The old man has tea served to his guests. A hot wind blows off the Caspian Sea into his apartment above Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Dagestan. To the south lie the slopes of the Caucasus, the mountain range between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, a region hotly contested by major powers for centuries. Ali Aliyev, not wanting his guests to feel uncomfortable, closes the window and turns on the air conditioner.
The 77-year-old is better known by his artist's and war name Adallo. In one of the wistful poems for which he is known, he writes: "Alone in the festival of life, I smile at everything that touches my heart." The poet has a long beard, as white as the shirt he is wearing, and the seam of his gray trousers rests on his bare feet.
"I can only laugh when I hear that some call me the bin Laden of the Caucasus," he says, as he digs for an international list of wanted terrorists, which includes both his name and that of the founder of the al-Qaida terrorist network, who is currently in hiding. "I can't even read Arabic." In Moscow, he is considered the chief ideologue of radical Islam within Russian terroritory -- a dangerous troublemaker.
In the 1990s, Adallo joined Chechen leader Shamil Basayev's underground movement in the nearby mountains. Basayev was so ruthless he would even take hostages in hospitals, just as his collaborators would later take children hostage at a school in Beslan. Adallo has been under house arrest since he returned to Dagestan from exile in Turkey. His views are apparently unchanged: He still believes that an act of terror like the one that was committed in Beslan in 2004 -- in which, in addition to the 31 terrorists, 334 schoolchildren, parents, teachers and soldiers died -- is justified. "The Russians have killed far more innocent people in their war against Chechnya," he says.
Adallo is considered the intellectual father of the men who dream of an Islamic Caucasus, of a caliphate under the rule of Sharia law that would stretch across the region's current borders. Underground fighters in the region are now killing representatives of the government on a daily basis, while Moscow fights back just as brutally.
These are the incidents that occurred last week alone: On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed himself and six others in front of a concert hall in the Chechen capital Grozny; the next day, police shot eight suspected terrorists in a forest near Makhachkala; on Tuesday, four rebels died in a battle in the southern Chechen mountains, and that evening a bomb exploded near the house of the mayor of Magas, the capital of the Republic of Ingushetia.
In the first five months of this year, the Caucasus has already seen more than 300 attacks, in which 75 police officers and 48 civilians died. The authorities, for their part, have "liquidated 112 bandits," as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced.
The region is "one of the Kremlin's biggest problems," Alexei Malashenko, a security expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center warned lasted Wednesday. On the same day Gennady Saizev, the former head of the Alpha Group counterterrorism unit, said that violence is "increasingly threatening the entire nation."