The continued existence of the Caucasus Emirate (IK) is in question with recent defections to Islamic State. Over the past month, at least six Chechen and Dagestani leaders have retracted their allegiances to the Caucasus Emirate and sworn their fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a Youtube video posted two weeks ago, IK leader Aliaskhab Kebekov (known as Ali Abu Muhammad) criticized the departing members for falling for “the tricks of Satan” and betraying their brothers in arms. Kebekov had earlier pledged his support for Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the wake of al-Zawahiri’s dispute with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
To date, at least hundreds of guerrillas from the Caucasus region have gone to Syria and Iraq to aid Islamic State in their conflict against the secular governments there. Some estimates say that up to 2,500 militants from the Caucasus have joined ISIS. The civil war in Syria gave the Chechen diaspora a chance to both fight against Russian interests and perceived injustices to Sunni Muslims while giving them the chance to live peacefully with their families back home afterwards. In fact, one of Islamic State’s most successful military commanders in Syria, Abu Omar al-Shishani, is of Chechen and Georgian ethnic origin. Al-Shishani is used by Islamic State as a recruiting tool in the Caucasus. The popular Russian social networking site VK.com is rife with pro-Islamic State and jihadist pages, prompting the Russian Prosecutor General to order the shutdown of many of the popular jihadist pages. Several of the pages have called for donations to Islamic State via the QIWI Wallet, an electronic payment system.
The six renegade commanders are; Sultan Zaynalabilov, the amir of Daghestan’s Aukh sector within the Khasavyurt district; Rustam Aselderov, Doku Umarov’s hand picked commander of the Daghestan insurgency; Abu-Mukhammad Agachaulsky, commander of a Makhachkala militant organization; Makhran Saidov, commander of the Chechen eastern front, as well as two other Chechens known only as “Khamzat” and “Usman” thus far. Though the reasons for their abandonment of Kebekov’s group remain unclear, it could be concerns over Kebekov being more moderate in the pursuit of military jihad. Kebekov has focused primarily on creating a support network for Caucasian Muslims as well as an ideological jihad since he succeeded Umarov, and has urged fighters to cease suicide bombings and to refrain from attacking civilians.