A Russian Muslim leader from the North Caucasus region of Dagestan swore allegiance to Islamic State, according to a YouTube video posted by a user calling himself Emir Suleiman.
The video shows a man in a forest wearing a dark blue jacket and holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle. He's surrounded by five masked men holding weapons, with the black-and-white Islamic State flag hanging from a tree in the background.
"We, Mujahedeens of the Aukhovsky jamaat, decided to give you an oath of obedience" the man says, addressing Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader. Speaking Russian with a North Caucasus accent, he identifies himself as Suleiman, head of the group. While unable to verify the clip, a local official who deals with fighting terrorism said authorities are aware of the jamaat, which is led by Suleiman Zaynalabidov.
Islamic State's rising influence in Russia, if verified, would confirm concerns that foreign jihadist fighters may seek to replicate the movement's success at home. As many as 300 people from Dagestan are fighting for Islamic State and about ten returnees have been killed in Russian anti-terror operations, according to the official, who asked not to be identified to discuss confidential information.
"This is a dangerous development, a very serious problem," Frants Klintsevich, the deputy head of the defense committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said by phone today. "This signals the start of a more systematic operation, which means" Islamic State "can grow as a cancer" in the North Caucasus.
Dagestan remains the most violent area in the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus, with 168 people killed in through the end of September, according to Caucasian Knot, a news and analysis group that tracks the region. The region is the main area of operations for Imarat Kavkaz, a terrorist organization law enforcement agencies have linked to al-Qaeda.
Islamic State is getting more popular in Dagestan, the local official said.
The man on the video is probably seeking Islamic State's support because he lost Imarat Kavkaz's backing, according to Grigory Shvedov, who runs Moscow-based Caucasian Knot. Islamic State, which employs more radical tactics than Imarat Kavkaz, will probably use the oath to increase its influence and presence in the region, he said.
"This man is a renegade among the militant leaders of Imarat Kavkaz and his video may be an appeal from him to Islamic State to help him against other warlords," he said by phone today. "Unlike Islamic State, Imarat Kavkaz has recently denounced attacks on civilians and female suicide bombing."
The video published Nov. 21 shows a map of Dagestan, the region neighboring Chechnya and Azerbaijan, where Russian security forces face almost daily attacks by Muslim extremists after two separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The image indicates a swathe of Dagestan as being under Emir Suleiman's control, from the Caucasus mountains to the Caspian Sea.
"Islamic State is a genie that's much more difficult to put back into the bottle" than other jihadist threats, Klintsevich said. "Authorities underestimate the potential of mental and ideological support for Islamic State in Dagestan and across the North Caucasus."
The Aukhovsky group is nearing defeat and the few fighters it has left are on the run, the Dagestani official said. Zaynalabidov may be seeking support from abroad or wants to burnish his credentials if he flees to join Islamic State, the official said.
"A lot depends on the economic situation and whether it will develop into a social protest movement," said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst who studies the Middle East and the North Caucasus at the Moscow Carnegie Center. "Those who are returning can play a role in the crisis situation."
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