Russian authorities say this car was destroyed when “thugs” blew it up on Mar. 30. Source: TASS/Bashir Aliyev
The Islamic State’s Caucasus Province has claimed responsibility for two attacks in Dagestan this week. On Mar. 29, the group claimed to have detonated “two explosive devices” on two Russian Army vehicles “in the area of Kaspiysk in eastern Dagestan.”
The so-callied caliphate’s province issued the claim via the Amaq News Agency and in a separate statement, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The jihadists alleged that their improvised explosive devices (IEDs) killed 10 Russian soldiers. The bombings “led to killing ten elements and wounding three others from the army, and destroying one vehicle and burning the other,” according to the statement on the Mar. 29 attack.
On Mar. 30, Amaq reported that another bombing occurred when a fighter detonated “his explosive belt on a Dagestani police checkpoint [in] Sirtych village, killing and wounding several of them.”
The Islamic State’s arm in the Caucasus has claimed responsibility for at least five operations since it was established last year. The first took place in early September 2015, when the group said it bombed a Russian army barracks in the village of Magharamakint in southern Dagestan. The jihadists purportedly struck “Russian intelligence officers” in the city of Derbent in December 2015 and then a police checkpoint in the same city in February.
As The Long War Journal reported after the first attack, many of the Caucasus jihadists’ claims are difficult, if not impossible, to verify. Independent reporting is often limited. In addition, the details offered by the jihadists are frequently exaggerated or only partially true.
The Russian news agency TASS has acknowledged two attacks in Dagestan this week, but in each case the details differ from the Islamic State’s version.
“One police officer was killed and two more were wounded as police cars were blown up near Makhachkala, the capital city of Russia’s North Caucasian republic of Dagestan,” TASS reported on Mar. 29, citing “a spokesman for the republic’s interior ministry.”
TASS described the vehicles as “two cars with Russian interior ministry officers” and said that one officer, not 10 Russian soldiers, was killed in the blasts.
In a follow-up report, TASS claimed that three landmines (not two, as the Islamic State indicated) targeting a “police motor convoy” exploded on Mar. 29. “The bomb experts have found out that there were three landmines. One had the yield of 5 kg TNT and two others – 1.5 kg TNT each. All the three landmines exploded,” an unnamed law enforcement source told TASS.
Dmitry Peskov, a presidential spokesman, would not comment on the identity of the attackers. “Unfortunately, I do not have any information about this but this is probably a question for our law enforcement agencies,” Peskov said.
Separately, a Russian government source told TASS that “[m]ilitants from the so-called Khushet gang (from Makhachkala’s suburb Novy Khushet) are suspected of this crime.” Authorities are supposedly investigating whether this “gang” has “sworn allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist organization.”
Despite the Russians’ hesitation to pin blame on the Islamic State’s jihadists, they are the most likely culprits, especially given the Caucasus Province’s claim of responsibility.
Russian counterterrorism officials have acknowledged that a second attack took place on Mar. 30, but the circumstances again differ from the Islamic State’s account.
“Today in the afternoon [Mar. 30], officers of a mobile police group tried to stop a suspicious car in the village of Sirtych, which was going in the direction of Derbent,” Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee (NAC) said in a statement. “When the thugs realized that they can’t [sic] escape pursuit, they detonated a homemade explosive device, as a result of which a powerful explosion occurred,” the statement continued. “A police officer who took part in the pursuit of criminals was fatally wounded. No civilians were hurt.”
TASS published a photo purportedly showing the vehicle that was destroyed in the explosion. The image can be seen above.
Therefore, while the precise details of the Islamic State’s operations in Dagestan cannot be verified, Russian government sources confirm that the attacks on Mar. 29 and Mar. 30 took place.
Russian officials claim that hundreds of jihadists from Dagestan have gone off to fight for terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria. “According to special agencies, in Syria and Iraq more than 800 descendants from Dagestan are fighting alongside terrorists,” Ramazan Abdulatipov, who heads Russia’s North Caucasus republic, said in February.
In November 2015, Yevgeny Sysoyev, the deputy head of the Russian Federal Security (FSB), claimed that as many as “7,000 nationals of former Soviet republics are fighting for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.” Sysoyev estimated that the Islamic State’s overall force consisted of 80,000 fighters as of mid-2015. His figure was higher than American estimates, but plausible.
Defectors from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE)
In an audio message released on June 23, 2015, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani accepted the bayat (oath of allegiance) from jihadists who had defected from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE).
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the “Emir of the Faithful,” has “accepted your bayat and has appointed the noble sheikh Abu Muhammad al Qadarī as Wali [or governor] over [the Caucasus],” Adnani said. He called for all the mujahideen in the Caucasus “to join” al Qadari’s “caravan and to hear and obey him in everything except sin.”
Qadari is Rustam Asilderov, a former ICE leader in Dagestan who defected to the Islamic State in late 2014. A significant number of jihadists in the region joined Asilderov, leaving ICE behind.
Al Qaeda and ICE tried to stem the tide of defections to the Islamic State. But the loss of three leaders in just over a year and a half destabilized ICE’s operations and likely contributed to the Islamic State’s gains in the region.
Russian forces killed ICE’s emir, Magomed Suleimanov (also known as Abu Usman Gimrinsky), in August 2015. Suleimanov, a prominent critic of the Islamic State, was publicly identified as ICE’s new leader just weeks earlier. Also killed in the raid was the jihadist selected to lead ICE’s Dagestan “province” after Asilderov’s defection.
Suleimanov had succeeded Aliaskhab Kebekov, more commonly known as Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, who was killed by Russian forces in April 2015. Kebekov rose to ICE’s top leadership position after his predecessor, Doku Umarov, perished sometime in either late 2013 or early 2014.
The State Department added the Islamic State’s Caucasus Province to the US government’s list of designated terrorist organizations in September of last year.
State noted that Adnani accepted “the sworn allegiance” of fighters from “four Caucasus regions – Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria” in his June 23 announcement. Foggy Bottom also reported that the organization’s first claimed attack “on a Russian military base in Magaramkent, southern Dagestan,” resulted “in the deaths and injuries of a number of Russian citizens.”
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