Staunton, October 25 – Using both the Internet to promote its ideas among the nations of the North Caucasus and its ties to Islamist fighters from that regions who fought in Syria as a channel for guns and explosives, ISIS is now targeting Karachayevo-Cherkessia, according to Anton Chablin.
In an article for the Svobodnaya Pressa – Yug portal, the regional specialist says that there are ever more backers of “political Islamism” in that republic who are “financed and directed from Syria. Among the leaders of this movement is Islam Atabiyeva, who fought in Syria under the name Abu Jihad (yug.svpressa.ru/war21/article/141090/).
Recently, he continues, “the force structures of Karachayevo-Cherkessia conducted a special operation in the course of which they liquidated a cell of ISIS militants who were operating in the republic.” Among the forces involved were FSB spetsnaz and the Russian Guard. Six people were arrested, and arms were seized.
The government forces also confiscated a map of the republic “on which was shown the locations of the buildings of the force structures” as well as other key government institutions. “Most likely,” Shablin says, “the terrorists were prepared several diversionary actions against the siloviki.”
According to investigators, he continues, “the cell was directed and financed directly from Syria by ISIS. But not a single one of the criminals had ever been in Syria, although they planned to go there in order to receive ‘combat experience.’” But there have been some from the republic who have gone, with at least a few of them arrested on their return.
Last spring, for example, the Turkish special services arrested and handed over to Russia Temirzhan Eslimesov from Karachayevo-Cherkessia who was returning from having fought for ISIS in Syria. Later, two more Karachayevo-Cherkessia natives, Mussa Shardan and Rustam Suyunchev, were identified and sought under international warrants.
Particularly worrisome, Chablin continues, has been the appearance of women from Karachayevo-Cherkessia in the ISIS forces in Syria. When four young women nurses returned home, they were arrested. Officials have not yet released their names.
Most of the North Caucasians who have fought in Syria have been at the bottom of the chain of command. Islam Atabiyev was an exception. He was a close aide to Umar ash-Shishani, the war minister of the self-proclaimed kalifate who was killed in June of this year. Atabiyev’s status in Syria may explain why ISIS has been focusing on Karachayevo-Cherkessia.
Republic officials have been playing down the danger, Chablin says, lest they discourage tourists from coming to the republic. But the danger is real, although it is not the one it faced in the past. “The special services are encountering new challenges: in place of nationalism has come political Islam.”
“Its propagandists call on Muslim ethnoses not to keep themselves separate but on the contrary to ‘eliminate’ borders among them in the name of a general holy war with Christianity.” In bi- or multi-national republics in the North Caucasus, that may represent a particular danger now and in the future.