accusations made against Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov by Umar Israilov, the ex-rebel fighter that became Kadyrov's bodyguard who was murdered in Vienna on January 13 (North Caucasus Weekly, January 15, 23 and 30).

New York Times correspondent C. J. Chivers wrote that Israilov, who filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accusing Kadyrov of torture, described in "written legal complaints" various acts of violence committed by Kadyrov and his subordinates.

Chivers reported that the New York Times spent several months evaluating the allegations made by Israilov and his father, who says that Kadyrov illegally detained him for more than 10 months, and that his captors tortured victims with a gas torch. According to Chivers, the newspaper interviewed supporting witnesses and independent investigators who had examined the Israilov case, and obtained corroborating statements from another government insider and from another victim (who fled Chechnya but remains in hiding) who said they saw Israilov being tortured.

According to Chivers, Israilov said that after he and a fellow rebel were arrested by pro-Moscow Chechens in April 2003, he was taken to Kadyrov's native village of Tsentoroi and confined there with other detainees "in cells outside a weight-lifting center" which, according to victims and human rights groups, was one of several "torture chambers" run by pro-Kremlin Chechens. Israilov said as Kadyrov looked on, Federal Security Service (FSB) officers there beat him and tried to force him to confess to killing at least 17 people, but he refused to confess. Israilov said Kadyrov then slapped him once, after which he was beaten by Kadyrov's guards. According to the New York Times, Israilov said he was beaten a few times a week for three months, often after being tied to fitness machines and with his captors demanding information about other rebels.

Israilov said that on one occasion, Adam Delimkhanov, the Kadyrov associate who now represents Chechnya in the State Duma, beat him with a shovel handle just before Kadyrov fired a pistol near his feet. Israilov said that on another occasion, he was connected to wires and Kadyrov administered electric shocks. Israilov said that in a subsequent incident, a cellmate, Shamil Gerikhanov, was sodomized with a shovel handle by a guard commander, while on another occasion, Aidamir Gushaev, who had organized a rebel cell's finances, was interrogated by Kadyrov, who "demanded money and grew frustrated." Israilov said he then heard a single gunshot, followed by "bursts of automatic fire" and Kadyrov snarling, "Gazvat"-the Chechen word for holy war that was also the guards' slang for "an area where victims were buried in unmarked graves."

Israilov said he joined the Chechen presidential security service after Kadyrov essentially left him with the choice of doing so or being killed. While Kadyrov's office has said it has no record that Israilov served as a member of the presidential security service, Chivers reported that Russian prosecutorial records from Chechnya show that Israilov worked for Kadyrov's guard unit beginning in late 2003. Israilov said that during the 10 months he worked as a member of the guard in Tenstoroi he saw at least 20 illegally detained people tortured, with Kadyrov "participating in several sessions." Many victims were the relatives of rebel fighters-part of Kadyrov's tactic of pressuring rebels to surrender by targeting their relatives.

Israilov said he watched the commander who had sodomized his cellmate, Shamil Gerikhanov, plead with Kadyrov to order the victim killed, to which Kadyrov said, "Take him and finish him," after which Gerikhanov was driven away and never seen again. According to Israilov, the rapist, whose first name was Alanbek, was promoted to be a police commander in Grozny.

Chivers also detailed the experience of Israilov's father, who was detained, beaten and subjected to electric shocks after Israilov deserted the presidential security service. While he was not personally beaten or tortured by Kadyrov, Israilov's father says that he watched Kadyrov arrive at the room where he was being held with other detainees and "wander between victims-beating some, shocking others, playing billiards." The elder Israilov said that among those held with him was Supyan Ekiev, a member of Kadyrov's guard unit accused of collaborating in a rebel attack, who was hung by his arms from an exercise machine, appeared to have a broken jaw, and whose hands and legs had been burned by open flames. The Memorial human rights group reported that Ekiev's body was later found near Grozny "heavily distorted by torture."

The elder Israilov said he was not tortured again but shared space with as many as 100 detainees, mostly rebel fighters' relatives or government fighters accused of minor crimes, many of whom were beaten or subjected to shocks. He said that among those he saw in custody during the months he was detained was Khamad Umarov, the 72-year-old father of Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov.

Chivers reported that after Israilov's father was detained and Israilov had fled abroad, Kadyrov called Israilov in Poland, demanding he return to Chechnya and threatening to kill his father and other relatives. Israilov refused to return.

Chivers reported that on January 9, with Israilov "prepared to publicize his story" and after consulting with one of his legal advocates, the New York Times notified the office of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that it sought interviews with Russian officials about Israilov's allegations. According to Chivers, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment in detail, saying, "It's not wise to comment on any rumors." Israilov was shot to death in Vienna four days later.

The New York Times reported last month that a 41-year-old Chechen, identified as Artur Kurmakayev of St. Petersburg, told Austria's Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Action against Terrorism last year that he worked for a "secretive department" under Kadyrov charged with repatriating Chechens in exile and that he had seen a list at Kadyrov's residence in the Chechen town of Gudermes of approximately 5,000 names of Chechens who had either fought against Kadyrov or "have otherwise attracted unfavorable attention," and that 300 of those on the list "have to die," including about 50 Chechens living in Austria. Kurmakayev said in his statement to Austrian authorities that he had been sent to Vienna by Kadyrov to bring Israilov home "by the use of force if necessary" (North Caucasus Weekly, January 15).

The website reported on February 2 that it was not yet clear which lawyer brought Israilov's complaint before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The website, however, quoted Olga Trusevich of Memorial as saying that Stanislav Markelov, the human rights lawyer who represented the family of Elza Kungaeva-the 18-year-old Chechen woman murdered by Russian Army Colonel Yuri Budanov-and who was murdered together with journalist Anastasia Baburova in Moscow on January 19, was interested in the Israilov case and had planned to become involved in it.

Kadyrov's spokesman Lema Gudaev recently late last month dismissed press reports speculating that Kadyrov may have been involved in the murder of Umar Israilov and Stanislav Markelov, among others, insisting that such reports were part of an ongoing large-scale information war aimed at Kadyrov and his administration (North Caucasus Weekly, January 30).

Meanwhile, Austrian authorities on January 30 released two men who were among seven Chechens arrested in connection with Umar Israilov's murder two days earlier, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. A spokesman for the Vienna prosecutor's office, Gerhard Jarosch, said that while the accusations against the two "are not enough to justify preventive detention," they are still under investigation.

The Moscow Times reported on February 3 that an Austrian court had ordered five of the remaining suspects in the Israilov murder case to stay in jail and quoted Jarosch as saying that the court's ruling to keep them incarcerated must be reviewed after two weeks. A sixth Chechen detained after Israilov's murder also remains in jail.

AFP reported that Israilov's family is planning legal action against Austria. Israilov had told Austrian authorities he felt threatened and asked for protection, but he was not provided with protection.

Kadyrov Calls Budanov a "Schizophrenic" and "Murderer"

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on January 30 denounced Yuri Budanov, the former Russian army colonel and tank commander who was recently released from prison after serving eight years of a 10-year sentence for the murder of Elza Kungaeva, an 18-year-old Chechen woman.

In an interview with the Regnum News Agency, Kadyrov called Budanov a "schizophrenic and murderer" and an "avowed enemy of the Chechen people," adding: "He insulted our people. Every man, woman and child believes that as long as Budanov exists, we will not get rid of our shame. He has abused the honor of all Russian officers. How can one defend him? What judge would release him? He has dozens of human lives on his conscience. I think the federal center will make the correct decision, which is life imprisonment. And that is not enough for him. But a life term will at least ease our suffering a little. We cannot tolerate insults. If a decision is not taken, then the consequences will be bad. I will do everything I can-write, knock on doors-to see he gets what he deserves. And our army, our strong army of a strong state, must also cast off this shame"

In the same interview, Kadyrov said he believed that there are forces aiming to divide society and that the murder last month of Stanislav Markelov, the lawyer who represented Kungaeva's family, could have been committed by "provocateurs, nationalists or Budanov's supporters." Kadyrov added that "there should not be any nationalists in Russia, which is a multi-ethnic state," and that were he the leader of Russia, he would pass a law in the State Duma designating all nationalists as terrorists. "They are inhuman, worse than terrorists," Kadyrov said in reference to Russian nationalists.

In the Regnum interview, Kadyrov also said, among other things, that Russia should be wary of Georgia, stating that Georgia is "under the wing" of the United States and warning that groups could be formed in Georgia along its border with Russia and "create problems." He also said that life "cannot go on" in Georgia as long as Mikheil Saakashvili is its president. In addition, Kadyrov said that while countries of the Arab and Muslim world had previously accused Russia of fighting against Muslims and Islam in Chechnya, Chechnya today has become "the heart of Russian Islam." Kadyrov added: "We have opened a great mosque and we have an all-Russian Islamic institute. We have opened their eyes. After the construction of the mosque, the Islamic states started to see Russia in a different light. People started to come here. The Palestinian president [Mahmoud Abbas] recently paid a visit and other high-ranking visitors are due to come here."

Meanwhile, the Moscow Times reported on February 3 that Kadyrov was on hand the previous day for the opening of a Muslim clinic in Grozny where doctors say they will treat those possessed by demons. The English-language newspaper cited the Rosbalt News Agency, which quoted Chechnya's mufti, Sultan Mirzaev, as saying that the Center of Islamic Medicine will treat up to 80 patients a day by reading them prayers and chapters from the Koran, all free of charge. Kadyrov, for his part, said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that the center will treat people with methods used in the republic for centuries, the Moscow Times reported.

Kadyrov's Spokesman Defends Zakaev

On January 29, the spokesman for the Chechen president and government, Lema Gudaev, responded to press reports quoting the Federal Security Service (FSB) as accusing Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based prime minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), of setting up his own armed units and directing attacks in Chechnya (North Caucasus Weekly, January 30).

In comments carried by the Chechen government's website,, Gudaev called Zakaev "one of the few and most adequate representatives of the so-called government of Ichkeria," adding that Zakaev "rejects terrorist methods of resistance and does not have a record of grave crimes." Gudaev said that Zakaev's statement made in response to the FSB's claims, in which Zakaev declared, in Gudaev's words, "his readiness to discuss issues whose resolution could stop the bloodshed in the region," clearly demonstrates that Zakaev is "not interested in discrediting himself." Gudaev approvingly cited comments by Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center that reports "compromising" Zakaev are aimed at disrupting the Chechen authorities' efforts to woo former political opponents back home (North Caucasus Weekly, January 30).

Gudaev also noted that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov had earlier issued an appeal to Zakaev through the media to return home to contribute to the process of reviving the Chechen Republic, and that Zakaev had not ruled out that this might be a topic for discussion (see Mairbek Vatchagaev's article in this issue).

Militants and Police Official Killed in Dagestan as Ethnic Tensions Rise

Three militants were killed by security forces during a special operation in the village of Leninkent near Dagestan's capital Makhachkala on February 5. Itar-Tass quoted Dagestani Deputy Interior Minister Magomed Gazimagomedov as identifying the three slain militants as Arslan Aldaev, Makhach Magomedov and Gadzhimurad Kamalutdinov-the latter being, according to Gazimagomedov, the nephew of "one of the ideologues of the Dagestani extremists who is living abroad." Gazimagmedov said that the group headed by the wanted militant Omar Sheikhulaev had been responsible for about a dozen attempts on the lives of law-enforcement personnel.

The violence in Leninkent began when several militants armed with automatic rifles and pistols were blockaded in two homes in Leninkent, after which they hurled four grenades at the security forces who ordered them to surrender, slightly wounding two. The militants were killed in the ensuing shootout. The special operation was carried out by members of the Dagestani Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) branch.

Five people, including a senior official and a policeman, were shot dead by gunmen in a roadside cafe in Dagestan on February 2. The German news agency DPA reported that the head of Dagestan's Untsukulsky district, Kazimbe Akhmedov, his two bodyguards, a local police officer and the director of a care home were killed in the attack. Interfax quoted a Dagestani Interior Ministry spokesman as saying the victims were gunned down by two assailants dressed in camouflage and wearing masks. RIA Novosti cited a police source as saying that the group had gathered to celebrate the birthday of the local prosecutor, Omar Omarov, who had left the café by the time the attack took place. The owner of the café, called Vestrecha, was reportedly injured in the attack and hospitalized.

Meanwhile, the Moscow Times reported on February 3 that about 500 protesters in Makhachkala the previous day had blocked the entrance to the regional headquarters of the Federal Tax Service demanding that Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev ask officials in Moscow to recall the appointment of Vladimir Radchenko, a former tax chief in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, as Dagestan's acting tax chief, and that Radchenko be replaced with an ethnic Lezgin. The English-language newspaper reported that the previous head of the republic's tax service, who quit in November, was a Lezgin.

Citing Interfax, the Moscow Times reported that tax officials were unable to enter their offices and that protesters also blocked traffic along Makhachkala's main thoroughfare where the offices are located. Meanwhile, Kommersant reported that Radchenko was stopped at the Dagestani border by regional police as he traveled by car from Rostov-on-Don and told that bombs had been planted at his new office and that they could not guarantee his safety there. Radchenko was thus forced to turn around. According to Kommersant, federal authorities had been trying for several months to negotiate Radchenko's appointment, which Aliev's administration opposed.

According to the Moscow Times, the Federal Tax Service said in a statement on February 2 that the demonstration in Makhachkala was a "provocation" and that it would push for criminal prosecution of the organizers.

Rebels in Ingushetia Target Police and Servicemen

Interfax reported on February 3 that a bomb blast damaged a police car in the village of Surkhakhi in Ingushetia's Malgobek district. A law-enforcement source told the news agency that the improvised explosive device, which consisted of 400 grams of TNT, a mobile phone and an electric fuse, went off before bomb disposal experts arrived but that no one was injured in the explosion. Interfax reported on February 2 that a homemade bomb was planted under a police car in the village of Sagopshi, also in Ingushetia's Malgobek district, but that the device was successfully defused.

Interfax reported on January 30 that a car belonging to a police psychologist had come under fire the previous day near the village of Yandare in Ingushetia's Nazran district. The police psychologist fired back at the attackers, who fled, and no one was hurt in the incident. Interfax also reported that a criminal case had been opened in connection with the January 29 attack on the car of a traffic police officer near the Kavkaz federal highway in Ingushetia's Barsuki municipal district. The officer, LIeutenant Israil Sultygov, was shot and seriously wounded in the attack.

Interfax reported on January 29 that two servicemen were killed and several wounded in a shootout with rebels on the outskirts of the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia's Sunzha district, located on the republic's administrative border with Chechnya. Also on January 29, a bomb was found in a shopping center in Nazran and defused, Interfax reported.


Former Deputy Mayor of Grozny Murdered in Moscow

Former Grozny Deputy Mayor Gilani Shepiev was murdered in Moscow in the early hours of February 5. quoted an anonymous Moscow law-enforcement source as saying the murder appeared to be a contract killing and related to his former position as deputy mayor of the Chechen capital. The source said that the 36-year-old Shepiev was shot to death around 1 a.m., local time, near the entranceway to the apartment building where he had been living in Moscow in recent years. Interfax reported that according to eyewitnesses, an unidentified gunman shot Shepiev three times in the head and then fled. According to, Shepiev was seriously wounded in an attack back in 2006, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car in the center of Grozny. After that incident, Shepiev stepped down as Grozny's deputy mayor and moved to Moscow.

Another Young Woman Murdered in Chechnya

Interfax reported on February 4 that the body of a 21-year-old woman was found with six gunshot wounds in a forested area four kilometers from the village of Grebenskaya in Chechnya's Shelkovsky district. A spokesman for the Chechen branch of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office said the dead woman was being identified and that she lived in the village of Komsomolskoye in Chechnya's Naursk district. The spokesman noted that the bodies of seven young women with gunshot wounds were discovered in Grozny and other parts of Chechnya in November 2008 (North Caucasus Weekly, December 4, 2008) but that their was no confirmation that any of the victims were killed by their relatives for allegedly "indecent conduct" (i.e., that they were victims of honor killings).

Kadyrov Courts Akhmed Zakaev
By Mairbek Vatchagaev

The end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 were marked by yet another flurry of media reports surrounding the key Chechen resistance movement political figure, Akhmed Zakaev.

Zakaev is the former commander of the Chechen resistance during the first military campaign of 1994-1996 and subsequently served as the minister of culture in the governments of the post-war period as well as an active political figure during the second military campaign. He has always been a controversial figure. For Russia, Zakaev has been equated with the Chechen resistance underground and therefore has fallen under the provisions of the Russian criminal code on terrorism, which the courts in Denmark and Great Britain have refused to recognize as being applicable to him (; Guardian Unlimited, November 13, 2003). For the leaders of the Caucasus Emirate, as personified in Zakaev's fierce and hated rival Movladi Udugov, he was among those who resisted the Islamization of the Chechen resistance movement. For Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Zakaev represents the rare opportunity to co-opt the most significant figure of the resistance movement (after the assassination of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria [ChRI] President Aslan Maskhadov and his successor Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev) in order to demonstrate that the very ideology of an independent Ichkeria is on the verge of political bankruptcy. Kadyrov would have agreed to many conditions in order to achieve this objective had it not been for Moscow's negative attitude toward this idea.

Thus, every time Zakaev makes any public statements, all sides try to extract dividends from them.

Zakaev attempted to carry on the cause of those who support the idea of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, as opposed to Doku Umarov's establishment of the Caucasus Emirate in place of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the replacement of Ichkerian independence with the mythical construction of the Islamic state of Caucasus Emirate as the movement's main objective. That is why Zakaev declared himself ChRI Prime Minister (, even though, according to the ChRI constitution, such a position does not exist independent of the ChRI president ( Despite this, Zakaev was still approved by the ChRI parliament, which raised the suspicions of his critics over its legitimacy, given that the ChRI parliament, including its supposed chairman, Zhalavdi Saralyapov, has long been functioning exclusively as a small group ( All of this was done in an awkward manner and with major deviations from the ChRI constitution, on the basis of which the move was supposedly taken.

This is why it is not surprising that just a year later, erstwhile supporters of Zakaev began abandoning him one by one. And even though they did not join the rival camp (that is, they did not become part of the Caucasus Emirate project), they left because they were displeased by the incomprehensible position that Zakaev took in his statements about the role of Kadyrov in the modern history of Chechnya ( The resignation of Isa Munaev (former deputy head of the separatists' Southwestern Front in Chechnya before 2005) and Ilyas Musaev indicated a crisis in Zakaev's camp. After that, the representatives of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in European countries, who were appointed by Zakaev, began to resign in quick succession (

Against this backdrop of increasing resignations, perhaps the most unpleasant episode for Zakaev has been the murky "disappearance" of his right-hand man, Yaraga Abdullaev, who had been his advisor since the end of the first military campaign in Chechnya. Abdullaev has not been in touch with Zakaev, his friend and boss, in nearly two months since arriving in Germany in December 2008 for a trip meant only to last several days. Taking advantage of this development, the Internet portals sympathetic to the Caucasus Emirate have featured news reports alleging that Abdullaev left for Chechnya to join Kadyrov after having several meetings with his emissaries in Europe during the December trip ( In reality, according to the available information, Abdullaev is not in Chechnya, which gives a lot of food for thought, but at the same time it is worth waiting for Abdullaev to give his explanation.

For the supporters of the Caucasus Emirate, Zakaev continues to be one of the most irreconcilable foes and all of its Internet portals have been mobilized to discredit him in the eyes of the Chechen public at large ( When one reads the on-line articles posted on the websites controlled by the Caucasus Emirate, there is a distinct impression that Zakaev is a bigger enemy than the Russian troops in Chechnya. This can be seen from the many articles and comments containing materials tarnishing Zakaev's reputation.

In this context, the Federal Security Service (FSB) recently reported the liquidation of Zakaev's emissary in Chechnya where, according to the security agency, Zakaev was planning to recreate the structures of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (Kommersant, January 28). This news item was reported along with the death of one of the renowned figures of the armed underground, Emir Movsar (Isa Khadiev), who was known for his unwillingness to accept the idea of establishment of the Caucasus Emirate, which probably allowed the FSB to tie him to Zakaev. In reality, Khadiev opposed the Caucasus Emirate idea, but was nonetheless a resistance fighter who fought with the rest of the resistance against the common enemy in the Russian troops in the North Caucasus. Movsar was not a unique case: there are a number of field commanders who pledged their allegiance to Umarov, but who also consider themselves successors of the ideas of an independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, including Emir Mansur (Arbi Yavmerzaev) and a number of field commanders who were once close to former President Aslan Maskhadov. In this particular case, the Daymohk information agency, which is close to Zakaev's circles, reported on January 17-ten days before the press release issued by the FSB-that the slain Khadiev had been a deputy (naib) of the Emir of the Islamic Jamaat of Chechnya, Abubakar Elmuradov ( The FSB's decision to awkwardly present Zakaev as having his people among the active rebel field commanders in Chechnya and Dagestan produces more questions than answers.

From an outsider perspective, one might have the impression that a new campaign had been launched against Zakaev. This would have been true were it not for the fact that Kadyrov's press secretary, Lema Gudaev, suddenly entered the fray with carefully calibrated statements in which he made clear that the Chechen authorities do not exclude the possibility of holding negotiations with Zakaev, having deemed him among those who are more balanced and capable of taking adequate decisions ( Of course what they meant by negotiations was Zakaev's surrender and arrival in Chechnya in the role of a repentant Ichkerian public figure.

The very fact that there is disagreement in the pro-Moscow camp over how to deal with Zakaev is interesting in and of itself. The FSB considers him a terrorist and the chief ideologist behind Chechen separatism, while the Moscow-controlled government of Kadyrov is trying to use him for propaganda purposes and to co-opt him, following the precedent set by such figures as Umar Khanbiev, the former general ChRI representative in the West, and Ramzan Ampukaev, the former ChRI ambassador to Poland. Embedded in Kadyrov's actions are signs of a general policy directed toward maximum co-optation of former politicians that are supporters of Ichkerian independence. For this purpose, Kadyrov set up a special task force that is supposed to work in the sizeable Chechen Diaspora in Europe and Asia. The main objective of this task force is to furnish guarantees to those who decide to return home as Kadyrov supporters that they will not be persecuted by the FSB and federal Interior Ministry.

The wave of returnees invariably inflicted losses on the Caucasus Emirate, which until recently has prided itself on the fact that its supporters have been firmer in spirit than the democratic supporters of independent Ichkeria. Last week, the news agencies of the Caucasus Emirate announced the dismissal of one of its leading figures in Western Europe-the General Representative in Europe-Bukhari Baraev (, who resided in Austria and decided to return to Chechnya, probably because of Kadyrov's guarantee that he would not be touched by the authorities. Bukhari Baraev fiercely criticized his former bosses and accused them of abandoning the interests of the Chechen people. This is the first and palpable loss in Umarov's camp, and more specifically among his appointees in Europe.

Thus it is possible to predict that the crisis of authority will prompt Zakaev to make new decisions. What these decisions will be we can only guess, but we can forecast that in any case it will be a serious test of his maturity as a politician representing the democratic wing of the Chechen resistance movement.

Dr. Mairbek Vatchagaev is the author of the book, "Chechnya in the 19th Century Caucasian Wars."

Salafi-Jihadis Turn Their Attention to the North Caucasus
By Murad Batal al-Shishani

In his recent audio tape expressing sympathy with the people of Gaza, the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, named Chechnya as one of the Muslim areas that have been oppressed by the superpowers of the world order. While this is a normal position for Salafi-Jihadis, there are some indicators that al-Qaeda and Salafi-jihadis-affiliated groups are taking another look at Chechnya since their activities in the region declined several years ago.

Cyber Re-activation

Remarkably, after a period without such postings, the jihadist web-forums have circulated several items on Chechnya in recent months. On November 7, 2008, one contributor to well-known forum that is now defunct-criticized Muslims for "forgetting" Chechnya and the Chechens' tragedy. More interestingly, in October 2008, the jihadi web-forum (now also defunct) circulated a video recording entitled "Fursan al-Shishan" (Knights of Chechnya) showing attacks against Russian troops which had taken place in different areas of Chechnya. The same recording showed graphics to remind audiences of an old fatwa issued by the prominent Saudi Sheikh Muhammad bin Salih Al-Uthaymeen (1925-2001) urging Muslim countries to cut their diplomatic ties with Russia. The jihadist electronic journal Jannat (Issue 53, June/September 2008) published an article about Chechnya stating that North Caucasus Islamic Emirate leaders "had reviewed its previous strategies and will expand the Emirate in the neighboring North Caucasus republics."

Most postings on jihadist web-forums suggest that the North Caucasus Emirate is indeed expanding in the region and that the Salafi-Jihadis in the Middle East are looking for a foothold in the region [1]. This can be understood in the context of the shift in strategy of the Salafi-Jihadi movement and in the ideological justification that the North Caucasus Islamists are looking for.

Shifting Strategy

In November 2008 the Amir of the Islamic State of Iraq (i.e. al-Qaeda in Iraq), Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, directed an open letter to Barack Obama immediately after he was elected President of the United States urging him to withdraw American troops from Iraq. Significantly, al-Baghdadi directed his letter on behalf of Salafi-Jihadis in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Chechnya, which indicates that Chechnya is one of the pivotal areas in the world view of Salafi-Jihadis.

The Salafi-Jihadis' focus on certain areas can be explained in the context of a shift in the strategy of al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. In other words, instead of franchising al-Qaeda and inspiring affiliated groups, they now aim to create hotbeds and safe havens in different geographical areas from which to launch attacks against their enemies in a war of attrition [2]. The Salafi-Jihadis seem to hope that Chechnya and the Caucasus region will serve as one of these safe havens.

The Salafi-Jihadis have existed in Chechnya since the mid-1990s, when the first Chechnya war began, but they declined after 2001 as neither the society nor the Chechen resistance movement accommodated them. But even though the role of the Salafi-Jihadis has declined, they were successful in reviving the idea of the unification of North Caucasians under the banner of Islam to confront Russia's advance. As a result, recent years have witnessed the emergence of several local jihadist organizations in the neighboring regions of the North Caucasus, such as the Sharia Jama'at in Dagestan (al-Hayat, July 18, 2008), and Yarmuk in Kabardino-Balkaria (al-Hayat, December 27, 2005).

Islamic North Caucasus

Ironically, Chechnya, which has experienced war for more than a decade, has become relatively more peaceful than the neighboring republics, which have been experiencing attacks and bombs targeting federal buildings and local security facilities on a more regular basis (al-Hayat, July 18, 2008).

Reports suggest that several factors explain the increase in attacks in neighboring republics, such as the "enhancement" of the situation in Chechnya that led the fighters to move to those regions, the deterioration of "moderate" Islamists and concomitant increase in "extremist" Islamists all over Russia and particularly in the North Caucasus, and finally, as al-Hayat revealed, the success of these organizations in reviving their financial channels from the Middle East (al-Hayat, July 18, 2008).


In addition to their adherence to a unification ideology, it seems that Jihadis in the North Caucasus are motivated by opposition to Russian hegemony and to the way the local rulers tackle day-to-day politics. The Salafi-Jihadis can provide, in addition to funding, ideological incitement to take up arms to confront both.

In this context, in November 2008, jihadist web-forums circulated a video recording entitled "the apostasy of Kadyrov," stating that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is a murtad (an apostate). The recording also criticizes Akhmed Zakaev, which seems to be an attempt to demonstrate the difference between the Islamic project and the national one represented by Zakaev. Interestingly, the recording was shown with comments by the Salafi-Jihadi ideologue Abdullah Rashid al-Rashoud, whom Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the slain former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (June 2006), eulogized after he was killed by American forces near al-Qaim, Iraq, in 2005.

It seems that the fragile situation in the North Caucasus in terms of its unstable socio-political conditions has played an important role in fuelling the rise of Islamist extremists in the region, as well as their historic ambitions, which unsurprisingly seem to remain alive among the newer generations. Al-Qaeda and affiliated Salafi-Jihadi groups look to Chechnya and the North Caucasus as a geopolitically important area that could be used in carrying out their new strategy of creating safe-havens in different parts of the world in order to weaken their enemies. While Chechnya is more stable than it has been in the past decade, it remains an important rallying point for supporters of Salafist groups who have long been sympathetic to the Chechens and their struggle against Russian oppression.

Murad Batal al-Shishani is a Jordanian-Chechen writer. He has an M.A degree in Political Science specializing in Islamic Movements in Chechnya. He is also author of the book The Islamic Movement in Chechnya and the Chechen-Russian Conflict 1990-2000, Amman, 2001 (in Arabic). He also recently published "Iraqi Resistance: National Liberation vs. Terrorism: A Quantitative Study," November 2005 Iraqi Studies Series, Issue 5, Gulf Research Center-Dubai.


1. It is worth mentioning that some of the postings on the jihadi web-forums were posted by people affiliated with the small Salafi-Jihadi groups that emerged in the Gaza strip in the last few months and confronted Hamas and were aimed at undermining Hamas, which had established good relations with Russia. These groups could be re-emerging after the recent Israeli assault on Gaza.
2. See Abu Bakr Naji, Idarat al-Tawahosh (The Management of Savagery), 2004. Also see Osama bin Laden's January 14, 2009, audio tape on the events in Gaza.