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How Long Will Umarov's Ban On Terrorism Last?

Islamist insurgent leader Doku Umarov (center) recorded his appeal in an undisclosed location.
Islamist insurgent leader Doku Umarov (center) recorded his appeal in an undisclosed location.
Doku Umarov, the self-styled Caucasus Emirate leader, has resurfaced after a six-month silence and ordered the end of attacks by his fighters on civilian targets in Russia.

In a four-minute video clip posted on February 3 on the Caucasus Emirate's main website, Kavkazcenter. com, Umarov notes that developments in Russia today, meaning the protests against the outcome of the December State Duma election, and the corruption and iniquities of the Russian leadership in general, show that the civilian population does not support what he termed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "Chekist regime, of which they are the hostages."

Umarov said the insurgents were constrained by their religion not to harm those Russian civilians who do not participate in or support the Russian leadership's "war against Muslims."

Umarov ordered all militants in the Caucasus and sabotage groups preparing attacks in Russia to ensure that they do not injure civilians. At the same time, he said Russian military and security personnel and the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership remained legitimate targets.

The video clip is the first of Umarov since his triumphal announcement last summer of the reconciliation with senior emirs Khusein Gakayev and Aslambek Vadalov, who broke with him in August 2010. The footage was shot outdoors, in a snowy forest. Umarov is shown seated, flanked by two younger fighters, and he supports his right elbow with his left hand while talking. Whether he has been wounded or is suffering from rheumatism after a decade of living rough is impossible to say.

Umarov's renunciation of terrorist attacks like those in the Moscow subway in March 2010 and at Domodedovo Airport in January last year marks a return to the strict compliance with the Geneva Conventions demanded by his predecessors as Chechen president, Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev. In his last interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, just days before he was killed in March 2005, Maskhadov stressed that he always insisted that his fighters avoid harming civilians. He said he even told them not to target police officers who lay down their arms.

Indeed, Umarov himself initially complied with Maskhadov's ban on terrorism as a tactic, telling RFE/RL in 2005 that "If we resort to such methods, I do not think any of us will be able to retain his human face." He specifically condemned the Beslan school hostage taking of September 2004 in which at least 334 hostages were killed, 186 of them children.

Umarov's reversal may reflect the influence of Gakayev and Vadalov, who advocated confining military activities to Chechnya and targeting primarily the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership.

By contrast, the new young generation of commanders in Kabardino-Balkaria consider all those who are not with them to be against them, and have warned that they will not go out of their way to avoid injuring civilians who ignore their duty to join the ongoing jihad.

Finally, it is not clear whether the ban on harming Russian civilians is simply a moratorium, as Umarov hinted, and whether it will be lifted on the eve of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in two years' time. Russian and Western experts alike have long assumed that the insurgency is already making plans to stage terrorist attacks to disrupt the games and humiliate and embarrass the Russian leadership.

Either way, it is highly unlikely that Umarov's statement will either effect a review of the U.S. decisions to designate him personally a terrorist, and the Caucasus Emirate a terrorist organization, or that it will radically change most Russians' negative perception of him.

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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