Umarov’s volte-face opens split in the Chechen rebel ‘Caucasus Emirate’

Given the whole resignation-to-rebutal farce around Doku Umarov’s position, it is dangerous to leap to conclusions, especially on the basis of news of uncertain validity, but if the latest from rebel mouthpiece Kavkaz Center is to be believed, deputy-turned-successor-turned-deputy Aslambek Vadalov has resigned his position as deputy emir.

According to Vadalov’s deputy and ally Khussein Gakayev (‘Emir Mansur’), Vadalov did not just step down, but he and senior field commander ‘Abdullah Mukhannad’ (also known as ‘Abu Anas’, probable real name Khaled Yusef Muhammad al-Emitat) also repudiated their personal oath of allegiance to Umarov, even while restating their commitment to the ‘Emirate’ and the wider rebel cause. In other words, this is a direct challenge to Umarov’s authority, and although he trotted his ‘supreme judge’ Seifullah to affirm that Umarov is “sole legitimate ruler of the Moslems of the Caucasus” (a fact of which the overwhelming majority of said Moslems seem unaware or unconvinced), his authority cannot help but be further weakened.

Vadalov is a relatively well-respected commander within rebel ranks, even if not well-known without; Mukhannad leads the Arab volunteer ‘battalion’ and is a key access point for support and volunteers from the outside Islamic world, especially connected with Al Qaeda. Furthermore, Gakayev’s statement – in which he aligns himself with the Vadalov camp – appeals to other field commanders to recognise the unspecified but evident weaknesses of Umarov’s leadership over and above his leadership flip-flop and join this splinter element. A fourth senior field commander, Tarkhan Gaziyev, has also rejected Umarov’s lead.

In short, it looks as if a full internal schism is under way within the already-reeling rebel movement, with both sides reaching out to win over remaining commanders and units, both within and outside Chechnya. Umarov presumably has the Bakardino-Balkarians’ support, maybe some Ingush and Dagestanis (though that is not a given), but many Chechens?

Nor is there much grounds to hope for a shift away from terror tactics: Umarov has repeatedly approved and supported attacks on civilians while Vadalov’s chief ally appears to be the main Al Qaeda contact in the area, and a forthright supporter of a wider jihad rather than a narrower struggle for Chechen independence.

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