Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Dagestan Militant's Death No Breakthrough

Analysts caution that death of Dagestan’s most wanted man will not change the situation in the republic.
By Diana Aliev
Despite the killing of the most prominent Islamic militant in Dagestan, politicians and observers say violence in the republic is unlikely to abate soon.



“The destructive forces at work in our republic are not abandoning their attempts to destabilise the socio-political situation in the republic and in the North Caucasus as a whole on the eve of the elections to the [Russian] State Duma,” Dagestani president Mukhu Aliev told a government meeting on October 1.



Aliev described the killing of Rappani Khalilov on September 17, in a “special operation” carried out by security forces, as a “real blow against the extremist underground” while Russian federal agencies have said the operation was their most successful in the North Caucasus this year.



The head of the FSB security service in Dagestan, Vyacheslav Shanshin, said, “The elimination of Rappani Khalilov was the logical culmination of a series of operational measures led by the FSB of Russia.”



However, most analysts say that the militant fighters in Dagestan are too diverse and autonomous to be seriously damaged by the death of one man, however prominent.



While political violence in Chechnya has declined in the last couple of years, it has remained constant in the North Caucasus’ largest region, Dagestan, to the east, and is escalating in Ingushetia to the west.



“I have no illusions that Dagestan’s problems will be solved in the coming five or ten years,” said a member of the autonomous republic’s Spiritual Board of Muslims, who asked not to be named. “The terrorist underground has a great deal of financial support, and that means a successor to Khalilov will be found.”



“The situation in Dagestan won’t change for the better,” agreed Ali Aliev, a political analyst. “That is just an illusion which the law-enforcement agencies are trying to convince us of after the killing of the latest leader of the fighters.”



“Partisan warfare is going to continue endlessly in the North Caucasus, and one of the main reasons for that is the corruption and clan mentality of the leading agencies in the country, who encourage all this.”



Khalilov was killed in the central Dagestani town of Kizilyurt. This IWPR correspondent saw around 100 Russian special forces troops and heavy armour being used in the operation. The troops surrounded a residential part of the town and evacuated many of the locals, while others were told not to venture out of doors.



A loudspeaker was used to order the militants to give themselves up, but they opened fire instead. The stand-off continued for around 24 hours, during which the house the fighters were hiding in was bombarded. Eventually, two bodies were pulled from its ruins, one of them Khalilov’s, the other that of his second-in-command Nabi Nabiev, known as Abdurahman. One of the besieging troops was killed and ten were wounded.



Although DNA tests will be needed to confirm that the dead man was indeed Khalilov, the security forces say they have no doubt he was killed in the operation.



The authorities announced that, in line with Russian federal law, the bodies of the two men would not be handed over to their relatives.



Khalilov, 38 when he died, had links to militants in Chechnya and had been called the heir to Chechen extremist leader Shamil Basayev, who was killed in Ingushetia in 2006. The security services blamed him for around 60 attacks in Dagestan and Chechnya.



Originally a baker he turned to radical Islam late in life. In 1998 he reportedly married the sister-in-law of Saudi militant Khattab, who fought in Chechnya before he was killed. Khalilov fought alongside Chechen rebels in the second military campaign in Chechnya.



According to Dagestan’s FSB he was responsible for dozens of killings, including the death of 45 people including 17 children when an explosion was set off during a military parade in the town of Kaspiisk on May 9, 2002.



After Khalilov was named as the chief suspect for the bombing, his father, 70-year-old Abdullah Khalilov, publicly cursed his son in front of the television cameras.



“I cannot call you a son and I have long ago renounced you,” said the father. “Neither I nor your mother have forgiven you. You are my first enemy. If I catch you I will burn you!”



Dagestani leader Mukhu Aliev told his government that almost all major militant groups have now been wiped out in the republic, while interior minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov said that 37 “members of illegal armed formations” had been killed in 2007 and 53 more arrested.



The remaining fighters were “trying to demoralise the law-enforcement agencies but nothing will come of that”, the minister said.



An anonymous police source was less sanguine, telling IWPR that there are still seven major militant leaders operating in Dagestan. They are the Suleimanov brothers - Imangazali and Magomed - whose group contains up to 40 people; Bammatkhan Sheikhov who has a band of around five people; Omar Sheikhulayev and his 30-strong group; Gusenhaji Magomedov who leads 20 fighters; and Khizri Mamayev and Shamsudin Omarov who head a group of ten militants.



No official information is given out about the whereabouts of these groups or the extent of their collaboration with Chechen militant fighters.



Magomed Magomedov, a Dagestani journalist with the newspaper Chernovikm said Khalilov’s death would probably prove only a temporary victory for the authorities. He said Khalilov had won the reputation of being an “Islamic Che Guevara”, and predicted that others would seek to emulate him.



Lawyer Arsen Magomedov, who has defended many alleged militants, agreed. “The war in Dagestan began because the federal centre [Moscow] basically lacks control not just over our republic, but of the North Caucasus as a whole,” he said. “So do you think the killing of one of their leaders will change anything? Of course not.”



Diana Alieva is a correspondent with Svobodnaya Respublika newspaper in Dagestan.

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