IS’s announcement of “Vilayat Kavkaz,” the Islamic State group’s “province” in the North Caucasus was in large part the result of the rise to power and political machinations of North Caucasian militants not in Chechnya or Dagestan, but in Iraq and Syria.
In particular, the replacement by IS’s slick Starbucks-esque international franchise of the home-grown and parochial Caucasus Emirate is almost certainly the fruits of the clever political maneuvering of a small coterie of North Caucasians close to Umar Shishani.
The group, clustered around an ethnic Karachay ideologue named Abu Jihad, has been striving to increase its power base by co-opting the struggling North Caucasian insurgency for months.
Abu Jihad has been well-known for a long time. He appeared alongside Umar Shishani in videos even before Umar upped sticks and moved his group of militants to IS, leaving behind the Caucasus Emirate-Affiliated Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar.
And it was Abu Jihad who spearheaded the ideological war between JMA and IS, which grew ever more heated as time went by.
A sign that Abu Jihad’s faction wanted to push for something greater than just praising those Dagestani and Chechen militants who had pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in December came in April. In a bold move, Abu Jihad called on North Caucasians who wanted to wage jihad to do so at home under the auspices of IS, rather than by coming to fight in Syria.
And before the announcement of “Vilayat Kavkaz,” Abu Jihad’s group saw a number of significant “political” gains in terms of its prominence in Iraq/Syria — the group produced a Russian-language IS magazine, Istok, which its media activists insisted was under the auspices of the official IS media group, Al Hayat, which publishes the English language Dabiq. (It is not known who penned Istok, but its turgid writing style is highly reminiscent of Abu Jihad’s long and monumentally dull video sermons.)
Abu Jihad’s group has also succeeded in getting its Furat media group, which is a direct offshoot of the group’s original website, FiSyria (FiSyria was originally the website of Umar Shishani’s faction when that first emerged back in 2013), considered an official IS media group.
But Abu Jihad has done more than that.
The ethnic Karachay has imported to Syria a group of powerful, popular and influential figures who are — according to IS accounts on Facebook and VKontakte — rallying the troops in Syria and Iraq and preaching out of Mosul.
The first of these was Akhmad Chatayev, who turned up in Syria in late 2013.
But the most recent is Nadir Abu Khalid, aka Nadir Medetov, a popular Salafist preacher from Dagestan who turned up in Syria to great acclaim.
Who is Nadir Medetov?
Medetov’s bay’ah to IS and his sudden appearance in IS-controlled territory (he is likely in Mosul or Raqqa, but I am educated-guessing Mosul) did not go unnoticed in some Russian media.
And snaring Medetov as the latest member of his expanding group of North Caucasian IS ideologues is a big coup for Abu Jihad.
After all, Medetov is “one of the brightest and most charismatic preachers among the Russian-speaking Muslim youth” whose popularity extends beyond Dagestan into the Russian-speaking Muslim world, according to Ruslan Kurbanov of the Institute for Oriental Studies and the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Let’s look at reports of Medetov before he joined the IS franchise.
First of all, a brief biography courtesy of Kavkazsky Uzel (KU) and Kavkazpress, which takes a rather more sardonic tone.
Ahmad Medetovich Medetov was born in 1984 in Makhachkala in Dagestan, according to KU and in Kabardino Balkaria according to Kavkaz Press, but they both agree he was born in 1984. KP says Medetov is from Tyrnyauz, which for those who enjoy geographical detail is “located on the main road leading to the Upper Baksan valley area and on the main climbing route for Mount Elbrus.”
He studied at the Islamic Institute of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kabardino Balkaria. Then he went to study in Egypt (as did, incidentally, Abu Jihad). He studied in Cairo and then went on to the Islamic University of Medina where he “got a higher education in the Sharia Faculty.”
After returning to Makhachkala, Medetov preached at a mosque on Hungarian Soldiers Street (значит, на улице Венгерских бойцов). The mosque is shown here in a KU video report from October 30, 2014 when some of its worshippers were arrested.
Most recently, he preached at a mosque in Derbent. Medetov is very active on social networks and makes many videos of his sermons on Islamic themes.
On 8 October 2014, Medetov was arrested in Makhachkala.
The reports of the arrest are somewhat odd, and Medetov claims he was framed.
According to KU, Medetov and his brother Kadir were in Makhachkala’s auto market area to meet a potential buyer for a car. The buyer called himself Shamil. After inspecting the interior, the buyer left and agreed to meet in a different place. Several minutes later, according to KU, the Medetovs’ car was stopped by the police.
Medetov’s family said that Medetov had been “abducted by masked men” and reported that he was not answering calls. That evening, however, it became apparent that Medetov had been arrested. The arrest caused a stir, and about 50 people gathered near the police station to find out why he was arrested. The numbers later swelled to around 200 people. It was also reported that police searched Medetov’s home and the offices of Salyaf.ru, the website that hosted his video sermons, seizing a computer and some flash drives.
Medetov’s relatives said the next day that two pistols had been planted on Medetov and his brother Kadir; Medetov was transferred to the Makhachkala detention center.
On 10/10/2014, a court ruled that Medetov should be placed under house arrest for two months.
A video of Medetov’s arrest appeared on YouTube.
Because of his charismatic and popular video sermons, Medetov, completely unsurprisingly, appears to have been thought of as a figure who was involved in or who at least inspired the radicalization and recruitment of North Caucasians to fight alongside militant groups in Syria.
Kavkaz Press puts it in a rather more colorful way:
Thanks to his “sweet and enlightened speeches” young people went to Syria where they killed and robbed the local population.
This snotty piece of crap, while sitting in his warm apartment, sent a kid off to die though he was such a coward that the lads who took him to the police station were disgusted.
But Kavkaz Press got it sort of wrong about Medetov, when it said:
After all, a schmuck is always a schmuck, whether you call it Abu or Nadir or a telegraph pole, he is a coward and a scumbag all the same, after all, his ilk don’t go to fight for the “global caliphate,” they send others there, and for each recruit they get a percentage per head just like trading sheep.”
Well, they were only part wrong. Medetov has joined IS but it is highly unlikely that he will ever see any action in battle. He is there as a preacher and — yes — a recruiter.
It is worth noting that Medetov had a popular page on VKontakte (there are many, many pro-Salafist, pro-jihadi pages on VK, even though the site keeps shutting down accounts belonging to militants who are actually in Syria/Iraq). The account was recently banned, though his videos are all over VK.
Appearance In IS-Controlled Territory
A video of Medetov by IS’s Russian language Furat Media — the group linked to Abu Jihad — appeared all over social media last month.
The video notes that Medetov was “taken into captivity” on 8 October 2014 (it includes footage from the video I embedded above of his arrest), and says that his “liberty was limited for 8 months.”
“Despite the machinations of the services of the Taghut…” he came to “the caliphate,” the video says, showing Medetov dressed in military fatigues though he does not have a beard, possibly because he posed as a non-religious Muslim in order to cross from Turkey into Syria.
The reason it took him so long to get to “this blessed place” was because “Allah the almighty wanted to try me,” he says.
Photographs posted on social media show Abu Jihad — dressed in his now trademark cowl — shaking hands with Medetov.
Medetov was also photographed with Akhmad Medinsky, another Dagestani preacher who has recently joined Abu Jihad’s group in Syria/Iraq.
Medinsky has been photographed doing dawah activities in Mosul.
So, Why Did Medetov Join IS, Then?
The very obvious question is, of course, why Medetov joined IS and ran away to Iraq if he was so popular at home?
Islamnews.ru suggests that Medetov was inspired by ISIL-owood, IS’s propaganda efforts and says that the Dagestani preacher went to IS because of his difficult situation at home, where he was being prosecuted.
And that’s probably true — in Iraq, Medetov is apparently being treated like a celebrity and he doesn’t have the Russian security services breathing down his neck. And he doesn’t face prosecution.
But how did Medetov manage to escape house arrest and get to Syria? That is the bigger question.