Kavkaz Center, a mouthpiece for Islamist rebels in the Caucasus, has published what it says is an interview with rebel leader Doku Umarov, reacting to the death of Osama bin Laden. Umarov tends to favor video messages, and the written interview might fuel rumors in Russia that he was injured in a bomb strike on a rebel hideout in Ingushetia. There’s no way to independently confirm it is him speaking (writing), but let’s take a look anyway.
“If Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s death is confirmed, then we can only say these words from the holy Koran: ‘We all belong to Allah and to him we all return,’” Umarov allegedly said. “We ask Allah to take the martyr Sheikh bin Laden, because this person gave up his wealth and calm worldly life in order to protect Islam.”
“Regarding the question of whether bin Laden’s death will influence the situation in the world – the unbelievers themselves don’t believe that their lives will get easier. All signs show that the world is in a difficult situation, when the death of the leader of the Jihad can’t in any way stop the process of Islam’s revival.”
The man Kavkaz Center says is Umarov says the recent deaths, in air strikes, of some of his top commanders “neither weakened nor will weaken” the movement. “It’s another story that because of these losses, we have to correct our plans, change our tactics in certain places,” he says. “In one place the mudjahideen’s activity can be lessened in terms of tactics, and in another strengthened. In Nalchik it can be quieter, but in Vladivstok a strong diversionary strike can be brought. We see the Caucasus Emirate and Russia as a united theatre of operations.”
“We’re not in a hurry. The path is chosen, we know our goals and we won’t be swayed from this path,” he says. “Today the battlefield is not just Chechnya or the Caucasus Emirate, but all of Russia. The situation can be seen by all those who have eyes.”
It is unclear how much operational control Umarov has over the disparate groups working to make Russia’s mainly Muslim Caucasus region a center of instability and violence. Following the attack on a rebel hideout in Ingushetia, officials speculated Umarov may have been killed (it later turned out not to be true). Russian press remains rife with speculation on Umarov’s whereabouts, the latest being that he had fled Russia for Istanbul (where his brother lives) or Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, an old rebel hideaway. But that might well be misinformation, designed to strengthen Russia’s hand as it hopes to show it is cracking down on the remnants of the country’s Islamic insurgency.