10 Apr 2014

Brief Summary of the Caucasus Emirate

This summary was originally written for the course Understanding Terrorism and the Terrorist Threat organized by the START Center of the University of Maryland, but I decided to post it here because it is an informative material about the Caucasus Emirate.

History, location and main goals

The Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz), created in 2007 by its present leader Doku Umarov, is the successor of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya. It also served as an umbrella organization for various North Caucasian terrorist groups, including the Yarmuk (Kabardino-Balkaria) Jamaat, Shariat (Dagestan) Jamaat, and Ingush Jamaat, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR), and the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade (IIPB), as well as the martyr brigade, Riyadus-Salikhin, known for suicide bombing. These all are now incorporated into the CE. [Stanford]
Its leader Doku Umarov is rather a field commander than an idealogue [Andrew C. Kuchins, Matthew Malarkey, Sergei Markedonov, The North Caucasus: Russia’s Volatile Frontier, Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 2011, cited by Stanford]

The CE is located in the North Caucasus. „Its nodes, the so-called vilayats (Arabic for governate or province), are based, for the most part, along the lines of the North Caucasus republics”. [G.H. Hahn, 14] The Emirate has also cells is European countries and the Near East. [UN]

It is a radical Islamist, jihadist organization, part of the global jihadi movement, it has strong ties with organizations such as the Al Qaeda, Taliban and the Islamic Jihad.  [http://www.miis.edu/academics/faculty/ghahn/report]

The predecessor of the CE, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (a self-proclaimed state) was an ethno-nationalistic organization, the main goal of which was to gain independence from Russia. It has transformed into a jihadist organization. Although ethno-nationalism remains an important element of the CE ideology [G.H. Hahn, 15], it describes its main goal as to not only gain independence from Russia, but to liberate Muslims, establish a sovereign Islamist state [G.H. Hahn, 2], based on sharia law” [G.H. Hahn, 7, 16] and even a global Jihadi caliphate [G.H. Hahn, 19]. 

Statistics of attacks

According to the Global Terrorism Database of the START Center of the University of Maryland, the group is perpetrating terrorist attacks since 2007, when it was established. The highest number of attacks (11) was in 2008, since then we can see a sharp decline in the number of incidents. There is a total 31 attacks attributed to CE.

All of their attacks were perpetrated in the Russian Federation, most of them in the North Caucasus (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkariya, North Ossetia) and 5 of them in Moscow or near Moscow.

The targets of the attacks vary, government (28%) and police (25%) are targeted most frequently, but there were also quite a few attacks against soft targets including private citizens and property (15%) and transportation, airports and utilities (18%). Only 2 attacks were committed against business targets and religious figures and institutions (6% respectively). 

The biggest part of the attacks (45%) were bombings/explosions, but armed assault is also a common attack type of the CE (37%). Sabotage (facilty/infrastructure attacks) represent 8.5% of the incidents, while there were only 2 assasinations (5.7%) and only one hostage taking incident (2.8%).

Most of the attacks (48%) were committed using explosives/bombs/dynamite. Firearms also make up a significant part (42%), while only 3 attacks (9%) were perpetrated using incendiary devices.

The total number of fatalities is 140, the total number of injuries is 441. It means that there were on average 4.51 fatalities and 14.22 injuries per attack. While there were a few attacks that involved a significant number of casualties (these were attacks outside the North Caucasus, mainly in Moscow and on transportation targets) and there were several attacks with no casualties. 

Individual radicalization

Fight and blood revenge has a long tradition in Caucasian culture. It is enough to think about the fight of Caucasians with the Russian Empire in 19th century, led by Imam Shamil. There is also a stereotype that Caucasians have a very strong feeling of justice especially compared with Russians who tend to escape to alcoholism. As Dagestani juornalist Zaur Gaziyev notes: „Our culture is different. If we are slighted or wronged we don’t go and get drunk on vodka. We pick up a gun and go out to murder the one who wronged us” (Tom Parfitt. „The Deadliest Village in Russia – A Journey Through Russia’s Killing Zone, Part 8, ForeignPolicy.com, April 1, 2011, The Deadliest Village in Russia)”.

The root causes of the insurgency in the Caucasus can be traced in the religious and ethnonational revival after the fall of the Soviet Union, separatist tendencies, unresolved territorial conflicts, ethnic clashes and the region’s weak integration into Russia. [ICC 1] The latter means, among others low living standards and unemployment. Another issue is corruption which also makes young people disillusioned and dissatisfied with the Russian state. The fighters reject the Russian world considered illegitimate, unfair and unreformable and aim to replace it with an Islamist state which – they think – would be more just. [G. H. Hahn 21, ICC 18]

The ideological vacuum after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissatisfaction because of the economic situation and corrupt, disfunctional government created a cognitive opening and subsequently, in the case of certain individuals it was filled by Islamist ideology.  As circumstances has not chaged significantly, this process continues.

The harsh counterterrorism measures, which are perceived as systematic violence also contribute to the radicalization of certain groups. These include the ban of wahhabbism in some republics, checking believers, shaving Salafis’ beards. These human right violations and humilitations can clearly induce radicalisation, according to the model of Arie Kruglanski. Another factor is, that „Dagestani authorities made no distinction between moderate and radical, violence-oriented Salafis, which contributed to radicalisation of the entire community” [ICC 9].

"(...) what has driven many to join the insurgency was a "trigger exprience" - be it police harrasment, abuse and intimidation or a personal experience of violence at the hands of the security services. This event, or series of events, is thought to play the primary motivating cause behind one's decision to join the insurgency. All the same, it is also important to note that different factors play different roles in the different republics. For example, religious intolerance at the hands of the security services is more likely to driv a young man to flee to the forest of Dagestan, whereas lack of political expression or ethno-nationalist grievances, which would be less salient in Dagestan, might play a more prominent role in Ingushetia or Kabardino-Balkaria." (Andrew C. Kuchins, Matthew Malarkey, Sergei Markedonow, The North Caucasus: Russia's Volatile Frontier, CSIS, March 2011 http://csis.org/files/publication/110321_Kuchins_NorthCaucasus_WEB.pdf)

Main goals of the Caucasus Emirate:

  • to gain independence from Russia and liberate all Muslims [G. H. Hahn 2], which implies driving out of Russian troops based in the North Caucasus
  • to create a sovereign, sharia based Islamist state in the Caucasus in line with radical Salafist ideology [G. H. Hahn 7, 16]
  • to „extend this state to the Volga region and European countries through combat and terror [UN], as Umarov has put it: „once the infidels have been driven out, we must take back all lands that were historically Muslim, and those borders lie beyond the borders of the Caucasus” [UN]
  • to establish a global jihadi caliphate [G. H. Hahn 19] „Both Umarov and Buryatskii [a main idealogue] have stated they are leading a global jihad against the West, even if most of their attacks have been local.” [Stanford]

The tactic applied by CE

The CE has used intimidation tactic in some cases, e. g. at the Domodedovo attack, where there were 38 fatalities and 168 injuries and in a couple of other cases. But this tactic does not prevail. Some of their attacks were considered as spoiling. (e. g. the killing of Sheikh Said Affandi in 2012 which, according to ICC was “aimed to make intra-confessional dialogue impossible and cause Dagestan to explode into conflict” [ICC 12] ) As the International Crisis Groups paper on the North Caucasian insurgency states, „the insurgency itself is not interested in dialogue and seeks to undermine it with new terrorist attacks,[ICC 3]

Given the huge superior force of Russia, there is no way for the CE to attrite Russian political, economic and military might. Therefore the main tactic applied is provocation, which was usually applied by ethno-nationalist organizations in colonial territories. (CE was initially an ethno-nationalist organization and the Caucasus was conquered by Russia as a colony.) “Part of the logic of terrorist attacks is to provoke government reprisals and abusive reactions.[ICC 28] This tactic works, as Russian response is tipically heavy-handed which drives some of the population to radicalization. 

Communication, recrutiment, financing and networking

The organization has several websites where they seek founders and recruit for their goals:

The Kavkazcenter has been proclaimed the official information organ” of the CE. [UN] Each vilaiyat has its own website.

CE spreads “numerous videos (...) featuring terrorist attacks carried out by fighters, and eulogizing fighters “ [G.H. Hahn 5] „compilations and their own ideologists’ writings, video and audio lectures”. “CE sites also post Russian translations of articles from and summaries of, Al-Quaida’s English-language journal Inspire”. [G.H. Hahn 8] Instructions how to make explosive devices also figure on the sites. 

They also maintain a “list of e-mail addresses so Muslims interested in jihad can contact each other and exchange information; they distribute “literature and news of the jihad” [G.H. Hahn 10]. Some material is downloaded to mobile phones or to USB sticks to distribute to those who cannot access the internet sites. [ICC 14]

There are also persons responsible for recruiting [G.H. Hahn 11] “The vilaiyats, sectors, and local jamaats independently undertake alms collections, recruitment (...)” [G.H. Hahn 15] Recruiters work actively with youth in and around mosques, on university campuses, in gyms and at the workplace.” [ICC 14]

The target audience is the "young, well-educated urban youth in the Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union”. [Paul Quinn-Judge, “Russia’s Terror Goes Viral”, Foreign Policy (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/03/29/russias_terror_goes_viral), 29 March 2010.]

There is „no lack of replacements, though ever younger and more radical ones”. According to Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential envoy for the North Caucasus, the average age of militants is eighteen. [Хлопонин признал, что число участников подполья не меняется много лет: на Кавказе тысяча боевиков, Gazeta.ru, 09 March 2011, http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2011/09/30/n_2031946.shtml] Recruits are trained in clandestine training camps situated in North Caucasus locations. These camps has also hosted jihadi fighters from other countries (including Al-Qaida members [G.H. Hahn 3,6).  

According to G. H. Hahn [Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right 9, Islam, Islamism and the Politics in Eurasia Report  9], the group receives funding from Chechen government officials and some Al-Qaida-affiliated organizations. Being part of the global Jihadi network significantly increases the group's chances of survival. 

Said Buryatsky in a video from YouTube

Possible counterterrorism strategies

Two main approaches or models of counter-insurgency are competing today in the North Caucasus. One, based on heavy-handed law enforcement and exclusive religious policy, is most thoroughly applied in Chechnya; the other, with greater elements of soft law enforcement and integrative religious policy, is most evident in Dagestan; practices of other republics fall in between.” [ICC 31]

Judging by numbers of incidents and fatalities, the Chechen model looks more successful.” [ICC 32]

However, although soft-power methods usually do not bring quick results, only these methods can be succesful on the long term, as these eliminate the root causes of violence. It is also very important to bear in mind that radicalisation in the region is largely driven by the harsh, heavy-heanded counterterrorism measures, the indiscriminate use of force by law enforcement, when relatives and bystanders also frequently fall to victim. As the main tactic of CE is provocation, enemy-centric counterterrorism strategy, focused on ’neutralising’ = killing (нейтрализировать) fighters instead of bringing their cases to trials can be counterproductive.

There are two aspects of this terrorist group, which, in my opinion, would deserve more attention.
In 2010, when civilians very heavily targeted by the CE, internal divisions came to the surface and this has even led to Umarov’s resignation. However, later he reclaimed his leading position. [Roggio, Bill. “Internal Divisions Dissolved, Claims Caucasus Emirate” 
http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/07/caucasus_emirate_cla_1.php#ixzz1TKEnDQLI]. It would be useful to discover the fractures inside the organization with intelligence methods and try to cooperate with more moderate leaders in order to change the way CE is operating and possibly start negotiating with them.

The other aspect is the source of funding. The summary of Stanford University, citing Gordon H. Hahn (http://www.miis.edu/academics/faculty/ghahn/report) mentions that „the Caucasus Emirate mujahedin receive funding from ministers and bureaucrats in the Chechen government and members of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s inner circle”. Cutting off this source of funding could contribute to the shrinking of activity of the CE. 


Gordon H. Hahn, Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right, Centre for Stategic and International Studies, 1 September 2011, [G. H. Hahn]

Gordon H. Hahn, "Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report." Monterey Institute of International Studies. N.p., Report 9 24 Feb. 2009. Web. Jan. 2012. <http://www.miis.edu/academics/faculty/ghahn/report>

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (II), Islam, Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency, International Crisis Group, October, 2012 [ICC]

Andrew C. Kuchins, Matthew Malarkey, Sergei Markedonow, The North Caucasus: Russia's Volatile Frontier, CSIS, March 2011

UN Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities [UN]

Mapping Military Organizations: Caucasus Emirate, Stanford University, [Stanford] http://www.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/255

The Caucasus Emirate, Stratfor, Security Weekly, April 15, 2010 [Stratfor]

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (II), Islam, Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency”, International Crisis Group, October, 2012 [ICC]

Roggio, Bill. “Internal Divisions Dissolved, Claims Caucasus Emirate” 

Хлопонин признал, что число участников подполья не меняется много лет: на Кавказе тысяча боевиков, Gazeta.ru, 09 March 2011, http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2011/09/30/n_2031946.shtml

Tom Parfitt. „The Deadliest Village in Russia – A Journey Through Russia’s Killing Zone, Part 8, ForeignPolicy.com, April 1, 2011

Paul Quinn-Judge, “Russia’s Terror Goes Viral”, Foreign Policy, 29 March 2010


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