For a decade almost all observers ignored, downplayed, and obfuscated an ugly truth about 'separatists' in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: they have long been a jihadist organization allied with Al Qa`ida (AQ), its affiliates, and the larger global jihadi revolutionary alliance AQ inspired. The ‘jihadization’ of the Chechen and Caucasus mujahedin began in the mid-1990s and culminated in October 2007 with the formation of the 'Caucasus Emirate' (CE) in place of the radically nationalist 'Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya' and the CE's declaration of jihad against not just Russia but the U.S., Britain, Israel and "any country fighting Muslims anywhere around the world," as CE amir Dokku Umarov warned.
The CE follows and propagandizes the same radical Salafi jihadist theo-ideology professed by AQ and its affiliates without becoming one of them. CE websites began to contain the very same propaganda and training materials found on AQ and its affiliates’ websites. This year, Umarov included the U.S. among the “unclean ones” who need to be swept from the earth.
In short, the CE has become a member of the global jihadi revolutionary alliance inspired by AQ. The global jihadi alliance is really AQ 2.0, expanded to include official affiliates and unofficial allies knitted together by the Internet not by visiting AQ amirs dispatched to places like Russia's North Caucasus as in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. The Internet weaves the alliance together in a global network sharing theo-ideology, propaganda, financing, training, strategy, and tactics.
Now a new trend is being overlooked. The CE is becoming 'de-territorialized' and global, following the path of other originally localized AQ-like jihadist groups. The CE is now advancing from jihadization to globalization, bringing its ability to level sginificant violence not just beyond the Caucasus inside Russia but beyond Russia's borders. InSeptember 2009, the global jihad’s leading philosopher, Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi praised the CE as a key jihadi organization and urged other groups and Muslims to support it because it could function as the global jihad’s “bridgehead into eastern Europe.” In November 2010, a ‘Shariah4Belgium’ cell and terrorist plot was uncovered in Belgiumand a series of other countries. It included Chechens (and possibly other North Caucasians) as well as Moroccan immigrants in Belgium, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, who were planning to attack NATO targets in Belgium and supplying the CE with finances and recruits. ‘Shariah4Belgium’ and the CE used a website jointly founded by CE affiliate, the ‘United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya and Karachai’ (UVKBK), based in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya and an AQ-affiliated website founded by Anwar al-Awlaki.
In April 2011, a cell from the Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV), the CE’s network in Russia’s Republic of Dagestan (now the leading network in the CE jihad carrying out 65% of all CE operations), was uncovered in the Czech Republic. It included several Dagestanis as well as Moldovans and Bulgarians and was planning operations in a third country while funneling funds, weapons, and recruits to the CE.
In April 2012, Azerbaijani security forces discovered a major DV plot to assassinate President Ilham Aliev and attack targets in Baku and elsewhere in Azerbaijan, bordering southern Dagestan. This Mumbai-style plot envisioned infiltration, assault and car bomb attacks on the ‘Eurovision’ music festival, hotels, and other locations in Baku. Afterwards, surviving mujahedin were to withdraw and disperse across Azerbaijan’s northern provinceswhere the Dagestani and Azeri fighters were to be joined by DV reinforcements for more attacks there.
In August, Spanish and French police foiled an AQ plot by two Chechens – Eldar Magomedov and Mohamed Ankari Adamov – and a Turk, Cengiz Yalcin, to drop bombs on British and U.S. targets in Spain, France and/or elsewhere in Europe during the London Summer Olympic Games using using paragliders or large toy planes or ‘drones.’ All three suspects were said to be AQ operatives, who had undergone training in Pakistan. Both Russian and U.S. authorities linked the Chechen Magomedov with international terrorist organizations and alleged he had been trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2010. The CE maintains close ties and conducts personnel exchanges with several AQ-tied groups based in Waziristan, Pakistan. Magomedov was described by police sources as one of AQ’s leading operatives in Europe. Western intelligence services regard him as “one of the most dangerous members of Al Qaeda” dispatched to Europe with a mission “to commit terrorist attacks.” Although it remained unclear whether the Magomedov and Adamov were originally CE members, it is highly likely that they were. If not, then they were certainly inspired by the CE jihad to link up with AQ.
There also have been several apparent Chechen lone wolves arrested and convicted on terrorist charges in Europe in recent years, though it cannot be excluded that they were dispatched by the CE to Europe originally, perhaps, for purposes such as fundraising and recruiting. In July 2010, five Chechens were arrested in Le Mans, France on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks. In December 2010, Lors Dukaev accidentally detonated a bomb he was working on in a Copenhagen hotel. He was arrested and in 2012 convicted by a Danish court to 12 years in prison for plotting to attack the Danish newspaper that published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.
The CE’s globalization is also evident in the Syrian civil war, as several CE-tied groups have joined the jihadists fighting for the Syrian rebels against the Bashar Assad regime. A Chechen jamaat of some 40 fighters under amir Abu Omar al-Shishani (al-Chechen) is fighting in Aleppo. Another combat jamaat from the CE’s UVKBK, the ‘Katibatu mukhadzhirin’ Jamaat, is fighting in Sham. Even an ethnic Tatar group, the ‘Bulgar Jamaat’, has reportedly left Waziristan to fight in Syria while deciding whether or not to return to Tatarstan and help extend the CE’s reach to Russia’s Volga and Urals areas.
The CE is a serious emerging global threat. By the five-year anniversary of its founding, the CE had carried out or participated in more than 2,200 attacks and violent incidents that had killed approximately 1,800 and wounded 2,600 police, military and civilian officials and servicemen and killed more than 450 and wounded 1,200 civilians. This record includes 46 suicide bombings – jihadism’s signature tactic – since November 2008. Recent CE successes include the suicide-bomb assassination of Dagestan’s leading Muslim Sufi sheikh, the assassination of Tatarstan’s deputy chief mufti, and the wounding of its chief mufti.
Western governments (not to mention journalists and academics), including theU.S., woke up late to the jihadization of the CE. Let us hope this is not so with regard to its globalization or the central role of the global jihadi alliance in the global Islamic revolutionary winter. Speaking of winter: The 2014 Winter Olympic Games – a global event if there ever was one – will be held in Russia’s resort city of Sochi, Krasnodar, the operational purview of the CE’s UVKBK. The CE’s DV has promised to attack the Games, and the UVKBK appeared to carry out a not so dry run in February 2011attacking a major winter ski resort in a Mumbai-style multi-pronged attack.
The West must not let idealism overshadow interests. Everyone would like a democratic as opposed to an authoritarian Russia. Regardless of Moscow’s shortcomings, Western governments should be cooperating fully with their Russian counterparts against the CE to prevent jihadi terrorism in Russia and elsewhere before, during and after the Games.