The State Department announced today that Aliaskhab Kebekov (also known as Ali Abu Muhammad al Dagestani) has been added to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists. Kebekov took over as the head of the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE) in early 2014, following the death of his predecessor, Doku Umarov.
Kebekov is an al Qaeda loyalist. “In the summer of 2014,” State notes in its announcement, “Kebekov issued a video statement proclaiming the Caucasus Emirate’s ‘structural subordination’ to al Qaeda and noted his group’s readiness to execute orders and instructions from al Qaeda’s leaders.”
Indeed, Kebekov’s allegiance to al Qaeda became obvious after the rivalry between Ayman al Zawahiri’s organization and the Islamic State, ruled by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, flared up last year.
ICE has deep ties to the jihad in Syria, as the group has provided both leaders and fighters to multiple organizations. While some of these Caucasus jihadists hold key positions in the Islamic State, others remain loyal to al Qaeda. For instance, the Chechen-led Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar is still loyal to the ICE emir and al Qaeda despite its attempts to remain neutral in the fight between the Islamic State and its jihadist rivals.
The jihadists’ differences in Syria have migrated back to Chechnya and Dagestan. In December of last year, the head of Vilayat Dagestan (a so-called “province” of ICE) broke from Kebekov and declared his allegiance to Baghdadi. Other jihadists did the same, causing a crisis for Kebekov’s leadership. In short order, Kebekov named a new emir for the Vilayat Dagestan, which remains a part of ICE’s operations.
But the dissent within Kebekov’s ranks created an international stir within jihadist circles. And al Qaeda rallied its wagons around Kebekov.