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North Caucasus Insurgency Selects New Leader

Previous leader Doku Umarov was killed in 2013.
Previous leader Doku Umarov was killed in 2013.

Magomed Suleymanov, aka Abu Usman Gimrinsky, has been chosen as the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate proclaimed in 2007 by Doku Umarov, who led the insurgency until his death in 2013. Suleymanov replaces Aliaskhab Kebekov (Ali Abu-Mukhammad), Umarov’s successor as North Caucasus insurgency head, who was killed in a counterterrorism operation on the outskirts of the Daghestani town of Buynaksk in April.

The news of Suleymanov’s appointment originated with Islamic Committee of Russia chairman Geydar Dzhemal, who had earlier identified him as Kebekov’s most likely successor. The website Caucasus Knot later quoted an unidentified relative of Suleymanov as confirming the report and saying his appointment will be formally announced "soon."

Suleymanov is currently qadi (supreme religious authority) of the so-called Vilayet Daghestan, one of the virtual territorial-administrative units into which Umarov divided the Caucasus. He has simultaneously been emir (military commander) of the Mountain Sector which includes the district of Gimry for at least the past two years.

Like Kebekov, Suleymanov is an Avar, and according to Dzhemal studied theology with him under the same teacher, Murtazali Magomedov. His address on the occasion of Kebekov’s death can be seen here.

The choice (if formally confirmed) of a second consecutive non-Chechen to head the insurgency underscores the extent to which the surviving Chechen militants, once the backbone of the insurgency, have been sidelined by the vast army of security personnel subordinate to Kremlin-backed Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. The film The Family, recently released by former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s organization Open Russia, estimates the total manpower of those forces at 80,000.

Addressing police personnel on May 28, Kadyrov implied that young Chechens are more likely to join the militant group Islamic State (IS) than the North Caucasus insurgency.

In addition, two of the most experienced and respected Chechen insurgency commanders have transferred their allegiance to the militant group IS. So too have several of their Daghestani counterparts, and also the popular Salafi preacher Nadir Abu Khalid (Nadir Medetov).

Medetov, 30, is a graduate of the Islamic University in Medina whose sermons focus on questions of morality and monotheism. Medetov’s popularity, especially among the younger generation, is reflected in the number of subscribers to his account on the social network VKontakte (over 40,000) and the fact that his sermons on YouTube have received between 30,000 and 60,000 hits.

He was detained in Makhachkala in October 2014 on suspicion of possession of arms and placed under house arrest for two months, but not formally charged with any crime. He was summoned by police for questioning two months ago in the wake of a counterterrorism operation in the Makhachkala apartment building in which he lives in which five people were killed.

Journalist Magomed Magomedov described Medetov’s oath of loyalty to IS as "unexpected," and attributed it to intensifying pressure on Daghestan’s Salafi minority. He pointed out that Medetov’s emergence as a preacher coincided with the period in which the North Caucasus armed insurgency was a serious force to be reckoned with, but for years he chose not to align with it. Islamic scholar Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov for his part predicted that Medetov could play the role of ideologist for IS just as successfully as Said Buryatsky did for the Caucasus Emirate in 2007-2010. But even if he does not, he will be a serious rival to Suleymanov in the battle for the hearts and minds of Daghestan’s Muslims. To that extent, the survival of the Caucasus Emirate remains an open question.

Meanwhile, the Council of Muftis of Russia has adopted a “social doctrine” intended to elucidate the “correct” attitude of believers to issues ranging from ecology and sport to jihad and the state. Its primary objective is reportedly to deter young Muslims from leaving Russia to swell the ranks of IS. But according to Ali Charinsky, who heads the For the Rights of Muslims public movement, it is unlikely to have the desired effect as long as the authorities continue to "threaten to kill Muslims under the guise of fighting terrorism, destroy mosques, forbid the reading of books [about religion], and kill and imprison Muslim theologians."

-- 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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