Kebekov, 42, was born in Daghestan's Shamil district, southwest of Makhachkala. He is an Avar. No details of his early life and career are known, but from his fluency in Arabic and the sophistication of his theological arguments it is logical to assume that he studied theology somewhere outside Russia. He served initially as qadi of the "Mountain Sector" of the "Vilayet of Daghestan," he was identified as qadi of the entire emirate in July 2011. It is not clear when Umarov named him to that position.
In his capacity as qadi, Kebekov made a series of video clips on topics including the political situation in Daghestan; why Muslims should not vote in Russian elections; and appealing to Chechen police and security personnel to turn their backs on what he terms Moscow's "genocide of Muslims." He is generally filmed sitting in front of his laptop, dressed in combat fatigues, and with his Kalashnikov within arm's reach.
Daghestani security officials have identified Kebekov as having initiated the killing in August 2012 by a female suicide bomber of venerated Sufi Sheikh Said-Afandi Chirkeisky.
In his March address, Kebekov confirms that the news of Umarov's death was prematurely "leaked," and affirms that those responsible for that "negligence" will be punished. In a 16-minute audio clip posted in mid-January, the unidentified speaker, whose voice and pronounced accent inclined analysts to identify him as Kebekov, acknowledged receipt of the news of Umarov's death. He also divulged that he had been proposed as Umarov's successor.
Kebekov initially said he did not consider himself qualified for that position as he has no military experience, "and has never served as an emir [military commander], but became a qadi immediately after I joined the jihad." But by his own admission, Kebekov acceded to pressure from the emirs of the four military sectors (Daghestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai: the latter commander, Tengiz Guketlov (aka Emir Khamza), was one of six fighters killed in a counterterror operation in Nalchik last week) whom Umarov included in his six-man shura.
Citing the example of Abu Bakr, who became the first Muslim caliph after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Kebekov denied emphatically that he considers himself in any way superior to other possible candidates to succeed Umarov. At the same time, he appealed to the sector commanders to induce their fighters to pledge loyalty to him. In one of his video addresses, Kebekov stressed that fighters should obey their emir "as long as he complies with shariat, even if he is not an ideal leader, even if he restricts the rights of some brothers, even if he purloins the lion's share of what they take from unbelievers (but in that case we should tell him that what he did is wrong)."
Whether the Chechen fighters will unanimously accept Kebekov is by no means certain, however. In the January audio clip, Kebekov refers to the Chechens' "nationalism" and "nationalist spirit" -- meaning the continued importance some of them still attach to the concept of an independent Chechen state -- as unacceptable.
Kebekov is the first non-Chechen to head the North Caucasus insurgency. In that respect, his elevation to that post constitutes the logical next stage in the transformation of what started two decades ago as the defense of Chechen independence into a campaign to establish an independent Shari'a-based state encompassing the entire North Caucasus (and possibly also Georgia and Azerbaijan).
Kebekov expounded what he considers the theological justification for jihad in a recent address posted on the insurgency website VDagestan.com. But in that same address, he also stresses that jihad does not necessarily mean "heading for the forest" and taking up arms, but also remaining at home and promoting the cause of jihad within the local community of believers, "in such a way as not to arouse suspicion."
"We must construct our system to counter the unbelievers' system in all respects: political, economic, information, and all other spheres, and we should have specialists in all these spheres," he wrote. That line of argument suggests that he, and possibly also Daghestan Emir Rustam Aselderov, have reached the conclusion that the heavy losses sustained by the insurgency in Daghestan in recent years (231 killed in 2012, 171 killed in 2013) are not the most effective long-term use of human resources.