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Umarov Bows Out As North Caucasus Emir

Doku Umarov (left) and Aslambek Vadalov (file photo)
Doku Umarov (left) and Aslambek Vadalov (file photo)
Doku Umarov announced in a two-minute video statement posted on August 1 that he is stepping down as emir of the North Caucasus because he is "tired."

He appealed to the commanders of Ingushetia (Emir Adam), Daghestan (Emir Seyfullakh Gubdensky) and Kabardino-Balkaria (Emir Kazbek) to endorse and pledge loyalty to his chosen successor, veteran Chechen commander Aslambek Vadalov.

Umarov said his decision to step down was made "unanimously" at a meeting of field commanders in Chechnya the same day that the footage was recorded. He stressed that he was not abandoning the jihad, and he vowed to continue to do all in his power to promote it.

Other senior Chechnya-based field commanders -- Khusein Gakayev, commander of the Chechen forces; the Ingush Tarkhan; and the Arab Abdullah Mukhannad -- have all endorsed Umarov's decision and spoken with unequivocal praise and respect of Aslambek, whom they describe as "reliable" and "God-fearing."

Respected Fighter

They say Aslambek, who to judge by photographs is in his late 30s, is a veteran of both the first (1994-96) and the second (1999-2000) war. According to Mukhannad, Aslambek did not take sides in the interwar power struggle in which maverick commander Shamil Basayev sought to undermine and isolate then-Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, and his fellow fighters respect him for that.

Tarkhan noted that five of Aslambek's brothers have disappeared without trace while a sixth died fighting the Russians, and his family home has been destroyed.

Umarov named Aslambek to head the eastern front following the death in April 2007 of Sultan Imurzayev (Emir Khayrulla). Since then he has commanded a string of successful operations against pro-Russian Chechen forces.

Even before Umarov's proclamation in late October 2007 of the North Caucasus emirate, Aslambek described the ongoing fighting as a pan-Caucasus jihad against Russia. In video clips over the past two years of meetings of the war council, he is always seated close to, or next to, Umarov.

Umarov named Aslambek as his successor in a video clip shot in June and posted on on July 23. In that footage, Umarov admits that the situation is "complicated" following the death in March of the Kabardian commander and ideologist Emir Seyfullakh (Anzor Astemirov) and the betrayal and capture by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in June of veteran Ingush commander Magas. He calls upon the commanders of the various territorially based jamaats to approve his choice of Aslambek to succeed him in the event that he is killed.

In a second video clip dated July 23, Umarov named Gakayev commander of the Chechen forces.

Umarov Steps Down

Umarov's stated rationale for stepping down was that he is "tired," and that it is time for a younger and more energetic commander to take over. But Mukhannad and Tarkhan stated explicitly that Umarov has health problems.

Umarov is 46, and has been wounded several times. He vanished for a period of several months earlier this year, and the authenticity of the video clip in late March in which he appeared to take responsibility for the Moscow subway bombings was questioned.

Umarov's subsequent failure to convene the traditional spring meeting of field commanders to plan strategy for the coming fighting season raised the question whether he was indeed still alive. But those doubts were dispelled several weeks ago with the posting of a video clip in which he and veteran commander Supyan Abdullayev admitted the betrayal and capture of Magas, vowing at the same time to continue the jihad.

In that clip, Umarov looked much thinner than in footage shot last year. He was also wearing the traditional dark garments of the Chechen Sufi. His changed appearance and his espousal of Sufism, in tandem with his decision to hand over responsibility and secure support for his chosen successor, suggest that he may be aware that he is mortally ill. That in turn would explain why he has named his successor -- thereby exposing him to increased danger -- and appealed to the commanders of the Ingush, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkar jamaats to pledge loyalty to him.

In that context, it is worth noting that Umarov identified as head of the Kanardino-Balkar-Karachai jamaat not Asker Jappuyev, who claims that title, but Kabardian fighter Kazbek Tashuyev.

Umarov's announcement of his resignation was posted on, the website that publicizes the ideology and activities of the North Caucasus insurgency. The site has been down since at least 0545 GMT on August 2.

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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