Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right

“Allah willing, all of the brothers, who are carrying out Jihad in the entire world, are our brothers for the sake of Allah, and we all today are going on one road and this road leads to Paradise.” These are not the words of al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, or even the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. They are the words of Dokku Umarov or, by his nom de guerre, Abu Usman, the amir of the mujahideen of Russia’s North Caucasus. The self-declared Caucasus Emirate (CE) was founded in October 2007 to supplant the radical national separatist movement of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI), then in a period of steep decline.

As straightforward and clear as Umarov’s statement is, this and identical assertions of his and numerous other CE amirs have made little impression on Western, especially American, discussions of the usually amorphously described “violence in the North Caucasus.” Journalists, analysts, academics, and activists persist in ignoring, denying, and even hiding from the public and policymakers the global jihadization of the Chechen/Caucasus mujahideen, a long process that goes back to the mid-1990s. The “violence in the North Caucasus” is anything but generic and is far from being perpetrated exclusively by Chechens or Russians.

This report aims to set straight a rather distorted record. It demonstrates the veracity of three vitally important facts usually obfuscated in discussions of the subject: (1) the longstanding and growing ties between the CE and its predecessor organization, the ChRI, on the one hand, and al Qaeda (AQ) and the global jihad, on the other hand; (2) the importance of the CE jihadi terrorist network as a united and organized political and military force promoting jihad in the region; and (3) the salience of local cultural and the Salifist jihadist theo-ideology and the influence of the global jihadi revolutionary movement/alliance as key, if not the main, factors drive the “violence in the North Caucasus.”

Gordon M. Hahn