The announcement of the killing of Abu Omar al-Saif, “the mufti of Arab fighters in Chechnya”, on December 12, 2005, shed light on the movement’s future and its presence in Chechnya. While the Russian government did not deny or confirm the news until December 16, 2005, Arab newspapers and forums covered the incident and published details on Abu al-Saif’s life that correspond to a large degree with what was published in Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor on April 23, 2004 (Volume 2, Issue 8). The surprise was that qoqaz.com, the Chechen Arab fighters’ website, came back online with news about al-Saif’s killing, so much so that his brother said that “he learned about the his brother’s killing from several parties, but became sure of it when he saw it on the Arab fighters in Chechnya’s official website” (Al-Hayat, December 11, 2005).
Abu Omar Al-Saif’s Killing
Mohammad Bin Abdullah al-Saif al-Jaber al-Buaynayn al-Tamimi is from the Bani Tamim tribes that are widespread in the Arabian Peninsula. His tribe is originally from Jubail in northeast Saudi Arabia. He was born in Qassim and died at the age of 37. Abu Omar al-Saif’s brother, Ali al-Tamimi, told the al-Hayat newspaper, “my brother participated in jihad in Afghanistan. He studied with Dr. Abdullah Azzam then returned to Saudi Arabia after the Russian army’s withdrawal and the civil war broke out in Afghanistan. My brother completed his university education in the College of Sharia at Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University. Upon graduation, he was offered a job opportunity in the judicial field, but he declined and joined up with the Mujahideen again” (Al-Hayat, December 11, 2005).
The Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper in Kuwait published the details of his trip to Afghanistan in 1986, where he stayed for two years. During that time, he only went back home once. Later, he returned home and graduated with honors from Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University. The newspaper also indicated that Abu Omar al-Saif went back to Chechnya in “1996 with his Saudi wife; two-year-old firstborn son; and two-month-old daughter, Asmaa, at the time” (Al-Rai Al-Aam, December 11, 2005).
Abu Omar al-Saif, who was responsible for the Islamic courts in Chechnya when then-Chechen president, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, attempted to declare Chechnya an Islamic state, became an ideologue of the Arab fighters in Chechnya and connected the presumed state in Chechnya with groups of Muslim clerics in the Arabian Gulf (qoqaz.com). He wrote several articles and books on the issues of Iraq and democracy that did not depart from the jihadist movement’s literature.
Abu Omar al-Saif married a Chechen woman, who was killed with him in Chechnya. (He was not killed in Dagestan, as some media claimed). He had three children with his Saudi wife—the youngest a six-year-old boy he had in Chechnya when his wife was staying with him before she returned to Saudi Arabia in 1999 with all her children.
Abu Omar al-Saif had “five brothers, two older ones, Mubarak and Ibrahim, who work at the Royal Commission in the Jubail Industrial Zone East of the Kingdom of [Saudi] Arabia, and three younger ones: Faisal, Badr and Ali, respectively. He also had six sisters. His father died while Abu Omar was in college, and his mother still lives with her children in Jubail, where the whole family moved after they left Qassim” (Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper, December 11, 2005).
The announcement of the killing of al-Saif, which comes in the context of the killing of a number of Salafi-Jihadist leaders in Chechnya, beginning with Khattab, Abu al-Walid al-Ghamidi and Abu Ahmad al-Azimi, raises questions about the effect of Russia’s policy in Chechnya and the likelihood of it succeeding in ending the violence that has been raging in the republic for a decade. Russian policy sees the assassination of Salafi-Jihadist and Chechen resistance leaders as a way to break up those groups. At the same time, Russia used the presence of Arab fighters in Chechnya to claim that there exists a connection between the Chechen resistance and “international terrorism” and thereby to justify its brutal war on Chechnya.
Yet the reality is the opposite. Since September 11, the Salafi-Jihadist movement in Chechnya has been facing a dilemma, because the Arab fighters’ great financial capabilities, which were what legitimized their presence in Chechnya, changed as a result of the international community’s steps to end funding for Jihadist groups, which cut the channels of financing for Arab fighters in Chechnya.” In addition, the number of Arab fighters in Chechnya is limited because the path is blocked to young men willing to join the groups fighting in Chechnya. A review of the autobiographies of some Salafi-Jihadists in various parts the world indicates that after 2001 a large number of young men tried to go to Chechnya but failed, or left Chechnya to go engage in “jihad” in their own countries or other conflict zones.
Thus, we note that the situation of Salafi-Jihadists in Chechnya is already difficult. The killing of al-Saif is simply part of that context or crisis. This shows that Russian policy in Chechnya has failed, because the number of resistance operations is increasing despite the weakness of the Salafi-Jihadist movement, meaning that the effect of this movement is limited in comparison with the national Chechen resistance. The killing of Salafi-Jihadist leaders or their absence from Chechnya will not end the resistance. On the contrary, it will release the Chechen resistance from the burden of being connected with international terrorism.