Meet the Caucasus Emirate: The Merciless Terrorists of Southern Russia

May 20, 2013 at 8:39 PM ET

After the fall of the Soviet Union, in the early- to mid-1990s, a large chunk of the Chechen population started a nationalistic rebellion against Russian rule. The Russian military killed loads of rebel leaders in the drawn-out conflict, but it also radicalized many Chechens in the process with its heavy-handed tactics against wary civilians. Jihadist ideology quickly spread in a region historically inhabited by moderate Muslims. The radical Islamists were led by Shamil Basayev, who famously formed the Riyad-us Saliheen suicide group, which favored hostage-taking operations like those it carried out in the Moscow theater crisis and the notorious attack on the school in Beslan.

Basayev’s violent death in a still unexplained explosion, in 2006, catapulted Doku Umarov into the spotlight. A year later, Umarov widened the secessionist movement by forming the Caucasus Emirate. Rather than leading an exclusively Chechen rebellion, Umarov claimed the entire Russian region of the North Caucasus in his attempt to establish a sharia-ruled Islamic state. The territory includes six Muslim-majority Russian provinces. Within the Emirate’s structure, five regional subgroups (vilaiyats) carry out both guerrilla operations against the Russian military and terrorist acts against Russian civilians.

The Caucasus Emirate is vicious, with a penchant for videotaped beheadings. Distressingly, it sees little if any distinction between soldiers and civilians. When questioned about the idea of targeting civilians, Umarov declared: “For me there are no civilians in Russia. Why? Because a genocide of our people is being carried out with the Russians’ tacit consent… So why should we regard these people as a civilian population?”

US terrorism scholar Gordon M. Hahn writes that in its first five years the Caucasus Emirate killed more than two thousand people, a fifth of them civilians. The group’s activities, as well as its associations with Al Qaeda, landed it on the US State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

In late 2008 Umarov reactivated the Riyad-us Saliheen suicide attack group, which had been inactive for four years. With renewed purpose he sought to attack cities deep in Russia proper. In an interview with the rebel Kavkaz Center, Umarov declared that, “Blood will no longer be limited to our [Caucasus] cities and towns. The war is coming to their cities.”

The Emirate is especially fond of using woman as explosive-carrying devices. These gals are popularly known in Russia as Black Widows, many of whom are the vengeful teenage wives of dead militants.

Like many enterprising jihadists, the Emirates are comfortable attacking just about anyone, Muslim and otherwise, despite the usually accepted Islamic rules forbidding infighting amongst Muslims. Under their takfir ideology, any Muslims thought to be deviating from puritanical Islamic traditions can be declared non-Muslims, and thus killed with impunity. Using this justification, Caucasus Emirate operatives have attacked and killed numerous moderate Islamic clerics in the North Caucasus.

Caucasus Emirate really wants to dominate the North Caucasus. But being a globalist jihadi group never seems far from its mind. In 2010, a leading ideologist for the group’s Gagaiche Vilayat—which operates in North Ossetia and Ingushetia—declared that, “In the near future we can assume that after the liberation of the Caucasus, Jihad will begin in the Idel-Ural and Western Siberia… And we, Allah willing, will destroy the laws of the infidel in the Central Asian lands in league with the mujahedin of Afghanistan… And Allah willing, all these lands will again be a united state living only by the law of Allah.”