#25 - JRL 2009-220 - JRL Home
Date: Mon, 30 Nov 2009
From: GORDON HAHN <gordon-hahn@sbcglobal.net>

Here is the third issue of the Islam, Islamism and Politics in Eurasia Report - Gordon M. Hahn, "The Caucasus Emirate's Revival of Suicide Bombing and Mass Terrorism," IIPER, Vol. 1, No. 3, 20 November 2009. Again these reports will be available in December on the MonTREP website which is currently under reconstruction and may be found at MIIS, www.miis.edu.

Again, anyone interested in the annotated version can contact me at gordon.hahn@miis.edu.


Vol. 1, No. 3
30 November 2009
The Caucasus Emirate’s Return to Suicide Bombing and Mass Terrorism
By Gordon M. Hahn

Dr. Hahn is author of the well-received books Russia's Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007) and Russia's Revolution From Above, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002) and numerous articles in academic journals and other English and Russian language media. He has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. Dr. Hahn also has been a fellow at the Kennan Institute and the Hoover Institution.

Summer 2009 in the North Caucasus was no time for relaxing in the sun. Rather, it was bloody time, one driven the Caucasus Emirate’s jihadi violence. As noted in the previous IIPER, 2009 has seen the revival of the Caucasus jihad’s fortunes to a level unprecedented since 2004-2005. As of November 1st the number of attacks and casualties caused by the jihadists had far surpassed 2008’s levels. In all of of 2008 there were 373 attacks jihadi attacks and violent incidents in Russia, 371 of them in the North Caucasus. Ingushetia suffered from 138 jihadi attacks compared with 128 in Chechnya, 62 in Dagestan, 28 in Kabardino-Balkaria, 5 in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and 9 in North Ossetia. By contrast, in the first ten months of this year, there have been 457 jihadi attacks and jihad-related violent incidents, the overwhelming majority of which fall into the former category. This is already a 22.5 percent increase over the same figure for all of 2008. Of these 457 attacks, 161 occurred in Ingushetia, 149 in Chechnya, 125 in Dagestan, 18 in Kabardino-Balkaria, and 1 in North Ossetia. Similarly, 2008's terrorist incidents produced 938 casualties, killing 412 and wounding 435 Russian federal and local Caucasus civilian and law enforcement officials and servicemen and killing 36 and wounding 55 civilians. By contrast, violent jihadi incidents in 2009 produced 1,140 casualties, killing 379 (350 civilian officials and siloviki personnel and 29 civilians) and wounding 761 (605 civilian officials and siloviki personnel and 156 civilians). This constitutes a 21.8 percent increase in the number of casualties in the first ten months of 2009 as compared to all of 2008. On the jihadists’ side, in 2008 the Caucasus mujahedin saw at least 129 of their ranks killed, 13 wounded, and 76 captured (including a very few who surrendered). This would mean the CE lost at least 218 fighters in 2008.[1] In 2009, Russian and local law enforcement have killed at least 215 mujahedin, wounded at least 5, and captured at least 105.

Ingushetia again has felt the brunt of the jihad and on a higher scale than ever. It has seen approximately 176 killed siloviki and 295 wounded and 10 civilians killed and 137 wounded, with the caveat that reports have not provided separate numbers for servicemen and civilians from among the 260 wounded in the August 17th a suicide bombing attack on the MVD building in Nazran. Thus, in the first ten months, Ingushetia saw 613 casualties or 2 per day.

The bulk of these attacks and casualties occurred in the peak of the four-month jihadi ‘hunting’ season from May 1st to September 1st, when the insurgents stream down from the hills to terrorize state officials, law enforcement, and increasingly civilians alike. The past summer saw 311 attacks/incidents that killed 242 (223 civilian officials and siloviki personnel and 19 civilians) and wounded 511 (approximately two-thirds of wounded were civilian officials and siloviki personnel). That is, more than two-thirds of the violent incidents and nearly two-thirds of the casualties in the first ten months of this year occurred in the four-month summer period. Most of the summer offensive’s damage was the result of an aggressive suicide bombing campaign.

The CE’s Return to Suicide Bombing

The CE’s top command approved the return to suicide bombing at its annual spring Majlisul Shura that sets out the CE’s operational plan for the year’s peak of the insurgency campaign on April 25th in Shatoi, Chechnya. In his post-Shura video, CE amir Doka Abu Usman Umarov announced that 2009 would be a year of “offensive.”[2] In order to ensure the offensive’s success, the Shura had agreed and Umarov had decreed the restoration of the notorious “‘Riyadus Salikhin’, Jamaat of our dear brother Shamil (Basaev), who, Allah willing, was martyred.” The RS specialized in preparing suicide martyrs and was organized by Basaev and Al Qaeda operative Khattab. Many of these suicide bombers were involved in the October 2002 Dubrovka theatre suicide hostage-taking and massacre, a series of suicide bombings throughout 2003 in Moscow and elswhere, and the September 2004 Beslan school suicide hostage-taking and massacre.

Thus, RS’s return signaled a return to suicide bombings targeting large gatherings or population centers targeting or at least disregarding the safety of civilians. Indeed, Umarov announced that the RS had been active for five months already; it carried out a recent attack on the base of Chechnya’s ‘Yug’ Battallaion and, more importantly the 6 November 2008 suicide bombing in Vladikavkaz, North ossetia that killed 14 and wounded 43 civilians. Russian security forces characterized the Vladikavkaz attack as a shakhidka suicide-bombing, but no one from the Caucasus Emirate proper claimed responsibility. A group calling itself ‘Riyadus-Salakhin’, thought defunct after Basaev’s death in July 2006, claimed responsibility for the Vladikavkaz attack on November 15.[3] Russia’s Main Military Intelligence or GRU, according to the biweekly newspaper Trud, claimed that a “Caucasus terrorist school” (Kavkazskaya shkola diversantov), presumably referring to RS, had trained and ‘graduated’ 30 suicide bombers in June 2009.[4] Mujahedin, according to this source, were buying female suicide bombers from their families for a one-time $2,000-3,000 payment each. If true, this could signal a revival of the CE’s financial fortunes as well. The presumably RS-run ‘school’ operates ‘branches’ based in private homes or safe houses across the North Caucasus.[5]

Umarov rationalized the return to suicide bombings and attacks targeting civilians by way of moral and legalistic arguments in his post-Shura statement:

Therefore these operations, insha'Allah, will be carried out all over the territory of Russia, in the territory of Caucasus. Why? Because, if it is said in the Qur'an "fight against them in the same manner, as they fight against you", and we see from a small episode, that in the territory of Caucasus, even if a person, out of humanitarian motives, out of compassion, gives a piece of bread to a Muslim, if he brings a loaf of bread, then this person is eliminated. Even if a doctor, who took a Hippocratic Oath, if he bandages a Mujahid, then this person is eliminated forever, he disappears.

And if by those laws which we did not write, by the laws which were written by Taghut for itself, by kufr (infidel) for themselves, by those laws which we did not agree with and didn't sign, if we are forbidden to kill those citizens, who are so called peaceful citizens, who provide for the army, for the FSB by their taxes, by their silence, who support that army by their approving silence, if those people are considered civilians, then I don't know, by what criteria it is judged.

Therefore, insha'Allah, it is our great success that we have restored this Jamaat, and that this Jamaat will carry out operations in the territory of Russia, and it will be our retaliatory attacks for those deeds which are committed in Caucasus. Praise be to Allah, I appreciate Allah's help, Allah has granted us a possibility to restore this Jamaat, to restore our forces, to restore the communication and control.

… (T)his year will be our offensive year, insha'Allah, this year will be also our offensive year all over the territory of Russia. Why? Because I think that those people who are living today in the territory of Russia, they are also responsible for their soldiers, for their leadership, for those atrocities, for that outrage, that they commit, and for those wars that they wage today against Islam.[6]

This policy is a sharp departure from the declared policy during Umarov’s first years as amir of the ChRI, then the CE and from that of his predecessors, who routinely renounced terrorism against civilians, even while they encouraged or tolerated its practice. The one exception is ChRI amir/president Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, who seemed to successfully put a stop to such tactics during his brief reign from March 2005 to June 2006.[7]

Perhaps for security reasons, Umarov did not name the new amir of the revived ‘Riyadus Salikhin’ (RS), but he did note that a “great number of mujahedin” were joining its ranks.[8] In early July the amir of Chechnya’s Shali Sector and naib of Chechnya’s southwestern sector, Muslim Gakaev, and ethnic Chechen from Turkey, announced he had 20 suicide bombers being deployed for attacks.[9] This suggested that Gakaev might be the RS’s amir. However, as noted in the first installment of Islam and Islamism in Eurasia Report, Sheikh Said Abu Saad Buryatskii is also a candidate for that position.[10]

The Suicide Bombing Campaign

The abovementioned mid-April lull in jihadi operations came to an abrupt end with the suicide first bombing one month to the day after Moscow’s April 16th termination of the KTO in Chechnya. This was the first such attack since a 2008 in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia. On May 16th a first suicide attacker, Beslan Chagiev, blew himself up in the central market in Chechnya’s capitol, Grozny, killing four MVD militia and wounding five civilians.[11] In June a second exploded his car bomb in Ingushetia as the car of the republic’s president Yunus-bek Yevkurov passed by, seriously wounding Yevkurov and killing himself and two of his relatives. Yevkurov had to be flown to Moscow for emergency care for serious wounds to his head, limbs, rib cage, and liver. He would not return to active duty for two months. On July 26th a third suicide bomber, Rustam Mukhadiev, attempted to enter Grozny’s central theatre where President Ramazan Kadyrov was scheduled to attend a performance. Guards stopped the terrorist from entering whereupon he retreated from the entrance and detonated his weapon killing four policemen, including two high-ranking police officials, two construction workers, and several civilians. Kadyrov blamed the CE for the attack, in particular its new rising star, Sheikh Said Abu Saad Buryatskii, accusing him of drugging suicide bombers in order to get them to commit shakhad or martyrdom.[12]

After a three-week lull, the suicide martyrs returned with a vengeance when on August 17th the fourth of the summer campaign detonated a truck bomb completely destroying the GOVD headquarters building in downtown Nazran, killing himself and 24 MVD servicemen and wounding aproximately 260 people including 11 children, according to the authorities.[13] According to Buryatskii, who organized the attack, at least 80 MVD militia were killed.[14] The Nazran attack produced over a third of the casualties inflicted by the mujahedin suring the summer offensive and was the largest terrorist attack in Russia since the October 13th, 2005 raid by over 200 mujahedin on Kabardino-Balkaria’s capitol that ended in the deaths of tens of servicemen and nearly a hundred mujahedin. Four days later, the summer’s fifth and sixth suicide bombers, Ilyas Batalov and Shamil Saltakhanov, deployed on bicycles reportedly along with several others scattered around Grozny, killed themselves and four policemen and wounded three civilians. On August 25th a seventh, Magomed Shakhidov, killed himself, four MVD militia and one female civilian and wounded another civilian in the village of Mesker-yurt in Shali. The suicide martyr was a previously convicted mujahed, who had been released from prison for unreported reasons.[15] On August 28th the eighth and ninth suicide bombers, reportedly from Hussein Gakaev’s combat jamaat, detonated their vests when surrounded by MVD militia in Grozny near the city administration’s building killing themselves and wounding three militiamen and three civilians.[16]

On September 1, the anniversary of the mujahedin’s 2004 Beslan school hostage-taking the suicide bombing campaign extended into the Russian autumn and for the first time to Dagestan. The campaign’s tenth suicide bomber detonated himself when traffic policemen approached him in the republic’s capitol of Makhachkala, killing himself and one murtad (apostate) working for the customs office, eight MVD militiamen, and 3 medical workers.[17] The next day, the ostensible eleventh suicide martyr appeared to have hit Dagestan for the second time in the campaign, when the jihadi site Kavkaz tsentr reported an attack killing and wounding a total of eleven people.[18] However, Dagestan authorities later denied there was such an attack, and neither they nor the jihadists later reported differently.[19] A sure eleventh along with the twelfth and thirteenth suicide bombers were allegedly interdicted and arrested on September 9th; two in Moscow and one female in Chechnya. They were said to be preparing attacks in Moscow.[20] If true, this would mark an important return to the strategy used in 2002-2004 of hitting high profile targets in Moscow. The last such attack known to have carried out by the Caucasus mujahed was in February 2004 when a suicide martyr detonated a bomb on the Moscow subway, killing and wounding tens of passengers.

On September 11th suicide martyrdom returned to Ingushetia when the campaign’s fourteenth detonated an explosive device killing himself, two MVD militiamen and one civilian and wounding two militia and one civilian.[21] The same day the CE-affiliated site Kavkaz tsentr claimed that the authorities had identified two kidnap victims as suicide martyrs, but there was no follow-up in the jihadi or non-jihadi media.[22] On the next day suicide bombers rotated to Dagestan and Chechnya. The fifteenth suicide bomber, 23-year old Aslambek Dzhabrailov, detonated his bomb at a MVD police post located just a few meters from high school No. 1 in Grozny. Three MVD militia were killed and several wounded including schoolchildren.[23] On the same day, the FSB in Dagestan reported that the sixteenth overall, and the second female suicide martyr deployed during the campaign was interdicted before she could detonate her belt.[24] On September 16th the seventeenth suicide martyr, the third female of the campaign, detonated her suicide vest in Grozny. Russian and local authorities provided contradictory casualty figures including two MVD militia killed or wounded and four civilians, and the mujahedin reported five apostates killed and six civilians wounded.[25]

On October 1st the eighteenth suicide martyr deployed in the village of Starye Atagi, Chechnya but was also intercepted before he could detonate in or near the MVD building as planned. As a result there were no other casualties from this attack besides the shakid himself, 21-year old Vakha Malsagov.[26] The nineteenth suicide bomber was interdicted on October 21st but not before he was able to detonate his cargo, killing himself, wounding four MVD militia men and wounding one civilian.[27] According to Russian security, the bomber was seventeen year-old Zaurbek Khashumov, who had been regarded as missing by relatives since failing to return home two months prior to this attack.[28] Missing persons are often assumed to have been abducted or murdered by Russian or local siloviki, but on occasion, as with this one, they turn up as shakhids or mujahedin. On October 22nd two female suiced bombers, the twentieth and twenty-first of the campaign, killed themselves by detonating grenades when security forces attempted to detain them in an apartment in Grozny, bringing the number of suicide bombers detonated, killed or detained to twenty-one and the number of shakhidkas to four. The two women allegedly were part of the RS ‘school’ and were producing suicide belts. Detonators, communications equipment, and Islamist literature were found on the premises. On November 2nd, according to Russian sources, the twenty-second suicide bomber and potential fifth shakhidka, was detained when security forces killed amir of the Khasavyurt jamaat Arslan Egizbayev and an accomplice in a special operation on November 2nd in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, bringing the total to twenty-two detonated, killed or detained suicide bombers, including 5 females. The shakhida, twenty year-old Ashuar Magomedova was training to commit a major suicide attack in Dagestan, according to Dagestani authorities and attempted to detonate a grenade and kill herself when she was captured.[29]

The return to suicide bombers is a sign of the CE’s growing capacity and radicalization, though the results of 2009 suicide bombing campaign itself were only modestly impressive compared with other fronts in the global jihad such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Only the August 17th attack on the Nazran MVD headquarters attained the global jihad’s ‘higher’ standards. Four suicide bombers were interdicted before they could deploy or detonate. Of 18 suicide martyrs who succeeded in detonating their bombs in public, 15 inflicted casualties, amounting to at least 57 civilian, police, military, intelligence servicemen and civilian officials killed, some 140 wounded, 10 civilians killed and some 150 wounded. Uncertainty over the figures for total wounded is due to the reporting on the August 17th attack on the Nazran MVD, which has not differentiated between the civilian and non-civilian among the approximately 260 wounded. Eleven of the executed attacks occurred in Chechnya, three in Ingushetia, and one in Dagestan. A single attack - Buryatskii’s attack on the MVD headquarters in Nazran, Ingushetia - caused the bulk of the casualties. Only one of the shakhidkas was a successful martyr; two others were detained, and two detonated themselves to prevent capture. The abovementioned GRU source and Trud produced somewhat different numbers: 23 suicide bombers, including 7 females, exploded themselves or were killed or detained during special operations in June-November 2009.[30] These different figures come from including the two attacks above that were falsely or not fully reported by Russian sources but claimed by jihadi sources.

Trud’s GRU source also claimed the RS ‘school’ was continuing to buy female suicide bombers for $3,000 each and had recruited 30 new ‘students’ in September. Fifteen of them were currently ‘enrolled,’ and half of these were said to be between the ages of 18 and 22.[31] The GRU source’s assertion that mujahedin buy suicide bombers is probably nothing but siloviki propaganda. In Chechnya, where the brunt of the suicide campaign was felt, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has tolerated if not encouraged revenge on the part of local and Russian siloviki against the families of suicide bombers as well as other mujahedin, suggesting the absurdity of families selling their children to become suicide bombers. For example, the home of the family of Rustam Mukhadiev, the suicide shakhid who attempted to assassinate Kadyrov near Grozny’s concert hall on July 26th, was burned down. After the August 21 attack in Grozny Chechgen television showed Kadyrov visiting the site of the attack, and a voice in his entourage could be heard over the air telling him that since the attack killed four MVY militiamen they had to find the attacker’s relatives and “punish them.”[32]

Tensions are mounting in the North Caucasus, and winter could not come too soon. However, Buryatskii, the CE and the RS are most certainly continuing to recruit suicide bombers, and the suicide-bombing campaign could stagger through winter 2009-10.

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