Saturday, July 11, 2015

ISIS Comes to Russia

(The Daily Beast) Defectors from a homegrown jihadi insurgency in the Caucasus are now on Team Caliphate. Here’s what that means.

At the same time that bombs rain down on the Islamic State, and it grapples with tactical setbacks in Syria and solidifying its hold in Iraq, ISIS continues to expand its brand, this time in the Caucasus. In June, one of the most important and respected rebels in the North Caucasus pledged loyalty to ISIS.

The defection of Amir Khamzat, commander of the Chechen Vilaiyat, [territorial-administrative units that roughly correspond with the regional republics], represents a large gain to the standing of ISIS and its expansion into Russia. A statement posted [to Twitter] on June 21 read: “We testify that all Mujahideen of the Caucasus—in the Velayats of Nokhchiycho [Chechnya], Dagestan, Galgaicho [Ingushetia] and KBK [Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay]—are united in their decision and we do not have differences among ourselves.” This statement led ISIS on June 23 to embrace the pledges of loyalty and declared the creation of a new Vilaiyat under the control of Dagestani Amir Rustam Asilderov, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Kadarskii.

Estimates of the size of the insurgency are hard to come by, as Russian official statistics are notoriously unreliable, and the autonomous nature of the insurgency means local cells’ size can fluctuate with the seasons and a revolving door of committed recruits. Despite this, an estimated 249 militants were killed in 2014 alone, and some 5,816 civilians, security officials, and militants have been killed since 2010, according to the site Caucasus Knot, which tracks the conflict in the region. Additionally, Russian officials estimate some 2,200 Russians have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, mostly from the North Caucasus. With the presence of ISIS established, those same recruits are more likely to stay local and fight in the Caucasus.

Russia is no stranger to Islamic terrorism. What began in the 1990s as a struggle for Chechen national independence has been gradually coopted and consumed by an Islamic insurgency that spreads throughout the region. The formal evolution from national to Islamic resistance culminated in the 2007 creation of the Caucasus Emirate under the leadership of longtime fighter Dokku Umarov.