Russian security forces have killed a senior leader in the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate during a raid yesterday in the Republic of Dagestan.
Amir Sayfullah (or Sword of Allah) was killed during a raid in the village of Gubin in Dagestan, according to a report at Kavkaz Center, the propaganda arm of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate. Sayfullah was killed along with four other fighters after Russian security forces surrounded a safe house in the village.
Russian officials identified one of those killed during the raid in Gunib as Magomedali Vagabov, the terrorist commander who sent two female suicide bombers, including his wife, Mariam Sharipova, to carry out attacks in the Moscow Metro on March 29. The double suicide attack killed 39 people. Vagabov is in fact Sayfullah.
Sayfullah held two top leadership positions in the Caucasus Emirate. He was the top judicial figure for the terror group and also served as the emir of forces in Dagestan, one of the most active theaters in the Caucasus.
Sayfullah recently released a statement at Kavkaz Center defending Doku Umarov, the leader of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, after Umarov retracted his resignation earlier this month. Umarov had announced his resignation in a videotape on Aug. 1, but retracted it in another videotape released days later. In addition to Sayfullah, both Emir Adam, who is the Caucasus Emirate’s governor of Ingushetia province, and the Riyad-us-Saliheen Martyrs’ Brigade have released statements in support of Umarov, in an effort to stem confusion and discord within the rank and file over the resignation and subsequent retraction.
Russian security forces may have tracked Sayfullah based on the release of that statement, a US intelligence official who tracks the Caucasus Emirate told The Long War Journal.
Doku Umarov, the leader of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Caucasus, from a videotape in which he took credit for the March 29 suicide attacks on the Moscow Metro.
Background on Russia’s battle against al Qaeda and allied groups in the Caucasus
Over the past two decades, al Qaeda has fought alongside Chechen rebels during two brutal wars against the Russians that are thought to have resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians and thousands of Russian soldiers and Chechen fighters. The bulk of the Chechen resistance was smashed after the Second Chechen War, but al Qaeda and allied Islamist groups continued to operate, and managed to radicalize many of the remaining nationalist rebels.
Russian security forces, backed by local forces in the Caucasus, have had success in decapitating the top leadership of al Qaeda and radical Chechen forces. After killing Ibn al Khattab in 2002, security forces eliminated his successors; Abu Walid al Ghamdi was killed in 2004, and Abu Hafs al Urdani was killed in 2006.
Russian security forces also killed Saif al Islam al Masri, a member of al Qaeda’s shura and a chief financier, in 2002; and Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Saif al Tamimi (also known as Abu Omar Saif) in 2005. Tamimi served as second in command to Shamil Basayev, the military commander for the Islamic Army in the Caucasus. In 2006, Basayev and much of his leadership cadre were killed by Russian security forces.
After Basayev’s death in 2006, the Chechen and Caucasus jihadists united under the command of Doku Umarov, one of the last remaining original leaders of the Chechen rebellion and a close associate of al Qaeda. Prior to 2006, Umarov had denied having connections with al Qaeda and rejected terrorist attacks against civilians. But in 2006, Abu Hafs al Urduni announced that the Chechen jihad was being reorganized under the command of Doku Umarov after the death Basayev. By November 2007, Umarov had declared an Islamic emirate in the greater Caucasus region and named himself the emir, or leader. Russian security forces thought Umarov was killed during a raid in November 2009 that killed several of his close aides, but he has since resurfaced.
But the insurgency in the Caucasus largely went dormant after Basayev’s death in 2006. In the spring of 2009, Umarov reignited the insurgency by launching a wave of suicide attacks in the Caucasus. In April 2009, Umarov revived the Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade, which has spearheaded the assault.
“Riyad [the Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade] is believed to be descended from two other Chechen terrorist organizations led by Basayev, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) and the International Islamic Brigade (IIB),” according to the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism database. “It has even been suggested that Riyad is simply the result of the marriage of these two groups.”
The Caucasus Emirate’s most recent high-profile suicide operations include: the double suicide attack in Moscow’s Metro on March 29 (39 people killed); a double suicide attack that targeted police in the city of Kizlyar in Dagestan on March 31 (13 people killed); and a suicide attack at a concert in Starvopol on May 26 (seven killed).
Russia’s Federal Security Service has targeted the Caucasus Emirate’s top leaders during raids this year. Four top commanders have been killed or captured since February, including two foreign leaders.
On Feb. 2, the FSB killed Mokhmad Mohamad Shabban during a raid in a mountainous region in Dagestan. Shabban, an Egyptian who is better known as Saif Islam or the Sword of Islam, was one of the founders of al Qaeda in the Caucasus.
On March 2, FSB commandos killed Said Buryatsky and five other terrorists during a raid in Ingushetia. Buryatsky was the mufti, or religious leader, for the Caucasus Emirate, and has been described as Russia’s Osama bin Laden.
On June 9, the FSB captured Emir Magas, the military commander of the Caucasus Emirate. Magas was a longtime associate of Basayev and Ibn al Khattab. One day later Russian forces killed Yasir Amarat, a wanted terrorist commander from Jordan.
• Caucasus Emirate leader takes credit for Moscow suicide attacks, The Long War Journal
• Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov resigns, The Long War Journal
• Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov retracts resignation, The Long War Journal
• Caucasus Emirate leaders rally around Doku Umarov, The Long War Journal
• Doku Umarov declares Islamic Caucasus Emirate, The Long War Journal
• Caucasus Emirate leader thought killed in raid, The Long War Journal
• Caucasus jihad: Terror tactics back on the horizon?, The Long War Journal
• Riyad us-Saliheyn Martyrs’ Brigade, START
• Russian police kill al Qaeda’s co-founder in the Caucasus, The Long War Journal
• Said Buryatsky Reported to be Among Six Militants Killed in Ingushetia , Georgian Daily
• Russians capture, kill 2 top Caucasus Emirate commanders, The Long War Journal
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.