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New leader of Islamic Caucasus Emirate killed by Russian forces

Just a few months into his tenure as the head of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE), Magomed Suleimanov, also known as Abu Usman Gimrinsky, has been killed by Russian security forces.

The news was first circulated by jihadists on social media earlier today, with some Twitter feeds posting a picture purportedly showing Abu Usman after his "martyrdom." The web site for Vilayat Dagestan, which is one of ICE's so-called provinces, then released a statement announcing that Abu Usman and other ICE officials had been killed.

Russia's Anti-Terrorism Committee has also told the press that its forces killed Gimrinsky and three others during a counterterrorism raid in Dagestan.

Abu Usman's role as ICE's emir was publicly announced on July 1. However, his appointment to that role was suspected before then. He succeeded Aliaskhab Kebekov, more commonly known as Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, who was killed by Russian forces in April. Kebekov rose to ICE's top leadership position after his predecessor, Doku Umarov, perished sometime in either late 2013 or early 2014.

Therefore, ICE has lost three emirs in just over a year and a half. The losses are testing ICE's chain-of-succession, especially at a time when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's Islamic State is vying to win the loyalty of jihadists in the Caucasus region.

In June, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani accepted the bayat (oath of allegiance) sworn by a number of Caucasus jihadists to Baghdadi. Adnani announced that the Islamic State had formed a new Vilayat (or province) in the area and that it was headed by "the noble sheikh Abu Muhammad al Qadari." Adnani demanded that all Muslims in the region answer to al Qadari, who appears to be a man named Rustam Asilderov, the former head of ICE's Vilayat Dagestan.

Abu Usman and Ali Abu Muhammad worked together in an attempt to stem the tide of defections from ICE to the Islamic State. They received assistance from sharia officials in two al Qaeda branches, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Al Nusrah Front, as well as other prominent pro-al Qaeda jihadists, but their collective efforts failed to stop some high-profile betrayals.

In December 2014, a major controversy ensued when Asilderov announced his allegiance to the Islamic State. Earlier that same month, Abu Usman lashed out at the ICE commanders and fighters who had switched allegiance. Abu Usman explained that Ali Abu Muhammad had "not allowed anyone to swear allegiance to the Islamic State as far as they accuse Muslims of disbelief, accept killing of Muslims and do not listen to scholars."

After Asilderov's defection, Abu Usman released an even more scathing audio message, claiming that neither he, nor Ali Abu Muhammad, had been consulted before Asilderov announced his allegiance to Baghdadi. Abu Usman also criticized Asilderov's lack of knowledge of sharia (or Islamic law), saying it was Asilderov's ignorance that led him down the path to the Islamic State.

"As a result," Abu Usman claimed, Asilderov's "decision was adopted at Satan's instigation and this is nothing but following one's passion."

Ali Abu Muhammad himself weighed in, trying to convince the wayward ICE leaders to stay in his ranks. But ICE's call for unity failed, as the defections continued throughout the first half of 2015.

ICE waited more than two months to name Abu Usman as Ali Abu Muhammad's successor. The group finally made the announcement a little more than a week after Adnani announced the Islamic State's expansion into ICE's home turf. ICE's announcement was accompanied by an image trumpeting the fact that Said Arakanskiy, the new head of Vilayat Dagestan, had sworn allegiance to Abu Usman. Some accounts say Arakanskiy himself was killed in the Russians' raid.

ICE was able to appoint new leaders in various "sectors" of its so-called Dagestan province in recent weeks. But the Islamic State's challenge to ICE's authority has clearly caused major problems for the organization. And these problems have been compounded by ICE's leadership losses.

The competition between the Islamic State and al Qaeda has impacted the jihadists from the Caucasus who are fighting in Syria as well. Some prominent Chechen commanders have joined the Islamic State, but other groups that draw fighters from the region have remained part of al Qaeda's network.

Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA), which was led by Chechens, failed to join to the Islamic State and has continued to fight alongside the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Recently, Salahuddin Shishani, who led the JMA before being forced out, formed his own arm of the Caucasus Emirate in Syria and swore allegiance to Abu Usman. Another Chechen-led group, Junud al Sham, is closely allied with the Al Nusrah Front in Syria as well.

[Source: By Thomas Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, NJ, 11Aug15]

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