Accessibility links

Daghestan Resident Suspected Of Fighting With IS In Syria

Screen grab from video showing the Daghestani Islamic State militant Abu Hanif.

Screen grab from video showing the Daghestani Islamic State militant Abu Hanif.

Police in the Republic of Daghestan in the North Caucasus are investigating a 27-year-old man on suspicion that he fought alongside the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, according to local media reports.

The suspect, who has not been named, is from the Untsukulsky district in the center of Daghestan, the reports said.

He allegedly traveled to Syria in 2013, where he underwent training and "preparation for terrorist activities," the reports quoted police investigators as saying. The reports did not elaborate on what sort of "terrorist activities" the suspect allegedly trained for.

The police investigators also said that the suspect had taken part in fighting against Syrian government forces, alongside the Islamic State group.

The suspect is being investigated under two paragraphs of Russia's Penal Code: training in order to carry out terrorist activities and participating in the activities of a terrorist organization.

The Russian Federation's Supreme Court ruled at the end of December to designate the Islamic State group as well as Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorist organizations, a move that allows law enforcement authorities to open criminal investigations against those suspected of participating in either group.

Daghestanis & Islamic State

There is ample evidence that individuals from Daghestan are present in Syria and are fighting with the Islamic State group, or with other militant factions.

Perhaps the most notorious Daghestani-led faction (although there has been little news about it for some months) is the Raqqa-based group known as Abu Hanif's jamaat [fighting faction].

The group is named after its leader, Abu Hanif.

He gained notoriety in June 2013 for his connection to a second Daghestani militant, Abu Banat, who featured in a video where he apparently beheaded two men thought to be Syrian Christians.

Abu Banat and Abu Hanif appeared together in an April 2013 video address, in which the former was named as an "emir" or commander of a group.

Abu Banat, who has been named as Magomed Abdurakhmanov, is also suspected of involvement in the kidnapping and possible murder of two Syrian priests, Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici, in April 2013.

Abdurakhmanov was arrested in Konya in Turkey in July 2013, after a police officer thought he recognized him from the beheading video. The Turkish magazine Suryaniler reported in December 2013 that the Daghestani man was held in an Istanbul prison.

Notorious Even Among Militants

In September 2014, the pro-Russian website KavkazPress posted images that it claimed show Abu Banat with the current leader of the North Caucasus-based militant group the Caucasus Emirate, Ali Abu Mukhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov), who is also from Daghestan. KavkazPress used the images to claim that Kebekov was not opposed to the Islamic State group. The images are undated and their location is not specified; they have not been independently verified and must be considered with skepticism.

Both Abu Banat and Abu Hanif became notorious even among other North Caucasus militants, with prominent ethnic Kist militant Muslim Abu Walid Shishani noting in a 2014 speech about Islamic State that the two Daghestanis had led a group in Aleppo province which allegedly killed Syrian civilians including women and children.

After parting from Abu Banat sometime in mid-2013, Abu Hanif established his own Russian-speaking faction in Raqqa, the Islamic State group's de facto capital in Syria. In April 2014, an account on the Russian social networking site VKontakte announced that Abu Hanif's jamaat had set up a kindergarten for Russian-speaking children in Raqqa.

Little is known about Abu Hanif's background, and he has refused to divulge his real name. In a post on a now-defunct website that was previously run by Abu Hanif, the Daghestani militant says that he was investigated by the authorities in Russia before he left for Syria.

Abu Hanif's jamaat is not the only faction in the Islamic State group that includes Daghestani militants.

A second group, which is now led by a Daghestani militant and which also includes ethnic Uzbeks, is known as Sabri's Jamaat. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in March 2014, after being an independent faction.

The group was originally led by an ethnic Uzbek known as Abdullo Tashkenti, but after his death he was replaced by a Daghestani militant known as Khalid al-Dagestani.

In addition to these two main factions, there are Daghestani militants fighting in other groups within the Islamic State group, likely including the Chechen-led faction known as Katibat Al-Aqsa.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena