|The Caucasus Emirate
On Friday, April 9, a woman armed with a pistol and with explosives strapped to her body approached a group of police officers in the northern Caucasus village of Ekazhevo, in the southern republic of Ingushetia, preparing to launch an operation to kill or capture militants in the area. The woman shot and wounded one of the men, at which point the surrounding officers drew their weapons and fired on the female shooter. As the woman fell to the ground after being shot, the suicide vest she was wearing detonated.
The wounded man was the head of the local department of the Interior Ministry. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died from his wounds as the only casualty in this attack. Incidents like the one last Friday are regular occurrences in Russia’s southern most republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia. These five republics are home to fundamentalist separatist insurgencies which carry out regular attacks against Security forces and political officials through the use of suicide bombers, Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices and targeted assassinations and armed assault. However, we have noted a change in the operational tempo of militants in the region. So far this year, militants have carried out 23 attacks killing 34 people –a notable increase over the 8 attacks killing 17 people we saw in the region last year over the same time span. They also have once again returned to attacking the far enemy in Moscow and not just the near enemy in the Caucasus.
History of Attacks
Over the past year, in addition to the weekly attacks we expect to see in the region, a group calling itself the Caucasus Emirate has claimed five significant attacks that have gone after larger targets and even ventured outside of the northern Caucasus region. The first of these attacks was the suicide VBIED attack that seriously wounded Ingushetia’s president, <Yunus-Bek Yekurov http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090629_ingushetia_lessons_learned_assassination_attempt> and killed several members of his protective detail in June 2009 as he was traveling along a predictable route in a motorcade from his residence to his office. Then in August, militants claimed responsibility for an explosion at the Siberian <Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric dam http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090821_russia_chechen_economic_war_threat?fn=7115532349> in August 2009 – an explosion that flooded the engine room, disabling turbines, wrecking equipment and killing 74 people. However the structure of the dam was not affected. In November, 2009 the group claimed responsibility for assassinating an Orthodox priest in Moscow and detonating a bomb that targeted the <high speed train called the Nevsky express http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20091128_russia_rail_attack_train> that runs between Moscow and St. Petersburg that killed 27 people. Their most recent attack outside of the Caucasus also targeted transportation in Moscow: in March, 2010, two female suicide bombers <detonated IEDs in Moscow’s underground rail system http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100329_russia_telltale_signs_caucasus_militants_involvement_attacks> during morning rush hour, killing 38 people.
The group’s claim of responsibility for the hydroelectric dam was, by all accounts, a phony one. Here at STRATFOR, we were not convinced at all that the high level of damage that we saw in images of the incident could be brought about by a very large VBIED, much less a single anti-tank mine (which is what the Caucasus Emirate claimed they used in the attack). STRATFOR sources in Russia later confirmed that the dam failed from age and neglect and not from an attack, confirming our original assessment. While the Caucasus Emirate had emerged on our radar as early as summer 2009, we were dubious of their true capabilities given this apparent false claim. However, while the claim of responsibility for the dam attack was bogus, STRATFOR sources in Russia tell us that the group was indeed responsible for the other attacks outlined above.
While we were initially skeptical about CE, the fact that they have followed up with legitimately claimed attacks and Russian sources tell us they are responsible mean that it is worth the time and effort to seriously examine the group and its leadership.
Russian security operations in the region, with the assistance of pro-Moscow regional leaders such as Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov and Ingush President Yunus-bek Yevkurov, are constantly putting pressure on militant networks in the region. Raids on militant hide-outs occur weekly, and especially after major attacks (such as the assassination attempt against Yevkurov or the Moscow Metro bombings) security forces typically respond with fierce raids on militant positions that lead to arrests or killings of militant leaders. Chechen militant leaders such as <Shamil Basaev http://www.stratfor.com/russia_win_chechnya_not_victory > (who claimed responsibility for the attack that killed pro-Russian Chechen president, <Akhmad Kadyrov http://www.stratfor.com/case_study_kadyrov_assassination> and the <Beslan school siege http://www.stratfor.com/beslan_peril_ignoring_history> –both in 2004) was killed by Russian forces in 2006. Before Basaev, <Ibn Al-Khattab http://www.stratfor.com/russias_systematic_hunt_chechen_commanders > (who was widely suspected of being responsible for the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia) was killed in a 2002 FSB assassination. Many other militant commanders like Basaev and Khattab responsible for large-scale terror attacks in Russia have fallen in recent years. At the same time, these deaths and disruptions may have also served to steer some of the remnants of other militant groups in the Caucasus to come under the Caucasus Emirate umbrella.
It is impressive that Caucasus Emirates have continued operations, upped their operational tempo – all the while continuing to make public announcements claiming responsibility for attacks and criticizing the Russian state - in the face of heavy Russian and local counter-terrorism operations.
Doku Umarov: A charismatic (and resilient) leader
The Cacasus Emirate was created and is led by Doku Umarov, a seasoned veteran of both the <first and second Chechen wars http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/20090416_geopolitical_diary_russia_announces_mission_complete > in which he was in charge of his own battalion. By 2006, <Umarov became the self-proclaimed president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria http://www.stratfor.com/chechnya_surrender_questionable_importance?fn=2414442656, an unrecognized secessionist government of Chechnya. He has been declared dead at least six times by fellow militants as well as Chechen and Russian authorities, the most recent being in June 2009. Yet he continues to appear in videos claiming attacks against Russian targets – the most recent one being the March 29, 2010 dated video in which he claimed responsibility for the Moscow Metro attacks.
In October 2007, Umarov expanded his following by declaring the formation of the Caucasus Emirate as successor to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and appointing himself the Emir (or leader). In his statement marking the formation of the Caucasus Emirate, Umarov rejected the laws and borders of the Russian state and called for the Caucasus region to recognize the new emirate as the rightful power and adopt Sharia law. The new emirate expanded far beyond his original mandate of Chechnya onto Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and other, predominantly Muslim areas further to the north. He adopted the classical understanding of “emirate” and refused to conform to the current boundaries of nation-states. Umarov also clearly indicated that this would not be done peacefully. He called for the Islamic entity to be created by forcefully driving out Russian troops. The policy of forcefully removing one political entity in order to establish an Islamic emirate essentially makes the Caucasus Emirate a jihadist group.
Later, in April 2009, Umarov released another statement in which he justified attacks against Russian civilians (civilians in the Caucasus were mostly off-limits by virtually all organized militant groups) and called for more attacks to target Russian territory outside of the Caucasus. We saw this policy start to take shape with the November, 2009 assassination of Daniil Sysoev, an Orthodox priest murdered at his home in Moscow for allegedly “defaming Islam” and continue with the train bombing later than month and the Moscow Metro bombing in March, 2010.
Umarov has made it clear that he is the leader of the Caucasus Emirate and, given the groups’ effectiveness of attacks on Russian soil outside of the Caucasus, Russian authorities are rightfully concerned about the group. But obviously there is more there than just Umarov.
A Confederacy of Militant Groups
The Caucasus Emirate appears to be an umbrella group for many more regional militant groups that spawned from the http://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical_diary/20090416_geopolitical_diary_russia_announces_mission_complete >(1999-2009). Myriad groups formed under militant commanders, waged attacks (sometimes coordinated with others, sometimes not) against Russian troops and saw their leaders die and get replaced over and over again. Some groups disappeared all together, some groups opted for political reconciliation and gave up their militant tactics, indeed some militants like the <Kadyrovs became the current government http://www.stratfor.com/chechnya_strongman_formally_takes_charge>. All in all, the larger, organized islamists seen in the first and second Chechen wars has been broken and weak with no real leadership but it appears as if those few groups that managed to survive (albeit leaderless and in tatters) are being consolidated under Umarov’s Caucasus Emirate.
For example, the militant group Riyadus Salihin, founded by a fellow, well known veteran of the Chechen wars, Shamil Basaev appears to have been folded into the Caucasus Emirate. Umarov himself stated that this had occurred in a statement issued in April 2009. Basaev himself was killed in 2006, while he was serving as vice president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria under Umarov, making Riyadus Salihin one of the leaderless yet still existing groups in the latter days of the second Chechen war. This group brought Basayev together with a Russian military deserter, Pavel Kosolapov, an ethnic Russian soldier who switched sides during the second Chechen war and converted to Islam. Kosolapov is suspected to be an expert bomb-maker and is suspected for being the bomb maker for the November 2009 Moscow-St. Petersburg train attack (an attack that tracked closely to a <November 2007 http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/russia_putins_pre_election_security_strategy> attack that took place in the same location, used the same amount and type of explosive material) and the March, 2010 Moscow Metro attack.
The advantage of having an operative such as Kosolapov working for the Caucasus Emirate cannot be understated. Not only does he apparently have excellent bomb making tradecraft, he also served in the Russian military, which means he has deep insight into how the Caucasus Emirate’s enemy operates. The fact that Kosolapov is an ethnic Russian also means that the Caucasus Emirate has an operator who is able to more aptly navigate centers such as Moscow or St. Petersburg, unlike some of his Caucasian colleagues. While Kosolapov is being sought after by virtually every law enforcement agency in Russia, altering his appearance may help him to evade authorities.
In addition to inheriting Kosolapov from Riyadus Salihin, the Caucasus Emirate also appears to have accumulated the Dagestani militant group, Shariat Jamaat, one of the oldest Islamist militant groups fighting in Dagestan. In 2007, a spokesman for the group told a Radio Free Europe interviewer that the group’s fighters had pledged allegiance to Doku Umarov and the Caucasus Emirate. Violent attacks have continued apace, with the <last attack in Dagestan happening as recently as March 31 http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100331_russia_sophisticated_attack_dagestan>, a complex operation that used a follow-on suicide attacker to ensure the death of authorities responding to the initial blast. In all, 9 police officers were killed in the attack just two days after the Metro attacks in Moscow. The March 31 attack was only the second instance of a suicide VBIED being used in Dagestan, the first occurring in January, 2010. This tactic is fairly common in surrounding regions, but was never before seen in Dagestan. The timing of the attack so close to the Moscow metro bombing and the emergence of the use of VBIEDs in Dagestan open the possibility that the proliferation of this tactic to Dagestan may be linked to its association with the Caucasus Emirate.
In the Crosshairs
The Caucasus Emirate appears to have managed to centralize (or at least take credit for) the efforts of previously disparate militant groups throughout the Caucasus. Russia announced that they would <start withdrawing troops from Chechnya in April 2009 http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090327_russia_ramifications_chechen_wars_end >; even though 20,000 troops are still in the region, the start of withdrawal has led to a resurgence in local militant activity. However, the fact that the Caucasus Emirate has demonstrated an ability to strike at Russia’s heartland is key and will not be tolerated. STRATFOR sources indicate that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was outraged by the Moscow attacks, which indicates that people will be held accountable for the lapse in security in Moscow and, by extension, the Caucasus.
Umarov’s founding statement for the Caucasus Emirate marked a shift from many of the previous leaders and groups in the Caucasus, which were more nationalistic than jihadist. The trend of the Caucasus Emirate becoming more jihadist in their outlook. This increases the level of danger they pose, but also will distance them from the general population which is more moderate and Sufi as far at their Islam is concerned. This should help the Russians in their efforts to isolate and neutralize members of the group.
Key individuals of the group such as Doku Umarov and Pavel Kosolapov are operating in a very hostile environment and can name many of their predecessors who met their end fighting the Russians. Both have proven resilient in alluding death so far, but having prodded Moscow so provocatively as they did with the Moscow metro bombings, their time – and by extension, the umbrella organization - is certainly limited.