#17 - JRL 2009-159 - JRL Home
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 2009
From: GORDON HAHN <gordon-hahn@sbcglobal.net>
Subject: (Un)civil Jihad in the Caucasus Emirate

On August 17th a jihadist suicide bomber, perhaps two, commandeered a truck filled with explosives to the entrance of the MVD headquarters in Nazran, Ingushetia and exploded himself and his cargo. The attack that killed 25 and wounded anywhere from 138 to 262, depending on reports, including 11 children. The response of Western scholars, various activists, and Russian liberals was to avoid the words ‘jihad,’ ‘jihadism’, even the nonsensical term ‘terrorism’ (the ‘blitzkriegism’ of our politically correct/perverse post-modern days). They focused more on Russian brutality, violations of human rights, and the need for economic development in the North Caucasus [Just a few examples include Sarah Mendelson, “(Un)civil Society in the North Caucasus” Foreignpolicy.com, August 12, 2009; Boris Nemtsov, “War Clouds in the Caucasus,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2009; Philip P. Pan, “Blast Kills at Least 20 in Russia: Apparent Suicide Attack Hits Ingushetia Police Building,” Washington Post, August 18, 2009; and Michael Schwirtz, “Suicide Bomber Rams Truck Into Police Station in Russia, Killing 20,” New York Times, August 18, 2009].

Thus, Dr. Mendelson’s recent article “(Un)civil Society in the North Caucasus” (ForeignPolicy.com, August 12, 2009) points out correctly that the turmoil and violence in the North Caucasus has remained off the West’s radar screen for too long. However, she is off base in describing which elements of the violence in the North Caucasus are most ignored and most grave for Russia’s stability and for Western, indeed global security. Her article replicates the key bias found in the few Western discussions of the North Caucasus that do manage to get near the West’s radar screen. Like almost all the work of Western journalists, lawyers, and human rights and humanitarian activists, Dr. Mendelson’s article fails to mention the worlds ‘jihadism’ and ‘global jihad,’ no less detail how these are being manifested in a very nasty way in the North Caucasus.

From the article, it appears that in Dr. Mendelson’s view -- as in that of the almost all of the West’s journalists, lawyers, and humans rights and humanitarian activists ­ the main, indeed only source of violence in the North Caucasus that needs to be addressed is that committed, sanctioned, or left unpunished by representatives of the Russian state.

This is consistent with what might be called the ‘Western consensus.’ The Caucasus Emirate jihadists’ and their violence are almost never mentioned and are never detailed. Yet since 2002 it has far exceeded that perpetrated by the Russian state and is the most serious plague torturing the North Caucasus. We hear about the Russian secret services and paramilitaries, but we hear nothing about the North Caucasus network of jihadist groups, the self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate (CE), which has never been mentioned in any of the newspapers or weekly news magazines ­ the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Economist ­ where scholars with Dr. Mendelson’s views, journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists are published on a regular basis. We hear about Mr. Putin and Mr. Kadyrov, but not about amir Umarov, amir Magas, amir Tarkhan, the foreign amirs Muhannad and Islam Seif or the rising star of the Caucasus Emirate, Said Abu Saad Buryatskii (see below). We hear (and rightly so) about truly horrendous murders of a handful of journalists, lawyers, and activists, but we hear not a word about the some five thousand people killed and wounded by the Caucasus jihadists since 2002. Some 370 were killed and over 400 wounded by the CE mujahedin last year alone.

Yet Dr. Mendelson is able to claim: “The murders of journalists, lawyers, and human rights and humanitarian activists rate even less attention” than jihadi terrorism. If this were true, it would be rightly so, since the number of those killed and wounded by jihadi terrorism in Russia exceeds the murder of journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, and civilians killed the CE mujahedin by a factor of perhaps a hundred in recent years. The only time the jihadi terrorists are highlighted is when they undertake high profile attacks like Dubrovka and Beslan; the only ones Dr. Mendelson and the U.S. mainstream media mention before quickly moving on to discuss “Russian” brutality, much of which is carried out by Caucasus locals and is driven by their culture of inter-clan violence and blood revenge. Dubrovka and Beslan occurred nearly 5 and 7 years ago, respectively; the North Caucasus jihadists have been very busy since.

Dr. Mendelson raises the issue of “state terrorism.” The emergence of this term is more evidence of the one-sided approach to terrorism taken by almost all journalists, lawyers, activists, and professors. A group of scholars in effect hijacked the term ‘terrorism.’ It was originally formulated by analysts and scholars to designate political violence committed by non-state actors committed in order to influence state action by intimidating various social and state groups. After hijacking the term so the emphasis in terrorism studies could shift away from the examination of non-state actors’ terrorism and towards traditional human rights studies, scholars, journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists never adjusted their approach to human rights, where political violence against civilians ­ not to mention state officials, police, security and military servicemen ­ undertaken by non-state actors is ignored. Only violations of human rights committed by the state are of interest to too many scholars, journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists. As is typical of this mindset, the reaction to violence that must be ‘understood’ is always that of the non-state actors who commit political violence largely, it is claimed or assumed, in response to state human rights violations and 'terrorism.' It is never even considered that state actors may be reacting, indeed overreacting, to the fear and violence perpetrated by, for example, the jihadi terrorists in the North Caucasus. States are composed of people, who are as susceptible to fear, anger, and the thirst for revenge, whether they are associated with the state or not.

Dr. Mendelson is right in pointing to massive unemployment among young men as a cause of jihadism in the Caucasus. But an equally important cause is the involvement of outside jihadists in the North Caucasus and the jihadist ideology itself, without which there would be no violent organization or lifestyle to which to be drawn. Moreover, unemployment or even police brutality are not sufficient justifications for murdering civilian and non-civilian state officials and servicemen, no less innocent civilians, for whom the CE mujahedin are once again showing a wreckless disregard. Terrorism perpetrated by non-state actors, like the CE mujahedin, is no less a violation of human rights than is state terrorism.

An intervening factor connecting the socioeconomic and political causes of non-state terrorism and the ideological factor of jihadism is the North Caucasus’s own mountain warrior culture and its traditions of inter-clan violence and blood revenge which formed a bridge to the violence of jihadism. But journalists, lawyers, activists, and professors are loathe to acknowledge this factor because of the reigning political correctness in the West. To resolve a problem, all of its causes, not merely the ones corresponding to the fashions of the day, need to be addressed.

The U.S. will never be able to engage Russia on the North Caucasus because it has ignored and often denied Russia’s jihadi threat, thanks to the biases of many politically correct journalists, lawyers, human rights and humanitarian activists who continue to ignore the Caucasus jihadists in talking about Russia. These factors, NATO expansion, and Kosovo have completely undermined all trust Russia felt toward the West at the Cold War's end. That distrust is only compounded by the one-sided approach adopted by Western officials, professors, journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists towards Russia’s North Caucasus.

While much of what Dr Mendelson, Mr Nemtsov and others who focus on one side of the North Caucasus story write is true, what they refuse to write about is equally if not more important in driving the jihad. Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin’s declarations about bringing order to the North Caucasus are eerily reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished.” There is a long way to go before anyone accomplices the mission of destroying jihadism. But that task will never be accomplished so long as we ignore numerous factors with robust explanatory power regarding the reasons for jihadism’s persistence in places like the North Caucasus and Afghanistan.

Two factors that cannot be ignored are local cultures and Islamist/Jihadist ideologies. As politically incorrect as it is to say, one reason there is so much violence in the North Caucasus is that the Caucasus mountain peoples’ culture is a warrior one steeped in the glorification of violence in resisting Russian rule and blood revenge against families, clans, or nations that cross that culture. This tendency has made North Caucasus Muslims, whose Islam is otherwise more resistant to easy politicization and radicalization, susceptible to extremist Islamist and jihadist ideologies, particularly when it occurs in a post-Soviet milieu of ideological, cultural and political flux and confusion.

This can perhaps be best understood by looking at the rise and fall of the CE’s new rising star, Sheik Said Abu Saad Buryatskii. Buryatskii represents the new generation of young Muslims attracted to the Caucasus jihad. As his new name suggests Buryatskii is an ethnic Buryat-turned Muslim, but his real name is Aleksandr Tikhomirov. His father died at some point, and he then lived with his mother, sister, and wife in Ulan-Ude, the capitol of the Russia’s Republic of Buryatia (http://hunafa.com??p=1534). His mother reportedly is Christian, prompting Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov to claim that Buryatskii had changed religion three times (“Kadyrov nazval Saida Buryatskogo ‘ideologom terakta, nakachivayushchim smertnikov tabletkami,” Kavkaz tsentr, 30 July 2009, 11:39, www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2009/07/30/67080.shtml).

Buryatskii studied in a Buddhist datsan, but at age 15 he converted to Islam after independently reading literature. He then moved to Moscow and studied at Rasul Akram(e) before travelling to Egypt to study at Cairo’s Al-Askhar University (http://hunafa.com??p=1534). For those who would doubt the influence of the outside Islamic umma and its present revolutionary crisis on Russia’s Muslims and the Caucasus jihad, the following from Buryatskii perhaps will be instructive: “At one time when I was in Egypt at the lecture of one of the scholars, who openly said to us: ‘Do you really think that you can so simply spread the Allah’s religion without the blood of martys?!’ The disciples of Allah’s prophet spilt the blood of martys on many lands, and Islam bloomed on their blood!’” (Said Abu Saad (Buryatskii, “Vzglyad na Dzhikhad iznutri: Geroi istiny i lzhi, Chast’ 2,” Hunafa.info, 24 June 2009, 4:04, http://hunafa.info/?p=1715). Not surprisingly then, Buryatskii reportedly ran afoul of the Egypt’s secret services and thus returned to Moscow. There he worked in an unknown capacity under Moscow’s Central Mosque. He then married and returned to Buryatia before leaving for jihad in the North Caucasus some time in late 2007 or early 2008 (http://hunafa.com??p=1534).

Buryatskii has been described by one Hunafa.com discussion participant: “He busies himself with self-education all the time, and possesses a strong mind, excellent memory, and dignified character” (http://hunafa.com??p=1534). He certainly demonstrates a good knowledge of Islam, Koran and the Sunna, quoting at length from memory in his numerous videotapes. There is no doubt that he has charisma and has captured the imagination of the mujahedin and probably not a few of those young Caucasus Muslims contemplating heading ‘for the forest.’ Buryatskii’s ability to add a human touch likely helps in recruitment and contributes to his attraction among Muslim youth. A good example is his description in one article of returning to the forest where a fellow mujahed had met his end in battle with Russian security forces: “The infidels did not take (his body) despite their rules and only took his machine gun and cartridge and covered his face with a jacket. I am ahappy that among such waste with which we have to fight there are still people of honor, granted their own. But they did not mutilate his corpse, like the apostates do, and even covered him. That infidel, who did this, is a dignified person, and I call upon him to consider accepting the religion of Truth” (http://hunafa.com??p=1534).

Buryatskii’s articles and videos are usually first featured on the Hunafa.com website of the CE’s Ingushetia jamaat, now referred to by the jihadists in a mix of Vainakh and Arabic as the “G’alg’iache Vilaiyat” of the Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz). Many of the other CE-affiliated sites then pick them up. Ingushetia has been the center of the gravity of the CE jihad for two years, and it is no surprise that two of the three key figures in the movement have emerged from Ingushetia. The emir of Ingushetia (G’alg’iache) ­ Akhmed Yevloev, known in mujahed circles as Magas ­ is also the CE’s military amir. However, in a recent posting Buryatskii claimed he holds no leadership position and leads not one mujahed but rather is a rank-and-file fighter (“Said Abu Saad ­ ‘Vzglyad na Dzhikhad iznutri: Geroi istiny i lzhi’, Chast’ 2,” Hunafa.info, 24 June 2009, 4:04, http://hunafa.info/?p=1715). It remains unclear in what republic, sector or jamaat Buryatskii fights, but it appears like some combat jamaats he moves back and forth between Ingushetia and Chechnya. In the first installment of his “An Inside Look at Jihad” on the Ingush jihadists’ Hunafa.com website Buryatskii stated that he prepared the suicide belt that 39-year old former wrestling champion of Europe (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/154474), Beslan Chagiev, known as Kharun among the mujahedin, wore when he blew himself near the Chechnya MVD headquarters in central Grozny on May 15 that signaled the onset of this summer’s jihadi campaign. Indeed, the general impression one gets from this article is that it was Buryatskii who prepared Kharun not just technically but spiritually for his “shakhad” or martyrdom (http://hunafa.com??p=1534).

In his recent propaganda activity Buryatskii has concentrated on Islamic teachings pertaining to jihad and most recently on writing a series of articles on the exploits of recent CE martyr called “An Inside View of the Jihad’ (http://hunafa.com??p=1534, http://hunafa.info/?p=1715, and http://hunafa.com??p=1855). His Islamic status as a sheikh positioned him to become a leading CE ideologist and theologist, but his Buryat ethnic background perhaps would not. However, the supra-ethnic nature of the jihadism that has gripped the CE movement reduces the cache of nativism. Indeed, there are many foreigners in the CE leadership, such as the Jordanian Muhannad, who is deputy military amir.

Buryatskii’s role has been noticed by Russian intelligence. In a recent broadcast on Chechen republic television an intelligence officer listed Buryatskii alongside Umarov in mentioning the jihadists who were deluding the Caucasus’s young Muslims to head to the forest for jihad (“Siloviki v Chechne obyavili odnogo iz komandirov boevikov svoim agentom,” 13 August 2009, 10:40, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/157857).
Unfortunately, Buryatskii was not noticed in time. On August 26 a video appeared on the Ingush jihadis’ website of Buryatskii, identified now as Sheikh Sais Abu Saad al-Buryati, sitting in a truck filled with explosives describing his plans to deliver a “gift” to Ingush president Yevkurov and other Ingush infidels and apostates. The video closes with al-Buryati driving down the street and exploding it at the entrance to Nazran’s MVD headquarters ­ the August 17 attack that killed 25 and wounded anywhere from 138 to 262, including 11 children (Podryv logovo kafirov i murtadov ‘GOVD g.Nazran. Operatsiyu provyol sheikh-shakhid Said abu Saad,” Hunafa.com, 26 August 2009, 11:11, http://hunafa.com/?p=1938).

Now, Buryatskii was not a native of the North Caucasus. Before he joined the jihad he experienced nothing of the humiliation caused there by authoritarianism and poverty in the region. His Islamist education abroad brought him to the jihad. Ideology is important, and Islamism is an attractive ideology to many more than we care to admit. We can continue to ignore the effect of jihadism on the North Caucasus and the rest of the Muslim world but only to our peril and at the expense of constructing a viable policy towards Russia and the Caucasus.

The CE’s revival as vital jihadi force suggests that the successes in Russian counter-insurgency policy in 2005-2006 need to be revived. Moscow must expand investment and stamp out corruption throughout the North Caucasus as it began to do in Chechnya then. Essential to this task is a complete overhaul of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which is corrupt, criminalized, and incompetent. Moscow needs to either build a new MVD from scratch or establish a competent organ to vet each MVD department in the country and organize a patriotic recruiting campaign that raises the standards and status of police officials and regular officers. It must also renew the amnesty policy that was so successful in 2006, and must protect better Muslims’ rights across the federation, but especially in its Muslim regions where they are most often violated and where such violations have the most dangerous consequence for facilitating jihadi recruitment.

At the same time, it is becoming highly doubtful whether Russia can deal with this problem on its own. An international effort to help Russia develop the North Caucasus economy, society and culture is also needed. Using the Afghan assistance conferences as a model, the OSCE auspices could be used to invite contributions or specific investment projects from Islamic countries friendly both to Russia and to the West.

Unfortunately, these are long-term tasks that will not be resolved any time soon, no matter how successful Russian or international development assistance becomes. Therefore, Moscow must remain aggressive but become more precise in fighting the jihadi insurgents. The Russians must eliminate or capture the CE’s top leaders as it did in 2005-2006 when it killed in fairly rapid succession a whole host of top terrorist, including Aslan Maskhadov, Shamil Basaev and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev.

Without development and reform, there will be a steady stream of young men and women taking their leave for jihad in the forests and mountains of the North Caucasus. Under this scenario the best outcome is that Russians and locals will be killed by mujahedin for decades into the future. A worse outcome is the separation of one or more North Caucasus regions from the Russian Federation and the possible establishment of real Caucasus Emirate on Russia’s border and in the heart of the increasingly strategically vital Caucasus region.

Finally, without recognition of the entire picture in the North Caucasus and of jihadism in particular, Western and Russian liberals will not be listened to in Moscow and should be given only half an ear in the West.

Dr. Gordon M. Hahn ­ Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View ­ Russia Media Watch; Senior Researcher, Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program and Visiting Assistant Professor, Graduate School of International Policy Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California; and Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group. Dr Hahn is author of two well-received books, Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007) and Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), and numerous articles on Russian and Eurasian politics.

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