The Islamic State - Caucasus Province (IS-CP) was formed in 2015 when members of the Caucasus Emirate (a Jihadist organisation in the northern Caucasus and Russia) pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi following the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The IS-CP was an umbrella term for several different cells throughout the Northern Caucasus and some based in Syria, whose shared goal was a jihad against ‘the enemies of Islam’. Nowadays, the group has mostly been dismantled by Russian security forces, after the majority of the organisation found itself vastly disintegrated within two years of its formation. Russia’s decision to get involved as heavily as they have in Syria and the Northern Caucasus (notably to suppress radical Islamic ideology) comes from the perceived danger of such a group’s consolidation.
History & Foundations
The Northern Caucuses have become synonymous with insurgency and separatism, contemporarily “emanating from the suppression of the Chechen independence wars of 1994-96 and 1999-2007 and the suppression of the multi-ethnic jihadi insurgent group the Kavkaz Emirate in Dagestan from 2008-15.” (Williams, B. G., & Souza, R. T.) Historically, however, the peoples of the Northern Caucuses have been fighting against the Russians over a period spanning around 400 years (whether it was against the Imperial, Soviet, or the Modern period of the Russian state). 400 years of insurgency, with an enormous variance in ethnicity and language, puts the Caucuses on the shortlist of places in the world afflicted with a multitude of insurgencies.
However, the commencement of the Russian bombing campaign in Syria and the rise of ISIS led to a situation which paved the way for many Caucasian Jihadists. As their historical enemy, per se, had begun attacking Syria, numerous Jihadists in the Northern Caucasus united to fight on behalf of the Islamic State. The vast majority of these Jihadists were members of the Caucasus Emirate and eventually reformed their struggle into a new branch of the Islamic State – the IS-CP – in June of 2015. Two years later in 2017, the group was defeated by the Russian state after various raids on their regional strongholds (Rybina). Nonetheless, the current state of the IS-CP remains ambiguous as – despite their proclaimed dissolution – some lone-wolves have conducted attacks in their name. The validity of these claims, nonetheless, are often unconfirmed; the 2018 Magnitogorsk building collapse, for example, was claimed by the IS yet was later dismissed as a gas leak incident by Russian authorities (Osborn and Tsvetkova).
Ideology and Objectives
The IS-CP’s ideology was not clear-cut nor was it singular, due to the fact that the organisation was far from being a combined entity. Some of the cells within the IS-CP, such as Omar Al-Shishani and his followers, were heavily integrated within ISIS. Al-Shishani, for instance, had been based in Syria since 2012 and had progressed the ranks in order to become the Northern Commander. He had authority over its military operations and its forces in northern Syria (particularly Aleppo, Raqqa, Latakia, and the Idlib Governorate). Other cells of the IS-CP stayed in Russia with the objective of freeing the Caucuses from what they perceived as Russian domination; this is supposedly what Baghdadi wished for, as seen in a video of his on ISIS’s Furat media demanding that Caucasians fight at home instead of coming to Syria (Stephens, S. J. 2016).
Military & Political Abilities
As aforementioned, nearly all of the group’s activity has ceased since 2017, after it had been dismantled through airstrikes in Syria (such as the US strikes which killed Al-Shishani) or direct raids in the mountains of Dagestan (such as Russia’s raids which killed Rustam Asildarov, leader of the IS-CP). All that’s remained have been lone-wolf attacks in the Northern Caucasus region. Such attacks have ranged from a sole insurgent attacking two policemen with a knife outside Ramzan Kadyrov’s residence (Joscelyn, T. 2019), to the shooting of a church in Kizlyar, Dagestan which killed five (BBC, 2018). For the most part, these attacks have been relatively unorganised and many have been intercepted by Russian intelligence before they materialised. There is no longer organised group left in the Caucuses that associates with, nor that is formally called, the Islamic State.
International Relations & Potential Alliances
Due to the fact that the IS-CP’s cells were based in Syria and operated under the overarching leadership of the IS, most of the alliances were dependent on the ‘clearance’ (or approval), per se, of the latter. The Islamic State’s ability to set up various branches around Asia and Africa has dictated its international relations to be constrained on itself. Between the Sahel region, Nigeria, or Somalia, there are numerous groups within Africa that pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. However, many of these groups are sub-branches of the Islamic State, and this hence restricts the extent to which they can truly be called alliances. Other radical Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda have had direct confrontations with the IS, and it must not be mistaken that all radical Islamist terrorist organisations align with one another.
Works Cited (MLA-style)
BBC (2018) Russia Dagestan shooting: Five women killed in attack on churchgoers
Bunzel, Cole. "Ideological Infighting in the Islamic State." Perspectives on Terrorism 13.1 (2019): 12-21.
Flood, D. H. (2015). The Islamic State Raises Its Black Flag Over The Caucasus. CTC Sentinel, 8(6), 1-5.
Joscelyn, T. (2019) Islamic State claims attack on Chechen leader’s home in Grozny. FDD Long War Journal.
Luhn, A & Shaheen, K. (2015) Syrian insurgents vow to attack Russian forces as Moscow hints at ground role, Guardian.
Stephens, S. J. (2016). The Caucasus Emirate in the age of ISIS: a short history of Islamic “States” in the North Caucasus. Theses, Dissertations, and Projects.
Williams, B. G., & Souza, R. T. (2018). The Islamic State Threat to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. CTC Sentinel, 11(5), 1-11.