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New North Caucasus Insurgency Leader Warns Of ‘Crushing Blows’

Russian counterterror special forces aim weapons at a target during a military operation in the village of Komsomolskoe, in Daghestan. (file photo)
Ali Abu-Mukhammad, the Avar theologian who was chosen early this year to succeed Doku Umarov as Caucasus Emirate head, has released a 40-minute video clip (which appeared on YouTube before that video-sharing site removed it as "a violation of YouTube's policy on violence") in which he warns that the insurgents are preparing to inflict “crushing blows” on the enemy.

The video footage is dated Radjab 1435 (May 2014). Abu-Mukhammad resorts to the question-and-answer format previously favored by Umarov to convey the insurgency’s position on specific questions concerning what he variously refers to as “a jihad” and “a partisan war.” (He is the first insurgency commander to use the latter formulation.) The questions are posed by a speaker off-camera.

The first question is the approximate number of insurgent fighters, to which Abu-Mukhammad declines to give a straight answer. He replies instead that “we are not a regular army, that we have to have a specific minimum strength, but we can state with certainty that the number of fighters is steadily increasing, even in those locations where the unbelievers do not expect them.” There are, Abu-Mukhammad says, “as many fighters as are needed.”

Umarov similarly used to stress that there was little point in maintaining large numbers of fighting men due to the logistical problems involved in securing supplies, and because the greater the number of fighters concentrated in a given region, the easier it is for Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces to locate them.

Abu-Mukhammad did not mention the high casualty rate sustained by the Daghestan insurgency wing over the past 18 months: 171 fighters killed in 2013, 58 in the first quarter of 2014, and a further 20 in April. He did, however, say it is of paramount importance to maintain a nucleus of experienced fighters.

As to whether there should be a single Daghestan front under one commander, Abu-Mukhammad explains that the division into sectors was for reasons of security, and so that fighters could move freely and each individual fighter should know his place.

At the same time, the fighters are subordinate to a single leadership. That structure does not, however, preclude joint action by the fighters of the various sectors: “If the need arises for us to come together to prepare for a large-scale operation we have the possibility and the means to do so, inshallah. At present we are working out a tactic of inflicting crushing blows on the unbelievers. This is not something from the realm of fantasy.” He did not elaborate.

Responding to other questions, Abu-Mukhammad enumerates those categories of persons whom the insurgency regards as legitimate targets, including those North Caucasus natives who voluntarily serve in the police and security forces, and specifically those who participate in reprisals against women and children, especially the families of dead insurgents. He also warns that his men will target those who engage in promoting depravity and vice, such as owners of liquor stores, saunas, and bordellos who, he recalls, have been warned countless times to close their businesses.

Asked about his contacts with other insurgency commanders, Abu-Mukhammad says he has met with some of them, but does not mention names. Nor is it clear whether he is referring only to commanders based in Daghestan, or how many of the meetings in question took place since he was chosen as insurgency leader. Two senior commanders, Astemir Berkhamov (Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai insurgency wing, successor to Tengiz Guketlov who was killed in March) and Artur Gatagazhev (Ingushetia) have been reported killed in counterterror operations over the past three days. Responding to a further question, Abu-Mukhammad admits that due to the numerical superiority of the pro-Moscow forces deployed against the insurgency, the situation is daily becoming more difficult. At the same time, he says the enemy too faces difficulties, and that “Allah tests a man depending on the strength of his faith.... We see on a daily basis how if he limits our possibilities in one area, in another he opens up possibilities that we never even anticipated.”

Abu-Mukhammad discusses at some length whether Muslims from the North Caucasus are justified in traveling to Syria to join the anti-Assad forces there, or whether they should instead join the “jihad” under way in the Caucasus. He quotes passages from the Koran in support of both approaches, adding that the Council of Muslim scholars has not yet handed down a definitive ruling on the issue. He acknowledges that waging jihad in the Caucasus is more difficult in terms of access to arms and supplies, and points out that the head of Al-Qaeda has not yet ordered his fighters to Syria en masse. On balance, Abu-Mukhammad concludes, it is better for Muslims from the Caucasus to remain and fight at home, where they have parents and other dependents.

In similar vein, Abu-Mukhammad rails against those devout believers from the North Caucasus who send “hundreds of millions” in aid to their co-religionists in Africa but draw the line at providing for dead fighters’ widows and children.

-- Liz Fuller

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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