One man dead and 11 people injured after jihadist gunmen open fire on tourists as they visit ancient Russian fortress

•    One person killed, and 11 injured in Russia's Dagestan republic
•    Tourist group under fire while visiting fortress in city of Derbent
•    Unknown gunmen fired at tourists from a nearby forest, then fled
•    Dagestan has been the scene of Islamic insurgency since the 1990s


PUBLISHED: 02:39 EST, 30 December 2015

One man has been killed and 11 injured in shooting at a fortress popular with tourists in Dagestan in southern Russia.

The victims were part of a group of 20 tourists visiting the Naryn-Kala fortress in the city of Derbent when two unknown gunmen opened fire from a nearby forest on Tuesday night.

The dead man has been identified as a 26-year-old border police, as local authorities say they believe the shooting to be a terrorist attack by Islamist insurgents.

Semen Sporyshev, 26, had been working as a contract soldier at the state border in Dagestan, according to local media. 

Today, the head of the Republic of Dagestan has said that he believes militant jihadist rebels to be behind the deadly attack.

'This is most likely a trick by some remaining bandit groups or militants who have survived and seek vengeance for the peace and tranquillity in which Derbent residents live,' Ramazan Abdulatipov told Interfax news agency.

'We celebrated the 2,000th anniversary of Derbent town and this gave the people hope for living in peace. But apparently there are still people who are annoyed by this stability,' he said.

The group was reportedly made up of locals from Derbent and the surrounding Derbentskiy District, and had been standing on a panoramic terrace of the ancient fortress when the gunmen attacked.

Local police are reportedly searching for two men, who fled the scene in a black Lada Priora car, after firing some 70 shots at the tourists.

'As a result of a gun attack 12 people were hurt, one of whom died,' an official in the region's health ministry told RIA Novosti.

The wounded, four of whom were in a serious condition, were getting medical treatment, the official said.

The Interfax news agency reported that the tourists were local residents who were visiting a viewing platform at the fortress in Derbent when the unidentified gunmen opened fire from a nearby forest.

Gun and bomb attacks are common in Dagestan, a mostly-Muslim internal republic in Russia's troubled North Caucasus region.

Moscow has been fighting Islamist insurgents in Dagestan since the 1990s, however, attacks targeting tourists in the region are unusual.

The republic of Dagestan is Russia's most ethnically diverse republic, with ethnic Russians making up just 3.6 per cent of the total population.  

No claim of responsibility from rebels has so far been observed.

Blast derails Russian freight train 

Sunday, April 4, 2010 

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A bomb exploded on a railway track in Russia's Dagestan province on Sunday, derailing a freight train days after suicide bombers killed 12 people in the region, Russian news agencies reported. Nobody was hurt. 

The pre-dawn blast on a line leading from Moscow to the ex-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan caused eight carriages of a train carrying construction materials to derail, ITAR-Tass and Interfax reported, citing police and emergency officials. 

Russia is on edge after suicide attacks in Moscow and Dagestan killed more than 50 people in the past week. 

Security was tight as President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended an overnight ceremony on Russian Orthodox Easter -- the most important holiday for the country's dominant religion. 

On Wednesday, two suicide bombings in the Dagestani town of Kizlyar killed 12 people including nine police officers, authorities said. 

That attack came two days after twin suicide bombings in Moscow's metro killed at least 40 and stoked fears of a major campaign of attacks in Russia's heartland by militant based in the heavily Muslim North Caucasus, which includes Dagestan. 

In November, a bombing blamed on North Caucasus militants killed 26 people on a passenger train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. 

The Chechen rebel leader seeking an Islamist state across the North Caucasus has claimed responsibility for the Moscow metro bombings. Russian authorities said on Friday that one of the bombers was a 17-year-old Dagestan native, the widow of a militant killed by Russian forces. 

Like neighboring Chechnya and nearby Ingushetia, Dagestan has been plagued by an upsurge of violence in the past two years, with frequent attacks targeting law enforcement. 

Sunday's blast left a 3.5-meter-wide crater on the railbed and damaged some 300 meters of track, ITAR-Tass cite railroad police as saying. 

A passenger train from Siberia to Azerbaijan's capital Baku was stranded on the track by the damage, it said.

Daghestan's Islamic Fighters Continue To Hone Military, PR Skills

January 27, 2009

Radio Free Europe

By Liz Fuller

Over the past two years, Ingushetia and Daghestan have eclipsed Chechnya as the most unstable North Caucasus republics. Both regions are plagued by almost daily low-level violence that pits police and security forces against committed Islamic armed militant groups and civilians suspected of sympathizing with or abetting those groups.

At least 34 Interior Ministry officials were killed in Daghestan in 2008 in 96 separate attacks. The most prominent victim was Russian General Valery Lipinsky, who was gunned down on the street in Makhachkala on December 29. The Islamic militant group Shariat Jamaat claimed responsibility for that killing, which it described in a January 5 press release as "a gift from our Amir Muaz to the infidel [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin."

Shariat Jamaat is the oldest Islamic resistance movement in Daghestan. Chechen oppositionists who were among the co-founders in the late 1980s of the Islamic Revival Party established an unarmed Islamic movement in Daghestan even before the collapse of the USSR. That movement coalesced as a military unit separate from, but aligned with, the radical wing of the Chechen resistance at the time of the incursion into Daghestan in the summer of 1999 by radical Chechen Islamists led by field commander Shamil Basayev.

Any detailed account of Shariat's evolution is problematic, given the secrecy under which the resistance operates throughout the North Caucasus and the difficulties inherent in trying to separate rumor, myth, and official Russian propaganda from fact. The moderate Chechen resistance website chechenpress.org published on August 8, 2006, a list of 18 attacks perpetrated by militants in Daghestan between late December 2001 and the end of 2004. Those attacks included the killings of three senior Daghestan Interior Ministry officials in September 2002, March 2004, and December 2004, and of republican Nationalities Minister Magomedsalikh Gusayev in August 2003.

But in the first half of 2005, Shariat stepped up its activities under the leadership of Avar field commander Rasul Maksharipov, a veteran of the fighting in Chechnya, carrying out up to 55 terrorist attacks that killed more than 40 police officers in a wave of violence that led Moscow-based analyst Aleksei Malashenko in September 2005 to describe the situation to "The Guardian" as "close to civil war."

Initially, the preferred modus operandi for such assassinations was improvised explosive devices, either in the form of roadside bombs detonated by remote control when a police or military vehicle drove past, or attached to the car or placed near the entrance to the home of a specific victim. A spokesman for Shariat told RFE/RL in August 2008 that Shariat fighters are adept at assembling such devices. Alternatively, a group of Shariat fighters might open fire on their intended victim's automobile. "The Times" reported on July 19, 2005, that one militant apprehended several months earlier had a list of the addresses and telephone numbers of some 100 intended victims.

In an interview published in the Russian daily "Gazeta" on February 15, 2006, then-Russian Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov said Shariat had recently started duplicating tactics used by militants in Iraq: an anonymous caller informs the police that a crime has been committed at a specific location; police officers are dispatched to investigate and walk straight into an ambush. Shariat used a variant on this tactic in two separate unsuccessful attempts, in August 2006 and February 2007, to assassinate Daghestan's Interior Minister Lieutenant General Adilgirey Magomedtagirov, who frequently travels personally to inspect the site of fatal attacks on senior officials.

Shariat commander Maksharipov was killed in a counterinsurgency operation in Makhachkala in early July 2005, but his demise resulted only in a very slight immediate decline in the frequency of militant attacks. There was, however, a more pronounced lull in 2006, with only 27 police officers killed during the first 10 months of that year, according to kavkaz-memo.ru on October 27, 2006.

Gadji Melikov, who succeeded Maksharipov as Shariat's commander, was himself killed in July 2006, and Melikov's successor, Rappani Khalilov, in September 2007. But the deaths of successive commanders and of dozens of rank-and-file fighters have had only minimal impact on Shariat and the territorially based subunits subordinate to it (based in Buynaksk and Khasavyurt in the north, and Derbent in the south).

Over the past two years, Shariat has given two interviews to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service -- in March 2007 and summer 2008. It has never granted a formal interview to any other media outlet. In the earlier of those two interviews, a Shariat spokesman defined Shariat as a subdivision of the resistance Caucasus Front; its members have pledged allegiance to Doku Umarov in his capacity as amir of the North Caucasus. The spokesman summarized Shariat's twin objectives as expelling Russian nonbelievers and their local collaborators from the entire North Caucasus and establishing an Islamic state on that territory. To achieve that end, he said, Shariat considers it legitimate to target police and security officials, the pro-regime Muslim clergy, and clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Asked why Shariat opted for military rather than political methods to achieve its aims, the spokesman dismissed the concept of "political struggle," whether in Chechnya, Russia, or the United States, as "a farce [staged by] unbelievers." He similarly dismissed as "pointless" any negotiations with Daghestan's "puppet authorities," and said the decision on whether to embark on talks with Moscow lies with Umarov and his advisers.

In the subsequent interview, the Shariat spokesman said that one of its two original objectives has indeed been accomplished -- meaning the declaration by Umarov in October 2007 of an Islamic state encompassing the entire North Caucasus. Umarov proclaimed himself amir of that Islamic state, and Shariat's fighters have formally acknowledged him as such. The spokesman added that Shariat's tactics have not changed, and that armed struggle "is the only appropriate response to the occupation of Muslims' lands."

The strategy selected for that struggle is "a partisan war that can last as long as you like and exhaust the enemy's resources and morale. In addition, such tactics enable us to avoid unjustifiably high military losses, which is extremely important" given the enemy's numerical superiority. At the same time, he repeated that peace talks with Russia are hypothetically possible, but only if and when Russia withdraws its troops from the territory of the North Caucasus Emirate and provides security guarantees as a precondition for peace talks.

Asked whether Shariat has ever regretted launching an attack, he said its members regret that complete innocents are sometimes killed by police in the course of so-called counterterrrorism operations against Shariat fighters. He warned the population to avoid whenever possible the vicinity of police stations and police officials, both of which could at any moment be targeted by Shariat. That warning has since been repeated, most recently in the January 5 press release claiming responsibility for Lipinsky's killing.

Understandably, the spokesman refused to give any estimate of Shariat's combined strength, other than to dismiss as risible official claims that it consists of between five and six small groups of fighters. Interior Minister Magomedtagirov told a counterterrorism conference in Makhachkala in November 2008 that there are seven "extremist groups" in Daghestan with no more than 15 members each, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on December 14.

The Shariat spokesman did say, however, that most of Shariat's fighters are young, and that they come from diverse social groups and professional backgrounds, including students, teachers, doctors, former bureaucrats, and some religious figures. He said there is an uninterrupted stream of volunteers who wish to join the resistance, but that "we cannot take them all." He did not give any indication of the ethnic makeup of the resistance, but given that its former leaders include an Avar (Maksharipov), a Kumyk (Melikov), and a Lak (Khalilov), it is reasonable to infer that Shariat treats members of all Daghestan's ethnic groups as equals. The spokesman also admitted that some Shariat members come from outside Daghestan, and even outside Russia. In October 2006, Daghestan's Interior Ministry claimed to have apprehended a citizen of Georgia, identified as Akhmed Gamzatovich Gasanov (possibly a member of Georgia's fast-dwindling Avar minority), who had allegedly been a member of an "illegal armed formation" since 1999.

Asked to define Shariat's current military objectives, the spokesman said the resistance leadership has opted for a war of attrition in the form of a long-term partisan war in the North Caucasus that may be broadened to encompass the whole of the Russian Federation, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. He did not give any time frame for doing so.

Shariat has its own, Russian-language website, jamaatshariat.org, which is described as an "independent Daghestani Internet information agency." Its regular press releases, whether giving details of successful operations or explaining its rationale for waging jihad, quote extensively from the Koran to support their arguments and are notable for their sophistication. The same cannot be said of some other Caucasus jamaats: the theological arguments adduced in 2006 by the Kabardino-Balkar jamaat amounted to little more than hurling slabs of doctrine at the heads of recalcitrant co-religionists unwilling to join the jihad.

Shariat's spokesman told RFE/RL last year that the group's propaganda campaign is proving successful, and that "many Muslims who do not risk their lives by participating directly in jihad do all they can to help [us]." He added that the plutocracy and corruption that pervade domestic politics, together with arbitrary reprisals by the police and security organs, incline ever more people to sympathize with the resistance. "Popular perceptions are changing," he said, and more people now believe that the Caucasus can survive without Russia.


Russian forces kill five in Dagestan

September 4, 2008

Russian forces killed five suspected Muslim rebels in the southern region of Dagestan today, Interfax news agency reported.

The shootout took place in a house in Khasavyurt, about 60km (40 miles) west of the capital Makhachkala and the centre of fighting between rebels and federal forces in the increasingly violent north Caucasus region.

"According to preliminary information five rebels were killed," a security service source told Interfax. A civilian also died in the clash, and two security agents were wounded.

Bomb attacks and shootouts hit Dagestan and next-door Ingushetia almost daily - in contrast to increased stability in neighbouring Chechnya, where Russia has fought two wars against separatist rebels since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Analysts say the growing violence could destabilise the north Caucasus, and separatist feeling there could be fuelled by Russia's recognition of two rebel provinces in neighbouring Georgia as independent states.

Dagestan is a Russian republic of 2.5 million wedged between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea. Analysts say poverty is one of the main drivers of the violence as disenchanted youths join radical Islamic groups.

On Wednesday police said rebels killed a well-known television journalist who campaigned against radical Islam. Three days earlier a leading opposition website owner died of gunshot wounds while in police custody in Ingushetia.



Dagestan: Muslim Factions Clash

An eruption of violence closes one of the oldest mosques in the Caucasus.

By Rinat Turabov in Derbent (CRS No. 282, 15-Apr-05)


A mass fight in the main mosque of the southern Dagestani city of Derbent last week has highlighted apparent religious divisions in what was formerly one of the most peaceful areas of the North Caucasus.


The imam of a local mosque, whose worshippers formed one side in the battle, claimed unspecified Islamic extremists provoked the fight in the ancient mosque. The head of the city administration appeared to back these claims, while the main Muslim body in the republic suggested Derbent religious authorities shared the blame for the disturbance.


The violence, which erupted on April 9, involved around 300 people, 25 of whom were admitted to Derbent’s central hospital with varying degrees of injury. Nine of these were kept in hospital for observation and on April 12 three were in a critical condition. The mosque itself has been temporarily closed.

By early morning of April 10, there was nothing other than a stronger than usual police presence and two or three curious onlookers to hint at the events of the night before.


That evening it was possible to inspect the interior of the mosque. Everything had been turned upside down. The altar was on its side. Mirrors and sound equipment were smashed. Building materials – stone, wood and tiles – lay strewn across the floor, apparently used as weapons during the disturbances. Streaks of blood were visible everywhere. In one place, blood with a clump of hair stuck to it stained the wall. Lying broken on the floor was the flagpole from a green banner symbolising Islam.


The UN cultural agency UNESCO dates the Juma mosque back to the eighth century, making it arguably the oldest mosque on Russian soil.

Dagestan is well known for its high levels of criminality and political violence. However, the southern part of the republic, which borders Azerbaijan and in which Derbent is the main city, had until recently the reputation of being a quiet region.

The conflict began during Friday prayers, when locals from the Bab-ul-Abwab mosque came as usual to the bigger Juma (or “Friday”) mosque for worship. There they got into an argument with a group of young men from the Juma mosque.

The former, older group, who view themselves as Muslim traditionalists, called the latter “Wahhabis” - a catch-all term for Islamic fundamentalists influenced by Saudi Arabia.


“We were praying on Friday when one of the Wahhabis standing in the front row began to swear at our community and raised his voice at [us]. The others backed him up, and a scuffle began,” said Isamudin-haji, imam of the Bab-ul-Abwab mosque.

“It was impossible to carry on the ceremony. They gave the elders [the Bab-ul-Abwab worshippers] no chance at all.

“Then we decided to get together in the mosque once more and go to speak to them. Before this we also met with the imam chosen by them, but without any result. On Saturday we gathered together as a jamaat (community) and went to the lunchtime namaz [prayers]. There were around 200 of us. We entered the mosque, where there were around 30 people, but didn’t manage to complete the namaz. They took out knives and metal casing and attacked us. We were forced to defend ourselves.”

It took the police an hour to bring the fight to a halt, and the injured were sent to hospital. Officers let the men from Bab-ul-Abwab leave in groups, and took some away for questioning.


The Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan, the main official religious body in the republic, suggested the fight had been planned in advance and weapons brought specially, but local people said there were very few knives involved.

The next morning, worshippers from Bab-ul-Abwab told IWPR that the police had treated them sympathetically, regarding their actions as carried out in self-defence.

The head of the city administration of Derbent, Felix Kaziakhmedov, appeared to back the traditionalists, saying, “We will get to the bottom of who finances these groups [a reference to the alleged Wahabbi worshippers].

“We need to bring our influence on [them], right down to closing [them down]. And we are working on this already. I want to state that all guilty parties will be punished. We have given no-one reason to doubt that we have the strength to maintain order in the city.”

The Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan, however, hinted that the local religious authorities share some of the blame for failing to keep order. And Magdi-Haji Mutailov, deputy mufti of Dagestan, told IWPR that there was now a need for a new authority to try to prevent such disputes breaking out.

“Today the spiritual board is on the side of those who were hurt. So we can avoid these excesses in future, we are planning to assemble all the imams of southern Dagestan and collectively appoint a concrete person who commands respect and to name him chairman of the Council of Alims [or Islamic teachers]. So that he can be the arbiter amongst the Muslims of Dagestan on all controversial issues,” he said.

Enver Kisriev, a Dagestan scholar and author of a book on Islam and politics in the republic, said that the spiritual board was trying to exert greater control over southern Dagestan.


Rinat Turabov is a correspondent with Moskovsky Komsomolets Dagestan in Derbent. Aishat Abdullayeva, editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets Dagestan, contributed to this report from Makhachkala.



The Kadyrov-ication of Dagestan

Ramzan Kadyrov may realize the gravity of the situation unfolding in the Northern Caucasus better than the Kremlin; yet his raids into Dagestan cannot reverse the situation in Russia's favor. On the contrary, each of his sorties serves to only reinforce the alienation of the population from the federal government and its local representatives.

By Emil Pain for The Jamestown Foundation (24/05/05)


Since the beginning of April, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's units have sharply increased the number of military actions in neighboring Dagestan, particularly on the territory of the Hasavyurt district - populated predominantly by Chechens and Avars. These actions followed public statements by Kadyrov that Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev and a bulk of his fighters had been hiding in Dagestan. In the second week of April, a large unit of Kadyrov's men marched into Dagestan's Hasavyurt district, purportedly to destroy a Chechen guerrilla unit led, in Kadyrov's words, by a close associate of "the emir of the mujahideen of Dagestan" Rappani Khalilov. The media never mentioned the name of the commander.

Not Kadyrov’s first sortie into Dagestan

This was not the first sortie of Kadyrov's units into the district. Though the units had previously not encountered any local resistance, this time residents of the Hasavyurt district, both Chechens and Avars, repulsed the Chechen police, killing one of Kadyrov's sidekicks. After the incident, Kadyrov made a statement on April 20 accusing Dagestani police of not only inaction, but also of aiding Chechen and Dagestani terrorists. Residents of the Hasavyurt district explain the incident differently. By accident, NTV showed footage of conversations between Russian journalists and residents of the village which was attacked by Kadyrov's unit. The locals claimed they were forced to take arms to protect themselves from being looted. According to the residents, Kadyrov's invaders behaved impudently, even provocatively, saying that they were given a free hand to act as they please since "they hold President Putin himself by the hands”.

Kremlin reaction

The Kremlin could not have reacted positively to such news. Each day the Kremlin is more and more disturbed by the arrogance of Kadyrov and his 3,000-man army. The April "mission" was the second such sortie in six months, and most probably it was not authorized by Moscow. The Kremlin knows perfectly well that the reputation of the federal center has been on the decline in Dagestan, and that incursions by Kadyrov's band damage it even more; especially if the "head" of Chechnya hides behind the name of President Putin. Dagestanis are annoyed not by the fact that the raids are accompanied by looting – it is the raids themselves that insult their national pride. But Putins' patronage and the free hand Kadyrov is given by the Kremlin do not account for his behavior. Kadyrov views himself more and more as a new head of not only Chechnya, but also of neighboring North Caucasian Republics.

Spring offensive

There is some speculation as to the reasons behind the increase in activity of the Kadyrov's units in the Hasavyurt district. It is often explained as a reaction to the spring offensive by Chechen guerillas. With the start of spring, when the woods in mountains gain foliage, the Russian Army and Kadyrov's units typically begin suffering defeats at the hands of Chechen guerrillas. At this time of the year, forces loyal to Moscow feel an urge to ascribe their setbacks to the fact that Chechen guerillas are sheltered abroad. A year or two ago, they ascribed their defeats to the Pankissi gorge in Georgia, whose residents had been purportedly sheltering Chechen guerillas. Nowadays, residents and the authorities of Dagestan are accused of the same. When, in the beginning of March 2005, Ahmed Avdorkhanov's unit broke out of an encirclement by 1,500 of Kadyrov's men and retreated into the mountains, the statements were made that the militants slipped into Dagestan. Nor do local analysts exclude the possibility that Kadyrov's activity in Dagestan is somehow linked with their attempt to control a Dagestani (Hasavyurt) market where Chechen oil is sold. It is known that Kadyrov controls a large part of the illegal oil sales in Chechnya. It is also known that stolen oil which formally belongs to the Russian state company Rosneft is most often sold in Dagestan.

The ‘Northern Alliance’

Another reason Kadyrov has ordered his units into Dagestan may have to do with Dagestani politics and the so-called "Northern Alliance". Comprised of a group of Dagestani politicians, the "alliance" emerged two years ago in Kizlyar and Hasavyurt and aims to unseat the current head of the Republic, ethnic Darghin, Magomedali Magomedov. One of the leaders of the alliance is Hasavyurt mayor Saigad-Pasha Umakhanov, a close friend of Kadyrov. Most probably, Kadyrov's behavior is the outcome of a combination of factors. Whatever the case may be, this author believes that Dagestan is becoming the second (or perhaps third, after Ingushetia) battlefield of different North Caucasian insurgents against the federal government. "Emir of the mujahideen of Dagestan" Rappani Halilov and "emir of the Djamaa Sharia" Rasul Maksheripov - as well as a number of other commanders – lead the Dagestani jihad. Their groups, which amount to 500 people each, have been waging a subversive terrorist war against local and federal law enforcement agencies. Sometimes they act in cahoots with the Chechen armed resistance.

Open borders

The vast border between Chechnya and Dagestan has always been open to Chechen guerillas. They crossed back and forth throughout the first Chechen campaign (1994-96), as well as in the second war, when the number of Russian troops stationed in both republics was 150-160,000. Currently, that number has decreased by almost half, enhancing the ability of Chechen fighters to use Dagestan to rest and plan new military actions. Add to this the fact that support among the Dagestani people for Magomedali Magomedov, who has been the head of the republic since Soviet times, has completely eroded. Magomedov is increasingly relying on Moscow to stay in power. The head of the administration of the Hasavyurt district Saighid-Pasha Umakhanov was first to challenge his rule. Waves of massive demonstrations flowed through this district which borders Chechnya. Dagestan might rival Chechnya in the number of terrorist and subversive actions perpetrated. Analysts estimate that between 70 and 90 such actions are carried out every year. Usually, it is difficult to distinguish between political violence, criminal violence, and acts of vendetta. For example, in the last ten years, there have been 14 attempts on the life of the mayor of Mahachkala, the capital of Dagestan, Said Amirov; organizers or perpetrators of any of the attempts have not yet been identified. Still, the most noticeable forms of resistance to local and federal authority are protest meetings under the auspices of a non-traditional Islam, which the authorities and media call Wahhabism.

Dagestan, the N Caucasus’ center of Islamic life

Dagestan has always been the center of Islamic life in the Northern Caucasus, though its role waned during the Soviet era, at a time when religion was persecuted. However, the easing of state policy on religion in post-Soviet times has brought about a huge surge of religiousness in the local population. At times of military conflict, the post-Soviet leadership of Dagestan tried to use traditional Islam to unify the ethnically divided population of the republic. However, because of ethnic rivalries, the Muslim clergy failed to serve as a unifying force. On the contrary, the clergy split along the ethnic lines. National spiritual directorates (muftis) were created which rendered full support to ethnic leaders: Avar, Lezghin, Chechen, Kumik and others. New Wahhabi organizations, however, have had greater success in unifying Muslims of different ethnicities, aided by the fact that people trusted the local clergy even less as they depended evermore heavily on local and federal authorities. Researchers point out three phases of the proliferation of Wahhabism in Dagestan: The initial phase between 1980-90 which involved educational and charitable activity; the organizational phase between 1991-97 during which time existing Wahhabi groups were expanded and solidified while new members were actively recruited; and finally the political phase, underway since 1999, which marks a period of open political confrontation between Wahhabis and the political leadership. This final period has been marked by sporadic violence under the banner of jihad in order to seize political power in the republic and form an Islamic state.

Joint front?

Lately, the actions of Wahhabi insurgents in Dagestan have become more and more dangerous for local and federal authorities. Mobile groups of Dagestani mujahideen often escape their pursuers. In February 2005, a military operation conducted by Russian Interior Ministry units and Dagestani police to block fighters belonging to the group "Djennet" in the vicinity of the mountain Tarky-Tau failed to yield any positive result. The Russian Prosecutors Office blames the group for killing approximately 40 local policemen and members of Federal Service of Security of Russia. This author doubts that there exists today any joint front of Chechen and Dagestani mujahideen against the federal leadership of Russia. But while it is unlikely that Chechen and Dagestani militants are coordinating their actions, there is no doubt that they are fighting the same enemy and employing the same Islamic slogans. The formation of three fronts of resistance in the years 2003-2005 against the federal government (Chechen, Ingush, and Dagestani), as well as other sporadic acts of violent opposition to the federal government, creates a situation very different from when Chechnya was the only source of resistance in the region. Perhaps Ramzan Kadyrov realizes the gravity of the situation unfolding in the region better than the Kremlin; yet his raids into Dagestan cannot reverse the situation in Russia's favor. On the contrary, each of his sorties serves to only reinforce the alienation of the population from the federal government and its local representatives.

Emil Pain is Director of the Center of Ethnopolitical Studies in Moscow.

This article originally appeared in Chechnya Weekly, published by The Jamestown Foundation in Washington



'Hunt for cops' claims 26 lives this year

10 soldiers killed Friday as violence escalates in poor Russian province

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Igor Tsagoyev

Associated Press

Makhachkala, Russia - Residents of the capital of the poor and chaotic Russian province of Dagestan have come to call it "the hunt for cops" - more than two years of bold and brutal attacks on police.

Who's conducting it, what the motives are and even if it's a coordinated campaign are unknown. But the violence proceeds. On Friday, 10 soldiers were killed when their truck was blown up as it pulled up to a public bath house.

Col. Akhberdilav Akilov, head of the police's anti-extremism and anti-terrorism department, was one of the first to feel the fury of the attacks. In September 2002, as his car approached his office at the regional police headquarters, masked gunmen in a passing car opened fire with assault rifles, killing him instantly. The assailants, who also killed Akilov's driver and a passer-by, got away.

The bold daylight killing was seen as a reflection of the high level of everyday violence in the mostly Muslim Dagestan region, which borders Chechnya. But it also marked the opening salvo in what has become a long series of murders specifically targeting police in Dagestan, a mountainous region of numerous small ethnic groups bordering the Caspian Sea.

Six officers from Akilov's department were killed in the three months after his murder; 26 police officers have been killed in gun and bomb attacks this year alone in "the hunt for cops."

The motives behind the attacks are unclear. Some blame the killings on Islamic militants working with Chechen rebels attacking military targets while others say the violence could be rooted in rivalry between clans and ethnic groups.

Still others, including some prosecuted for the crimes, say the attacks are revenge for unbridled police brutality.

"I did not kill your son," suspect Gadzhi Abidov told the parents of a murdered police officer during a court hearing last year, before he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the killing. "But believe me, if I'd had a weapon, if I'd had the slightest possibility, I would have killed him. If you knew how he treated people in the interrogation cells, you'd have cursed him."

The roots of the hunt reach back to fall 1998, when Dagestani authorities moved to fight back against growing criminality by forming a special police division to combat kidnapping. It soon expanded to work against extremism and terrorism - the biggest threats facing the southern Russian republic, which suffered a spate of abductions, explosions and contract killings. The following year, Chechnya-based rebels raided Dagestan twice before being forced out.

The division was under pressure to show results, and its officers started employing torture regularly to squeeze confessions out of suspects, said an officer in the regional prosecutor's office who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Abidov testified that his interrogators had put a plastic bag over his head and beat him on the head and kidneys with a plastic bottle filled with water, that he had been hung upside down, had his head put in a gas mask from which the air supply was cut off temporarily, and was subjected to electric shocks.