Russians kill top Caucasus Emirate leader


Amir Sayfullah.

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.


Emir of Dagestan Seyfullah probably martyred (Insha’Allah) in a Dagestan battle, Kavkaz Center

Elimination of Vagabov ‘turning point’ in Russia’s fight against militants, RIA Novosti

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 blast death toll rises to 7, CBC

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.

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  • Tyler says:

    Worth again noting that these increased instances of HVT kills seem to mirror a few, very quiet, reports in the mainstream media that US Special Operations forces have been active in the region…perhaps advising and providing intel to Russian security services?
    “Other “ex-ords” signed by combatant commanders include provisions for secret American bases and operations in countries like Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and in the Dagestan region of the North Caucuses. In the latter space, U.S. soldiers were tasked with tracking down members of identified separatist groups with loose ties to Al Qaeda. One of those groups was responsible for the March 31 bombings in Kizlyar, according to American intelligence officials.”
    If so, a mutually beneficial, smart way to improve US-Russian relations while removing allies of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

  • kp says:

    Quote: “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”

    Very interesting. Especially as I commented during the Umarov resignation that perhaps the “resignation” was a hacker attack to perhaps encourage traceable communication amongst the leaders of the group. Perhaps it worked.

    Another possibility is they got info on Magomedali Vagabov (who I’m sure is a HVT) and that got them to the safe house. The “twofer” may have been a bit of luck (or good surveillance).

  • kp says:

    @tyler: I think you can be pretty sure that no US SF were involved in this. Russian pride (and their own capabilities) see to that.

    The areas that the US SF (and advisors) are deployed are “sensitive areas” for the Russians. They see those “ex-USSR” nations as part of their “sphere of influence” and do not want the US there e.g. the Georgia conflict and the rabble rousing in “the Stans”.

    I’m sure our intel and their intel organization cooperate over Islamist terrorist information: most likely “Allied” info about AQ in their territory. And even in Afghanistan they seem to be getting more interested if for no other reason than most of the Afghani heroin is headed to Russia and killing a lot of Russians.

    But make no mistake Russia hasn’t forgotten the Big Game.

  • mansur says:

    One of Our Amir became Shaheed (maytrdom) insha’Allah..We are sad to lost him but also we are happy for him to gain Firdavs Djannet (Paradise) insha’Allah..those who think they are going to supress people and do what they do or make people as their slave are friends of Shaytan (evil) not to be enjoy..We never give up our struggle to raising Allah’s Word to the World..
    We only expect our Lords one of best two..Victory or Paradise ..and you! what is your expectation from Shaytan who cheat you for giving you just promise..I say, if you are not repent and turn to Lords of Worlds, you are together with Shaytan in the hell forever..
    Allahu Akbar

  • kp says:

    Bill points to this excellent article with a lot of background

  • vito says:

    @mansur …
    with all due respect, your comments is kinda out of place here, I think you should’ve moved it over to Kavkazcenter or another islamic website since …
    in regard to – “those who think they are going to supress people and do what they do or make people as their slave are friends of Shaytan (evil) not to be enjoy” — islam (this so called religion of peace) had been doing that all of its history, proven as a historical fact, it was either convert to islam or be exterminated or become (here you go, Mansur) a slave (dhimmi) in islam dominated world even till these very days … I only wish more of these terrorists would join this Shaheed (maytrdom) programm soon and follow Magomedali Vagabov and Co. to where he went, then surely world will become safer for ordinary people regardless where they live … Good luck Mansur – the train to station Shaheed (maytrdom) has always available seats!


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