• According to a survey with 6,000 respondents, the ranks of the jihad are being filled by ever-younger Dagestanis. Dagestan is eclipsing Chechnya as the seat of the most violent insurgency against Russia.

  • The extremist leaders have targeted their fellow Muslim leaders thought to be too mild.

Dagestan, the largest republic of the north Caucasus, can best be described in negative superlatives. It is probably the most violent spot in the entire Russian Federation.[1] The administrative bureaucracy of the republic's capital, Makhachkala, is among the most corrupt.[2] The ethnic and linguistic diversity of Dagestan is the most complex among Russia's Republics.[3] Its topography is arguably the most forbidding in the Russian Eurasian landmass. Religiously, it is also the most radical Muslim entity in the Russian state. Moreover, in part, because of Dagestan's difficult terrain and the fabled fighting ability of Dagestani mountain peoples, Moscow has found that suppressing jihadists in Dagestan is even more difficult than in their campaigns in Chechnya.

The February 6, 2014 raid of a terrorist hideout in the Dagestani town of Izerbash by Russian Security Police -- resulting in the deaths of suspects who were allegedly planning an attack on the Sochi Olympics -- underscores that the Republic of Dagestan has become the epicenter of extremist-Muslim terrorism in Russia.

Russia is not the only empire chastised by Dagestan's warrior culture. The Persian invading forces of Nadir Shah in 1744 experienced their most devastating among several defeats by Dagestan's mountain militants. There is a bitter Persian saying that recounts these catastrophes: "Whenever Allah wants to punish a Shah, He inculcates into his head the idea of invading Dagestan." Coastal Dagestan faces the former provinces of Persia's empire in Asia Minor; and Dagestan was once governed by Persian officialdom of the Safavid Dynasty.[4] Although almost all Dagestanis are Sunni Muslim, there are pockets of Shia Muslims who trace their spiritual origins to the Iranian version. During the last couple of decades, however, Dagestan's relatively tolerant Sufi brand of Sunni Islam Muslim has been giving ground to a more fierce Sunni Salafist orientation.[5]

William Plotnikov, left, with another Islamist militant in Dagestan. Plotnikov was previously a boxer and college student in Canada, and was killed fighting Russian security forces in 2012. When arrested and interrogated in 2010, he named Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev as an associate. (Image source: Dagestan Federal Security Service)

This Salafist ascendency has been fueled, allegedly, by Arabian Gulf states' financial support for mosque construction and the hiring of fundamentalist imams as preachers throughout the Caucasian republics. However, the scholarships for Dagestani youth to study in Saudi Arabia have been particularly effective in the Wahabbization of Islam in Dagestan.[6] Riyadh's largesse has helped accelerate the radicalization of the republic's Muslims. Moscow's draconian policies in Dagestan have also contributed to the radicalization process. Still another reason for growing Salafist influence in Dagestan is that their clergy are attentive to the people's medical, educational, social, and economic needs such as sponsoring health clinics, schools, orphanages and charitable foundations.

Dagestan also has a stellar, ancient tradition of theological erudition, producing some of the brightest Muslim scholars of Eurasian Islam.[7] This tradition helps unite the multiethnic and varied linguistic disciplines of Dagestan's citizens. The Grand Mufti of Dagestan Akhmad Abdulaev, a Sufi Sunni, has worked closely with Kamil Sultana Khmedov, the Salafist Muslim leader of the republic, in an effort to halt internecine bloodletting. The two factions have established an Association of Islamic Scholars Board to negotiate their theological and political differences.

A key objective of the Salafists is apparently to increase their role in decision-making in the republic's Islamic institutions to ensure that it is commensurate with their growing influence among Dagestan's Muslims. For certain, an increasing percentage of Dagestan's young people are being drawn away from the traditional quietist Sufi relationship with Russian political authorities. According to a survey conducted in Dagestan with 6,000 respondents, the ranks of the jihad are being filled with ever-younger Dagestanis.[8] Underscoring the growing radicalization of Dagestan's youth is the presence of hundreds of Dagestani volunteers fighting alongside Muslim extremist groups against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.[9]

Dagestan also has eclipsed Chechnya as the seat of the most violent insurgency against the Russian state. The Muslim insurgents of the Shari'ah Jamaat have divided Dagestan into four sectors.[10] Anti-state activities occur on a daily basis on Dagestani territory. Not all of the extremist activity by the radical Islamists is directed against symbols of Moscow's rule. The extremists have targeted their fellow Muslim leaders thought to be too mild in their opposition to continued occupation of the north Caucasus Republics by Russia. On July 1, 2012, for instance, Muslim terrorists assassinated Dagestan's most esteemed Sufi Sheikh, Said Afendi.

Dagestani jihadists are increasingly crossing the republic's boundaries to assist in anti-regime operations in other nearby Muslim republics. They have assassinated many Moscow-appointed judicial figures who had been condemned as apostates for having ignored the demands of the Sharia law and for having chosen man's atheistic legal system over that of Allah.[11]

The Kremlin, for its part, appears to have decided to support the current President of the Republic, Ramazan Abdulatipov, to be their pro-Moscow strongman in Dagestan. Moreover, state security authorities have been complicit in the ouster and arrest of several of Abdulatipov's competitors, usually on corruption charges.[12] There have also been a series of extra-judicial killings of those suspected of passively aiding the jihadist insurgency, including journalists deemed sympathetic to the guerrillas. Despite these authoritarian actions and killings of key jihadist personalities,[13] the Kremlin has had little effect on the Dagestani insurgent movement's ability to carry out terrorist operations. Derbent, in southern Dagestan, seems to have become an epicenter of the jihadist "holy war" against the Russian state.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) several years ago translated a video, "Dar Al-Harb Dagestan," posted on an Islamic website. The film featured stirring musical themes while depicting the slaughter of captives by jihadists. Coincidentally, the video opens with the same Koranic passages reportedly quoted by the 9/11 hijackers who may have employed this very scripture to communicate the date of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon:[14]

"…Verily Allah has purchased of the Believers their lives
and their properties, and for this price, theirs shall
be Paradise. They fight in Allah's cause so
they kill others and they themselves are killed…then
rejoice in the bargain which you have concluded
(with Allah), that is the supreme success."[15]


[1] Alexander Bortnikov, Director of the Federal Security Service and Chairman of the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee stated on 1 October 2013 that 120 of the 144 terrorist acts in the North
Caucasus in 2012 were on Dagestani territory.
[2] Dagestani specialist Ruslan Gereyev and Rinat Mukhametov, an expert on the North Caucasus with the Moscow-influenced Russian Muftis' Council, allege that rampant official corruption in the republic among other factors leave radicalization as the only attractive option for some youth.
[3] BBC News Report. "North Caucasus: Guide to a Volatile Region" 25 January 2011.
[4] When Dagestan was a Persian satrapy, it was called Kohestan (Mountain Land). In Persian epic mythology, Dagestan is a habitat of mystical literary figures.
[5] Mairbek Vatchagaev, "Developments in the North Caucasusin 2011: Moscow Has Little to Cheer About"
8 January 2012. Dagestan at the turn of the century was almost 100% Sufi.
[6] Military Jama'ats in the North Caucasus: A Continuing Threat. DR. Andrew McGregor. Jamestown
Foundation. Washington D.C.
[7] Encyclopedia of Islam, p.484.
[8] Ruslan Gereyev. Kavkaz Uzel (Caucasan Knot). 9 December 2013.
[9] FSB Director Borotnikov contends that many Dagestani youth have taken the bi-weekly flight from Makhachkala to Istanbul and then make their way across the Turkish-Syrian border.
[10] The Sharia Jamaat (Association) in Dagestan is divided into four sectors: the Central District (the capital region around Makhachkala) to include the Levashi and Izerbash ethnic groups the Mountainous Region including the Untsukul, Gimry, Balakhani, Buinaksk,Kadar, Andi, Echedi, and Kvanada peoples, the
Northern Division embracing the Khasavyurt, Kizilyurt and Babayurt clans and the Southern Sector encompassing the Derbert and Tabasaran groups.
[11] Mairbek Vatchagaev, "Moscow Strives to Break Resistance of Dagestani Militants." Assassinations of judicial personnel in Dagestan have included Supreme Court and Federal Judges as well as investigative personnel.
[12] Dagestan's President succeeded in removing his most powerful rival the Mayor of Dagestan's capital city
Makhachkala, Said Amirov. It is rumored that state security services helped provide evidence which sustained charges of massive corruption during Amirov's tenure as Mayor.
[13] While state security personnel and police heralded the killing of Yusup Magomedov in December 2012, the leader of the Khasavyurt terrorist organization (Dagestan's third largest city), there was no decrease in the level of insurgent activity in the republic.
[14] MEMRI, Special Dispatch Series #38. 21 December 2006. Koran Part 11, Sura 9, Verses 109-111.
[15] The Noble Koran. Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din and Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan Islamic University Darussalam Publishers and Distributors Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Part 11 Sura Nine At-Taubah (Repentance) Verse 111.

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