Southern Russia: Jihad Dagestan

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In January this year Islamic jihadists launched a fresh offensive
aimed at drawing Dagestan, a southern republic of Russia between
Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, into the jihad (Islamic holy war) for
the Caucasus. Unlike the militaristic Chechen jihadist incursion
into Dagestan of August 1999, this recent offensive has been a
guerrilla-style terror campaign.

According to a July 2005 report by the Russian Academy of Sciences,
there were 70 Islamic terror attacks in Dagestan in the first six
months of 2005, compared with 30 for all of 2004. The attacks, which
are becoming more sophisticated and deadly, primarily target Russian
soldiers and Dagestan's police and government officials.

Sources indicate that as many as 2,000 Islamic insurgents, many
belonging to the Al Qaeda-linked Jamaat Sharia, are involved in the
insurgency. Sergei Markov, a Kremlin adviser recently told the
Christian Science Monitor, "Our forces have captured or killed
citizens of 52 countries operating with the terrorists in the north
Caucasus. The enemy brings an ideology of radical Islam that seeks
political power through terrorist methods.

"'We are no longer talking about Chechen secessionists challenging
Moscow,' says Mr. Markov. 'Now it's radical religious ideologues who
aim to destroy the unbelievers and establish an Islamic caliphate.'"
(Link 1)

Around 11 September, the Islamist "Kavkaz Centre" (Caucasus Centre)
published on its website a press release from Jamaat Dagestan
Sharia. (Link 2)

After a string of murders and assassinations, Jamaat Sharia has
claimed "legitimate power" in Dagestan. In its press release, Jamaat
Sharia protests that the "law of kafirs" has destroyed the "law of
sharia" in Dagestan, enabling a kafir state to be built upon the
blood of their ancestors. (kafir = infidel/unclean) Jamaat Sharia
labels those who protect the "kafir state" as "kafir" and "gun
meat", and commands that they "repent before Supreme and Almighty
Allah, to leave your kafir and the dog service, and for the sake of
own blessing to accept the Islam and to [come under the] protection
of religion of Allah!!! All that who on amnesty has left the kafir
and slavish work, has repented and has accepted the Islam, we
promise after a victory and establishments of laws of Sharia to
employ in Islamic Army. The victory is close!!! To Allah Akbar!!!"

However, along with this promise of amnesty for those who desert the
"kafir" and turn to Islam (i.e. submit to Jamaat Sharia and its
intolerant Wahhabi/orthodox creed) is the warning that the amnesty
will expire at the end of September. This would be just in time for
a jihadist Ramadan offensive.


Dagestan was annexed by Russia in 1813 and became an autonomous
republic in 1920. Christianity was introduced by Armenians and
Georgians in the 6th Century. One of Dagestan's most famous
buildings, the Juma Mosque, is a converted 6th Century Christian
basilica. Today around nine percent of the population is ethnic
Russian, and around ten percent of the population is Christian. The
main tension within Dagestan is not between Christians and Muslims
(who are mostly traditional Sufi) but between the majority Muslims
and the aggressive, pro-jihad, pro-sharia, Wahabbi minority.

Most of the Wahhabi jihadists in Dagestan draw their inspiration
from the Afghan mujahideen who fought the Russians through the
1980s. Chechen leader Shamil Basaev and many others fighting the
jihad for the Caucasus received their training in Afghanistan.

With around 34 ethnicities and 29 languages (mostly mutually
unintelligible), Dagestan is the most diverse region in all of
Russia. Dagestan is not an ethnic name but rather it simply means
"land of mountains" in Turkish. Dagestan is nominally ruled by a
State Council that includes representatives of the 14 main
ethnicities. Unfortunately, since the break up of the Soviet Union
the real power in Dagestan has been with the State Council Chairman,
Magomedali Magomedov, a representative of the former Soviet Union,
who is backed by Putin but not the people, and who symbolises
extreme corruption.

If anything, the dissatisfaction Dagestanis have with the ruling
powers can only be of benefit to the Wahhabi jihadists, as
recruitment to Wahhabism and jihad is so much easier amongst
disaffected Muslims in search of poverty relief and regime change.


This is not the first time in recent history that jihadists have
attempted to capture Dagestan. In August 1999 jihadists from
Chechnya staged an incursion into Dagestan and declared Dagestan to
be an Islamic State. However, they were quickly repelled by Russian
forces backed by local militias. This year's guerrilla terror has
been quiet enough to slip under the radar, yet significant enough to
do real damage, and horrific enough to instill terror.

There are two main reasons why Dagestan is important for the jihadis.

1) Dagestan is a land of mountains, and this makes it a perfect base
for Islamic jihadis/guerrillas/terrorists, and a very difficult
place for Russia's mechanised forces.

2) The second reason is historic, as Andrei Smirnov explains:
"During the 19th century Caucasus war, Dagestan and Chechnya formed
an almost united front against the invading Russian army. The
residents of the territory now encompassing the two republics formed
an Islamic state called 'Imamate,' which was able to confront Russia
effectively for decades, until its leader, Imam Shamil, surrendered
to Russian General Alexander Baryatinsky in 1859. Knowing this
shared history quite well, the separatist leaders of Chechnya
repeatedly tried to drag the people of Dagestan into their struggle
for independence." (Link 3)

Smirnov continues, "Despite the failure of his 1999 venture and the
redeployment of Russian troops to Chechnya in 2000, Shamil Basaev
did not stop his attempts to move the war eastward, beyond the
Chechen borders. Specifically, he initiated a very careful, and very
slow process of preparing Dagestan for guerrilla warfare (grani.ru,
July 23, 2004). The hundreds of militants from Dagestan who had
joined Basaev's group in the mid-1990s made this process much easier
to organize. A Dagestan field commander, Rabbani Khalilov, became
the leader of the Dagestani mujahideen."


The jihad in the Caucasus is not only a severe threat to religious
liberty, but it also threatens to turn the Caucasus into a terrorist
haven. If jihadists can control the Caucasus mountains and Dagestan,
then they can replace the mujahideen training camps of Afghanistan
and threaten "moderate" and "secular" Muslim communities and
Christian communities in the region and beyond. The Caucasus would
become a major base for training and deploying jihadis, just as
Afghanistan was under bin Laden and the Taliban through the 1990s.

Jamaat Sharia has given the people of Dagestan until the end of
September to repent and submit. With eight months of terror that
include a string of strategic murders and assassinations behind
them, the threat declared, and Ramadan approaching, the January 2005
words of Andrei Smirnov reverberate louder than ever, "... Dagestan
is now nearer detonation than ever before."

Elizabeth Kendal
[email protected]


1) Russia sees global jihad on southern flank
By Fred Weir, 25 July 2005
Secret sects threatening to put a match to tinderbox republic
From Sebastian Smith in Makhachkala, Russia, 19 July 2005

2) Legitimate authority of Dagestan is Jamaat "Sharia"
Edition of "Caucasus - center" has received the next press release
of Information Department of Islamic Jamaat Dagestan "Sharia". "KC"
publishes Jamaat's press release "Sharia" without reductions.
Radical Islamic Group Names Itself Legitimate Authority of Russia’s
Dagestan. 11 September 2005

By Andrei Smirnov, Eurasia Daily Monitor, 19 January 2005

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