Basayev led the 1999 invasion of Dagestan that triggered the second Chechen war. The Russians finally killed Basayev in a targeted assassination in 2006. Russia has continued its policy of targeted assassinations of Islamist terrorist leaders in the Caucasus, but thus far have been unable to get to the Emirate’s current leader, Dokku Umarov.
Gordon Hahn, of the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program, wrote of one such attempt in March.
“It appears that Russian forces just missed killing CE amir Dokku ‘Abu Usman’ Umarov in a special operation that culminated in aviation bombing the mountains near the village of Verkhnii Akhul in Sunzha Raion, Ingushetia on March 28th,” Hahn wrote. “Umarov’s naib (deputy) Supyan Abdullaev, who had been fighting for 17 years, was killed in the operation along with at least six other mujahedin. Initial reports claimed 17 mujahedin had been killed in the air attack. Some Russian media have been reporting that not only Umarov’s naib but also his wife, his doctor Yusup Buzurtanov, and the amir of the Riyadus Salikhin Martyrs’ Brigade (RSMB) of suicide bombers ‘Khamzat’ Aslan Byutukaev were also killed in the operation.”
Hahn notes that Russian reports initially claimed Umarov was killed in the attack, though this was the seventh time such reports had circulated. A man claiming to be Umarov—and most likely was—called Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about a week later to inform them that he was not killed in the operation. But Hahn also had some good news for the Russians—since they killed Umarov’s deputy in the attack, if they are now able to remove Umarov it will throw the Emirate into chaos.
Thus the American and Russian focus on targeted assassinations reveals the two most compelling reasons to pursue such a policy. In the case of bin Laden, his death provides both a moral and strategic boost for Western anti-terror efforts. In the case of Umarov, it would throw the terrorist organization into crisis from which it could only emerge on the conclusion of an internal power struggle. At the very least it would buy Russia time—but it could also deal a crippling blow to an organization that derives its strength not from numbers, but from leadership.
One more reminder that the Caucasus Islamists are part of the global jihadist movement came when Aslan Yemkuzhev was killed March 16 in a firefight with Russian police in Kabardino-Balkaria. Yemkuzhev, it turned out, trained with Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon—a Palestinian-founded terrorist group with possible ties to al-Qaeda.
Russia should not be excused its corruption, dismal human rights record, or the steady erosion of freedom that began under Boris Yeltsin and continued under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev—but neither should the Islamist threat emanating from its frontier be ignored.
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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