Doku Umarov is alive. No, he is dead instead

Rumors about the killing of Chechen’s terrorist group leader Doku Umarov have been spreading since last summer, but only today Russian authorities confirmed his death. The “Caucasian Osama bin Laden” has been Kremlin’s number one enemy  for years and now that he is dead an empty seat is available in the “Islamic Caucasus Emirate”.

Doku Umarov in October 2007 self-proclaimed emir of the Chechen separatist Islamic Caucasus Emirate in the southwest of the Russian Federation, a would-be Islamic state in the Russian Federation, turning into one of the most wanted anti-Russian Chechen leaders. Umarov had been declared dead several times by the Fsb, the Russian intelligence, and by the Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. But in December 2013 a video showing Umarov was posted on YouTube just hours after Kadyrov pronounced the words: “I officially state that Umarov is long dead.” This time it seems for real.

The Caucasian Caliphate

In the past years, Umarov has been accused of organizing dozens of terrorist attacks not only in the North Caucasus but also in mainland Russia. He was alleged leading the hostage taking at the school number 1 in Beslan in September 2004 – where 386 died –, having ordered the 2009 bombing of the train Nevsky Express, from Moscow to St. Petersburg (26 dead) and the 2010 attack by female suicide bombers on the Moscow subway (39 dead), as well as the 2011 bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport (36 dead).

In a video posted in July 2013 on YouTube, Umarov said that Russians “plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims buried on our land by the Black Sea. We as mujahedeen are required not to allow that, using any methods that Allah allows us”. Umarov also called on his mujahedeen to use “maximum force to disrupt these satanic games”. After his words, Russian authorities cracked down on the Dagestan-based fighters, issued new anti-terrorism laws and raised security worries in all the country. The pacification of Chechnya and Dagestan has been a main goal for the Kremlin for years. The importance of the regions is not only in their geo-political location, with Dagestan in particular offering a long coastline on the Caspian Sea, but even more for the undisputable value of any region when it is at risk the integrity of Russia. The “neutralization” of Umarov is thus a big strike for Moscow and the Kadyrov’s Chechen Republic.

An empty seat

Observers say that Umarov’s move of proclaiming Islamic Caucasus Emirate was backed by Al-Qaeda. Under Umarov the nationalist and separatist movement across Northern Caucasus mutated from a national independence movement into a religious jihad to fight the Christian Russia. The first Chechen aim of national independence changed into the creation of a multinational state ruled by the Sharia law embodied by a leader who merges secular and spiritual powers: the Caucasian Caliphate. But, according to many, positioning himself as part of the global jihadist movement weakened his leadership in the Chechen insurgence high spheres. This could be behind his defeat. In any case, the empty space left by Umarov’s death could both turn into an emerging chance for a new “Emir” seeking for the Caliphate, or the end of the jihad and a return to the original fight for independence.

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