Top ISIS commander killed in clashes in Russia’s Caucasus region

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Rustam Asildarov, the Islamic State’s top leader for its branch in southwest Russia, was among five militants who were killed in clashes with security forces, Russian officials say. Weapons and explosives were found at the scene.

The operation happened on Saturday afternoon when Russian security forces surrounded a residence in Makhachkala, the capital of Russia’s Dagestan republic, after intelligence suggested that militants were hiding there.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said negotiations were underway when the militants opened fire with automatic weapons. Security forces returned fire, killing Asildarov and four other militants who were also inside the residence. None of the security forces were injured.

The FSB said in a press statement that automatic weapons and large quantities of ammunition and explosives were found at the scene, though it did not say whether the group had been plotting to carry out attacks in the near future.

Asildarov was previously a commander of Caucasus Emirate but he defected and pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in December 2014. ISIS accepted his pledge and in June 2015 appointed Asildarov to be the “Emir” of the newly-created ISIS branch in the North Caucasus.

The regional branch, called the Islamic State’s Caucasus Province (ISIS-CP), claimed its first attack in September 2015 when militants attacked a military base in Magaramkent in southern Dagestan, killing an undisclosed number of people.

Asildarov was also involved in the planning of attacks that were carried out before he joined the Islamic State.

Most notably, Asildarov was allegedly involved in the planning of two suicide bombings that rocked the city of Volgograd in December 2013. One suicide bomber targeted a train station on December 29, killing 18 people, and a second bomber targeted a trolleybus the next day, killing 16 people.

In addition, Asildarov is believed to have been involved in a May 2012 attack in which two suicide bombers attacked a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Makhachkala. Authorities at the time said 13 people were killed but Sunday’s statement from the FSB put the casualty figures at 40 dead and more than 100 injured.

Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim but ethnically diverse republic that borders Chechnya, has experienced some of the region’s worst militant violence in recent years, nearly two decades after a separatist war ended in Chechnya.

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