The Islamic State and its North Caucasus Cells

Islam Tekushev

Prague, 2 May, Caucasus Times. Today radicalized youth in the North Caucasus is attracted by the so-called romantic purist propaganda of the Islamic State through social networks. There are no exact numbers of militants from Russia; however, rough estimations suggest that the total figure of insurgents fighting in Syria ranges from 2,000-2,500. According to the FSB (Federal Security Services), the majority of combatants fight in the so-called Norther Front of the Islamic State. This is one of the key locations for ISIS as it covers Raqqa area. The location is being increasingly targeted by the Russian army from the air. Up until December 2015, the Northern division was under the command Omar al Shishani, a Chechen national born in Georgia and one of the most wanted jihadis in the world. The division has over 700 Chechens and other North Caucasus nationals.

The Caucasus Emirate’s militants who pledged allegiance to ISIS continue terrorist activities in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Thus, on the night of December 30th, 2015 Dagestani insurgents opened fire on a group of tourists visiting Naryn-Kala Fortress in Derbent, killing one and wounding eleven people. According to the law enforcement, the assailants represented the so-called South Division of the Islamic State.

In the end of November 2015, a law enforcement squad in Kabardino-Balkaria raided a militant base in the suburbs of Nalchik with eight armed insurgents. As a result of a special operation, several of them were killed on the spot while the rest followed and killed near Nalchik, including the leader of the Kabardino-Balkarian sector. The average age of the jihadis ranged from 19 to 27.

Despite the facts that the majority of militants relocated to Syria and that the law enforcement authorities became quite successful at raiding and eliminating the insurgents’ bases in the region, the number of insurgent attacks on armed personnel as well as civilians increased by the end of 2015. At the same time, the number of insurgency supporters who ensure resource mobilization as well as provide new recruits grew stronger.

Unfortunately, the most obvious victims of violence in the regions under counter-terrorist operations are militants’ relatives who have no direct engagement in the insurgency. They most often become victims of torture from the law enforcement agents who come from outside the region to carry out counter-terrorist operations. The relatives from the onset don’t have any rights or protection since they came under the scrutiny of the authorities. They cannot file complaints either with the police or the Prosecutor’s office. The only organizations accepting and recording such cases are human rights organizations. However, in 2015 Russian legislative authorities passed a number of laws limiting the capacity of mass media, NGOs and human rights organizations to operate in the North Caucasus.

Thus, in 2014-2015 Moscow drafted several legislation acts to discredit NGOs and limit their finance sources which include the law on foreign agents and the law on “undesirable” organizations aimed at limiting the civil society and NGO activities in the North Caucasus. Another law that constrains access of human rights activists to pre-trial detention centers (SIZO) is currently being reviewed by the parliament. The latter legislative act specifically aims to limit the human rights defenders’ ability to document physical abuse and torture used by law enforcement in detention on the detainees suspected of terrorist connections. These people cannot move to another region of Russia or CIS because the law enforcement has a shared databased of terrorist suspects and there would never be a “fresh-start” opportunity for them. Thus, the government strips those Muslims who are “blacklisted” on terrorism allegations of alternatives other than seek assistance from the insurgency.

This vicious circle contributes to Muslim radicalization, and the legitimate grievances of the population are cunningly used by the ISIS propaganda mediators on social networks pitching unlawful actions of authorities as a global war against Muslims.

Islam Tekushev, Caucasus Times


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