World View: Russia’s Chechnya Becomes Biggest Contributor of Jihadists to ISIS

AP Photo/Nasser Nasser
AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Russia’s Chechnya becomes biggest contributor of jihadists to ISIS
  • Chechen youth from Georgia’s Pansiki Gorge joining ISIS in droves

Russia’s Chechnya becomes biggest contributor of jihadists to ISIS

 Umar al-Shishani (center), ISIS's military emir in Syria, is a Kist Chechen from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge (RFERL)
Umar al-Shishani (center), ISIS’s military emir in Syria, is a Kist Chechen from Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge (RFERL)

For years, I have been writing about the very stupid policy of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin of sending money and heavy weapons to Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal attack on innocent Sunni women and children. By 2012, reports made it evident that young Sunni men from around the world were traveling to Syria to fight al-Assad, and this included young men from the North Caucasus (Russia’s southern provinces). I wrote repeatedly that those young men were going to get terrorism training and return to their home countries, in this case Russia.

Since then, those predictions have been coming true with a vengeance. We have seen al-Assad’s genocidal acts, supported by troops and weapons from Russia, bring about the creation of several jihadist groups, most recently the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh).

Although countries around the world have supplied young jihadists to ISIS, the biggest non-Mideast contributors are not America or European countries. The biggest contributor is Russia. The number of Russian nationals fighting with ISIS has roughly doubled over the past year. Russia’s own Federal Security Service (FSB) estimates that 1,700 militants from Russia have joined ISIS, but that figure seems too low to be plausible. Other estimates range from 3,000 to 5,000.

Many of these are runaway teen Chechens who grew up during Russia’s wars in Chechnya during the 1990s, saw their relatives and friends killed by the Russian military, and are now seeking an opportunity for revenge. In fact, the Chechnya separatist movement had been waning in influence since the early 2000s, but is rapidly gaining strength again because of the success and glory of ISIS. Now the insurgents from Chechnya and other Caucasian nations have a new opportunity to train and operate with impunity – an opportunity they certainly did not have back home in the Caucasus.

This is all the result of Vladimir Putin supplying weapons to Bashar al-Assad to slaughter innocent Sunnis. Going further, I suppose that if Jonathan Gruber can refer to the “stupidity of the American people” who supported Obamacare, then we can refer to the stupidity of the Russian people who are supporting Putin, who is shaping up to be a total disaster for the Russian people. Jamestown and Bloomberg and RFE/RL and Geopolitical Monitor (Sep 2014)

Chechen youth from Georgia’s Pansiki Gorge joining ISIS in droves

Emotions ran high in the Chechen community when it was learned earlier this month that two school children, aged 16 and 18, had run away from their home in Georgia’s Pansiki Gorge and had managed to go through airport controls in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city, to leave for Turkey, after which they are presumed to have crossed into Syria to join the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). Angry parents and community elders in Pansiki are demanding an explanation from Georgian authorities on how it was possible for minors to board a plane to Turkey unchallenged. Other reports indicate that six people had left Pansiki to join ISIS in Syria between April 6-14.

Georgia’s Pansiki Gorge lies on the border with Russia, on the border of the province of Chechnya in Russia, and is populated mostly by Kists, who are ethnic Chechens. Because it is in a difficult-to-reach geographical location, Georgian authorities have done little to provide security to Pansiki, with the result that it has become practically a free portal for local young radicals and militants to go to Syria or Iraq and join ISIS, and then return. ISIS and its Chechen squadrons have already declared war on Russia and promised to “liberate” the Caucasus.

The Gorge has become a matter of great concern to both Georgia and Russia. It is economically very poor, making it a prime pool for ISIS recruiters to gain adherents.

Georgia’s response to these concerns is to pass a new law making it illegal to join or receive training in illegal armed groups in George and abroad, or to recruit others to do so. Passing a law gives the appearance of government action, but many analysts believe that just passing a law will make little difference. (Isn’t it already illegal to join illegal armed groups, or to recruit others to do so?)

According to one analyst:

In Pankisi’s case, the valley’s crushing poverty and the international demand for Chechen fighters [in Syria, Ukraine, as well as in many other theaters] make for a noxious mix that is difficult to disrupt via legislation.

Al Arabiya and RFE/RL and Jamestown

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Russia, Chechnya, Umar al-Shishani, Vladimir Putin, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Georgia, Pansiki Gorge, Turkey
Permanent web link to this article
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.