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Amid Crackdown, Another IS-Linked Militant Reported Killed In Daghestan

A Daghestani militant thought to have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group has been killed in a clash with police, Russia's Interfax news agency reported on April 27.

The militant, named as Khasmagomed Charanov, was killed in a shootout at his dugout on the outskirts of the village of Oktyarbrskoe in the Khasavyurt region, an unnamed official told Interfax.

The official said that Charanov had been the leader of the Khasavyurt section of the North Caucasian Islamist militant group the Caucasus Emirate (CE) before he pledged allegiance to IS.

The reports of Charanov's death come amid an apparent crackdown by the National Antiterrorism Committee (NAK) in Daghestan against militants with alleged links to IS.

On April 24, the NAK announced that the authorities had killed two other IS-linked militant leaders in the republic.

An NAK spokesman told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) that the two alleged militants -- Arsanali Kambulatov and Mugutdin Mazanov -- had been killed in the Karabudakhkentsky district of Daghestan during the "active phase of a special operation."

Both Kambulatov and Mazanov had appeared in a video in which they publicly pledged allegiance to IS, the NAK spokesman said.

According to the NAK, since August 2013 Kambulatov, 30, had been the leader of the Makhachkala sector of the "bandit underground" in Daghestan. He was responsible for a March 2013 suicide bombing in Makhachkala, an explosion in a court building in that city in May 2013, and a series of killings of residents of the village of Agachaul in 2013-14, the NAK alleged.

Mazanov had been the leader of the "Caspian gang," the NAK said, though it did not provide any additional information about that group.

In March, the NAK reported that it had killed another IS-linked militant in Khasavyurt: Shakhban Gasanov, 24. Gasanov was the leader of the Kizlyarsky group of militants and had pledged allegiance to IS, the NAK said.

The apparent crackdown on IS in Daghestan comes amid attempts by the militant group to recruit new members to its cause in the North Caucasus.

In a video address published this month, Abu Jihad, an ethnic Karachay from Karachai-Cherkessia and a close confidante of IS's powerful military commander, the ethnic Kist Umar al-Shishani, called on potential militants in Daghestan to join IS-linked groups there in order to fight the "Russian invaders."

Abu Jihad's call was the first time that an IS militant has openly called on North Caucasians to join the group at home, rather than in Syria or Iraq, and will almost certainly have caused concern in Russia.

The crackdown against IS-linked militants in Daghestan is also a show of strength by the Russian security forces against the Islamist militancy in general, and comes in the spring, a time when militants are likely to become more active.

The crackdown also comes at a particularly sensitive and trying time for the Caucasus Emirate, both in the North Caucasus in general and in particular in Daghestan. The Caucasus Emirate's leader, Aliaskhab Kebekov, was reported killed in Daghestan on April 20. Kebekov, a Daghestani, was one of three militants reported dead after an armed clash between gunmen and security forces in the city of Buinaksk.

The Caucasus Emirate has yet to name a successor to Kebekov, whose death has left a leadership vacuum that IS's North Caucasian faction in Syria will be keen to exploit by increasing its calls for North Caucasian militants to join IS, and not the Caucasus Emirate, in Daghestan.

The push by Russian security authorities to stamp out IS-linked militant leaders in Daghestan is therefore also likely to be an attempt to prevent IS exploiting the Caucasus Emirate's weakness by increasing its recruitment attempts in the restive republic.

-- 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