- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
It hasn’t attracted a whole lot of attention yet, but Russia’s announcement this week of the arrest of militant leader Ali Taziyev, better known as Emir Magas could be a devastating blow to the insurgency in the North Caucasus. Magas was officially second-in-command behind the better-known Doku Umarov in the hierarchy of rebels aiming to establish an Islamic emirate in the Caucasus.
Past FP contributor and Bishkek-based International Crisis Group analysts Paul Quinn-Judge explains that Magas is actually a more significant target:
[W]hile Doku has become largely a figurehead in recent years – the last link with the old generation of independence fighters and a symbol of the war’s transformation into a religious struggle – Magas was a frontline commander, a highly successful military planner and an astute organiser. He was one of the commanders of the bloody attack on Nazran in 2004. He is sometimes alleged to have taken part in the hostage taking at Beslan later that year. He claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in June 2009 that badly injured the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and in the period between these events he united virtually all the small semi-autonomous groups of Islamic fighters under the command of the North Caucasus Emirate. This is an achievement that seems to have eluded his predecessor, Shamil Basayev.
The guerrilla movement was quick to confirm that Magas had been captured, and did not try to hide the gravity of the development. A long commentary on the Ingush jihadist site hunafa drew parallels with the early losses of Mohamed’s followers. It described the capture as a “severe test” for the movement and for Magas. “May Allah give him strength,” the site said.
Magas has been taken to Moscow for questioning.