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Shock Waves From Insurgency Commanders' Defection To IS Felt Beyond North Caucasus


Akhmad Umarov speaks in the video.

Akhmad Umarov speaks in the video.

The decision late last year by several prominent North Caucasus insurgency commanders to retract their oath of allegiance to Caucasus Emirate leader Aliaskhab Kebekov (Sheikh Ali Abu-Mukhammad) and pledge loyalty to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi has apparently engendered confusion and discord not only across the North Caucasus but within the Chechen diaspora community.

That at least is the message conveyed by Akhmad Umarov (nom de guerre Abu Khamza), the brother of Caucasus Emirate (IK) founder and leader Doku Umarov and the IK's official representative abroad, in a 15-minute video address posted last week on Checheninfo.com, the website of the Chechen wing of the North Caucasus insurgency.

In that video footage, Umarov requests a statement of moral support from Kebekov and Emir Khamzat (Aslan Byutukayev), the commander of the Chechen insurgency wing, in response to what he terms the "groundless accusations" dreamed up against him by the pro-IS faction and the latter's "childish" attempts to justify their actions.

He says it is "unacceptable" that those who do not obey Shari'a law "are trying to obstruct us in our work and spread discord," and insists that those persons who do so, whether unwittingly, or at the behest of "enemies of Islam," or in the hope of securing a comfortable post within the IS leadership, should be held responsible under Shari'a law, and will answer for their actions on Judgment Day.

Umarov appeals to Kebekov and Khamzat to explain why Chechen commanders are violating their oath of loyalty to Kebekov and their theological arguments for doing so. He says failure to clarify their arguments will only deepen the split between the two factions.

Umarov then presents his superiors with a choice: either to issue a statement of support for the stance adopted by the IK representation abroad with regard to the defections to IS that would make clear to all fighters from Chechnya and Daghestan that they should "abide by all demands that do not contradict the Koran and Sunna," meaning remain loyal to Kebekov. Or, "if you have doubts about what we are saying and our sincerity, then we ask you to appoint new people to replace us and dismiss us from our posts. If you have faith and confidence in us, then we ask you to grant us additional powers to restore order and establish a strict and functional system in accordance with Shari'a law to address urgent questions which it is imperative to resolve -- questions concerning religion, politics, and social, financial, and informational issues."

Umarov then addresses Chechen fighters both in the Caucasus and beyond "who are trying to help the cause and to defend our religion and honor," urging them to take a clear stance against the renegade faction. He says he can provide an explanation for what that faction "is saying behind our backs," but does not say what those criticisms are.

With regard to Syria (he does not use the toponym "Sham" favored by the Chechens fighting there), Umarov affirms unequivocally that "any fighter who travels to Syria to take part in jihad there should understand that he will have to answer for that on Judgment Day. We appeal to you, especially to the young people of the Vilayat Nokhchiicho [Chechnya], to stay where you are. Your holy duty today is jihad in the Caucasus...to defend our land, the territory of the Caucasus Emirate," from the "primary foe" in the person of the Kremlin regime and its apostate collaborators, meaning the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership.

Given that Umarov speaks in very general terms, it is impossible to assess the extent of support among IK fighters for IS and the magnitude of the threat that faction poses to the cohesion of the insurgency ranks. But his request for "additional powers" suggests he faces a serious challenge.

Since the statements of support for Baghdadi by six Chechen and Daghestani commanders last month, several insurgency commanders from Chechnya and Ingushetia who for reasons they do not specify are no longer in the Caucasus have reaffirmed their loyalty to Kebekov. So too has Emir Salim (Zalim Shebzukhov), commander of the Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai insurgency wing.

-- Liz Fuller

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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