Jean-François Ratelle
January 24, 2014

The Vilayat Dagestan, a Salafist insurgent group under the umbrella of the Caucasus Emirate, claimed responsibility for the most recent suicide attacks in Volgograd. At the same time, they openly threatened to target international athletes and tourists coming to Russia for the Sochi Olympics. If this most recent threat represents an increase in risk for potential terrorist attacks against the Sochi Olympics, it also corresponds to an important power and scale-shift inside the Caucasus Emirate.

The instability and insecurity in Dagestan has been growing for more than 15 years without any imminent solutions. Since the 1990s, Chechen militants have sought to spread insurgent violence throughout the North Caucasus in order to fight the Russian forces, focusing mostly on Dagestan and Ingushetia. The result of this strategy, coupled with the growing discontent of the North Caucasian population and the abuse committed by local police, have fostered the development of insurgent groups all over the region. In recent years (2008 onwards), the military capacity of the Dagestani insurgency has overpowered its Chechen counterpart. Despite the predominant role played by Dagestani insurgents, Chechen militants have remained in control of the rebellion. The most recent video released by the Vilayat Dagestan demonstrates that radical Islamists from Dagestan associated with the Caucasus Emirate might be preparing to replace the Chechen leadership of Doku Umarov.

Indeed, one would have expected Umarov, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, to claim responsibility for the attacks and to reiterate his previous threats against the Sochi Olympics. Instead of this expected scenario, the Dagestan Vilayat released the video without any mention of the role played by Umarov and his inner circle. Contrarily to Umarov’s video in July which threatened the Sochi Olympics with possible attacks in order to avenge the victims of the 19th century Caucasian wars, the Vilayat Dagestan promised to target the Olympics to avenge the blood-spilled from fellow Muslims around the world. A recent rumour launched by Ramzan Kadyrov and his pro-Russian administration reported Umarov’s death, and that internal debates about his succession have ensued between insurgent leaders. One cannot assess the validity of these claims; however it becomes obvious that alive or not — Umarov’s influence has radically decreased in the recent months. We are probably witnessing a generational change and power-shift inside the insurgency.

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