The Jamaat Shariat claims to be "legitimate authority of Dagestan" with the aim of establishing a "fair society" based on sharia law. To achieve this end, the Jamaat considers it legitimate to target police and security officials and some civilians such as the government-loyalist Muslim clergy and clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church, and has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Russian security and military personnel, officials, and civilians.
The Jamaat says that peace talks with Russia are hypothetically possible, but only when Russia withdraws its troops from the region and provides security guarantees. Otherwise, the group claims, it is prepared for a long-term guerrilla war of attrition that may be broadened to encompass the whole of the Russian Federation, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. As of 2010, the ongoing violence has plunged the multiethnic and corruption- and poverty-plagued republic into near civil war.
Shariat Jamaat was established by Emir Rasul (Rasul Makasharipov) following the near-destruction of the much smaller Dagestani terrorist group called Jennet (Arabic: Paradise). In 1999, Makasharipov fought against the government during the abortive rebel invasion of Dagestan from Chechnya. After moving to fight in Chechnya, he went back to his homeland in 2002 and set up Jennet (Dzhennet), whose principal objective was to eliminate senior officers of the security forces in Dagestan.
The group was loyal to the Chechen commander Shamil Basayev and its center of operations was the republic's capital of Makhachkala along with the nearby Tarki-Tau Mountain. The insurgents managed to assassinate several important figures such as Kamil Etinbekov, the Federal Security Service's territorial head of counterintelligence and counterterrorism; Akhberdilav Akilov, head of the police department for the struggle against extremism and criminal terrorism, and 28 officers of his department; and Magomed Gusayev, the minister of national policy, information, and external relations. The 2002 Kaspiysk bombing, in which 43 soldiers and civilians were killed at a military parade, was also blamed on Makasharipov, although he rejected any responsibility and instead blamed the FSB director Nikolay Patrushev. The official Russian state media and its branches in Dagestan officially claimed that the bombing was organized by Rabbani-Khalil. It was long after Rabbani-Khalil rejected responsibility and blamed instead head of Republic of Dagestan in one of his popular videos clarifying situation around him and militants in North Caucasus with historical pretext. Apparently the motives of the head of Republic of Dagestan was to discredit and blacken the image of Muslim militants that gained quite a popularity among the local population. However, there was no response to this claim of Rabbani-Khalil from the then-head of Dagestan, Magomedali Magomedov.
Following the loss of several of its key leaders in late 2004, remnants of Jennet were re-organized and transformed into Sharia Jamaat (Arabic for "Islamic Law Community"). The new group, much larger and more decentralized (including the semi-autonomous local jamaats in Buinaksk, Gubden, Khasavyurt and Kaspiysk), is loosely organized mostly into many small clandestine urban cells, some with only three to five people, with a particularly strong presence in Makachkala. The Jamaat also maintains several larger guerrilla subunits of up to 15 fighters each, which are based in the forested and mountainous areas of Dagestan and occasionally engage in relatively large battles against Russian special forces backed by artillery and air support (such as a battle in March 2009 in which 16 rebels and at least five Russian troops were killed).