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'Veteran Arab Field Commander' Killed In Daghestan

The Federal Security Service (FSB) in Daghestan has identified one of two militants killed late on February 2 in Botlikh Raion (on the border with Chechnya) as Egyptian citizen Mohmad Mohamad Shabaan, known by the nom de guerre Seyf-Islam.

The Daghestan FSB claimed that Seyf-Islam was part of an Al-Qaeda network operating in the North Caucasus, and that it was he who masterminded the suicide-bomb attack on January 6 on an Interior Ministry base in Makhachkala in which six police officers were killed. The website, citing ITAR-TASS, claimed that the FSB in Moscow has evidence that Seyf-Islam organized an unspecified number of acts of sabotage operations targeting oil pipelines, railways, and power lines at the behest of Georgian intelligence.

According to the FSB, Seyf-Islam, one of the pleiad of field commanders whose portraits head the homepage of the website, was born in 1961 and in the early 1990s fought in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, and Georgia. He is said to have arrived in Chechnya in 1992 and worked closely beginning in 1996 with fellow Arab Khattab.

He reportedly served as an adviser on religious affairs to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, and was close to renegade field commander Shamil Basayev. But observers question that allegation, saying that he was never part of Maskhadov's entourage. Nor did he co-head Khattab's training camp for Muslim fighters in Serzhen-Yurt.

North Caucasus resistance commander Doku Umarov reportedly appointed Seyf-Islam chief of general staff with special responsibility for planning acts of terrorism and dispatched him to Daghestan in October 2009 to coordinate the activities of resistance units there and to restore supply routes whereby the resistance received arms and explosives via Georgia.

That potted biography gives the impression of having been manufactured with the twin purposes of linking Seyf-Islam to all the most vilified figures within the Chechen, and then the North Caucasus insurgency, and of fleshing out earlier allegations by FSB and Russian Interior Ministry officials of Georgian complicity, or even active collaboration, with Umarov's fighters.

Seyf-Islam is the second prominent field commander to be killed in Daghestan in five weeks. Daghestan front commander Amir al-Bara was killed on New Year's Eve in an almost identical operation when police opened fire on the car in which he was travelling.

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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