Jamestown Foundation (Autor)
Russia’s National Antiterrorist Committee (NAK) reported that during a special operation in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkent district on July 7–8, “as a result of operational and combat activities, the forces of the FSB [Federal Security Service] neutralized nine people” (Riadagestan.ru, July 8). According to the NAK, the majority of the rebels killed were identified. The authorities provided the following list of those killed: 28-year-old Magomed Tagirov (younger brother of Gusein Tagirov), 22-year-old Gusein Magomedov, 23-year-old Efendi Medzhidov, 20-year-old Akhmed Ismailov, 36-year-old Rasul Khalilov, and 27-year-old Akhmed Zagirov. The list also included the amir (head) of the Makhachkala rebel group, 30-year-old Gusein Tagirov, who had been on the Russian federal wanted list since 2014. Thus, the oldest person in this group was 36 and the youngest 20, which is the typical age range of rebels in Dagestan (Newsru.com, July 8).
The authorities said that the amir of the Makhachkala group was involved in the murder of an administration chief in a Buinaksk district village, along with a resident of that village, and other terrorism-related crimes. The authorities also said that one serviceman died and four were wounded during the special operation. The special operation was conducted mainly near the villages of Agachaul and Talgi near Makhachkala. Ethnic Kumyks comprise the majority of the population in that part of Dagestan. According to government sources, Gusein Tagirov earlier led the so-called Kadar group. After the amir of the Makhachkala group, Kamil Magomedov, was killed in the town of Leninkent in suburban Makhachkala, Tagirov took over the leadership of the group and brought with him other militants from the Kadar group (Newsru.com, July 8).
Following the special operation, the police detained two men in the village of Novy Paraul in Dagestan’s Karabudakhkent district on suspicion of helping the militants. The authorities reportedly found ammunition, bomb-making components, and a ready-to-use improvised explosive device (IED) (Kavpolit.com, July 8).
It is unclear how the police identified the two suspects. The most likely explanation is that the two men supplied food to the rebels prior to the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The security services have long established special control over sales of food items in rural areas of Dagestan. People who frequently buy nonperishable food items quickly become of interest to the security services because of its value to militant fighters hiding in the forests.
The destroyed group was one of those in the North Caucasus that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. According to a police source, the new group was made up of militants from the Kadar group who moved into forested areas near the capital of the republic and members of the Khushet group who recently joined the illegal armed underground movement. Kadar is a village in Dagestan’s Buinaksk district of Dagestan. Kadar has been known as a Salafist center since the mid-1990s (Kommersant, July 7).
A little more than six months ago, the police claimed the group had been destroyed, and that government forces were hunting its surviving members (Ren.tv, December 11, 2015). However, the group turned out to be quite combat-ready. Even though the police killed nine and detained two other suspected members of the Makhachkala rebel group, some of its members still might be hiding in the city, so it is too early to speak of the group’s final destruction. What is true is that the group experienced a serious setback and suffered large losses. However, since the start of the second Russian-Chechen war in 1999, “destroyed” groups have again and again continued their activities. The question always has been how long it takes the group to recover. Groups of militants did not disappear once and for all. Hence, hasty statements about the end of one group or another of militants are viewed as being out of place.
The killing of the members of the Makhachkala group was not the only incident in Dagestan. In Dagestan’s Sergokalinsky district south of Makhachkala, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Dargins, unidentified individuals killed two men near the village of Sergokala. One of the slain men turned out to be a police officer (Gazeta.ru, July 10). According to law enforcement officials, the attackers killed the two young men, who were on a picnic, and stole their car. The two men may have been killed because the attackers recognized one of them was a police officer. The police said that the attackers may have been militants, but could not confirm whether there was a third victim, who was kidnapped.
That same day, a school principal in Gubden was killed in his home, apparently by several individuals. “Unidentified individuals called the school principal of Gubden out. After a lengthy brawl, the attackers stabbed the man to death and ran away” (Kavtoday.ru, July 10). School principals in the mountainous parts of the North Caucasus are more than simply school administrators. They are also among the most authoritative individuals in remote villages. In many instances, school principals are the leaders of the local community and act as a kind of counterbalance to the heads of the village administrations. School principals often testify as witnesses for the prosecution in court cases related to militants. Since school principals cooperate with the authorities, the insurgents sometimes regard them as enemies.
Rebels and government forces in the North Caucasus once again have exchanged blows. While the latter are much more robust than the former, it is obvious that the armed underground Islamist resistance movement is still undergoing leadership changes and is adjusting to the new regional realities after suffering so many setbacks to Russian attacks and penetration of their cells by the FSB. Consequently, attacks by rebels, and operations against them by government forces, will likely continue.