A Russian father told the media he believes his 19-year-old daughter fled to Turkey to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Syria.
Varvara Karaulova studied philosophy at Moscow State University. The second-year student loved different cultures and spoke six languages, including Arabic. If she did choose to join the terrorist group, her choice “represents the first high-profile suspected Islamic State recruitment case in the Russian capital.”
Witnesses last saw Karaulova at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which is a popular starting point into Syria. Since Syria collapsed into a civil war four years ago, journalists have documented the many ways terrorists entered Syria through Turkey, which chose the side of the rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In April, Turkish authorities arrested ten Westerners and four Russians who attempted to cross the border into Syria.
Her friends at school told her father Pavel she recently wore “traditional Islamic clothing” around school.
“Whenever she was leaving home, she was wearing jeans and boots,” he explained. “And whenever she got to the university, she changed into a hijab, a long-sleeve jacket and a long skirt. That’s something that is shocking. I was never told beforehand about that.”
In April, he noticed she did not wear her cross necklace. She was last seen on Wednesday, leaving an apartment she shared with her mother. Shortly after, she sent an email to her father to let him know she was safe. When she sent a text to her mother that asked her to take care of the dog, he worried even more.
“She loved her dog very much,” he claimed.
While she could be the first Russian from Moscow to join ISIS, she will find many other countrymen within the terrorist group.
“Recruitment by terrorist groups in Russia did not begin with the emergence of the Islamic State,” stated Alexander Verkhovsky, who leads SOVA, a Russian think tank that specializes in extremism. “I would not say that it has increased in Russia with the Islamic State. The phenomenon was already present in the North Caucasus.”
These areas include Chechnya and Dagestan. Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, are reportedly of Chechen descent. The Associated Press said Dzhokhar was a student in Makhachkala, and Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan last year for six months. Rumors floated that he met with extremists while visiting his parents, but his father, Anzor, denies them.
The pivot to Russian Muslims follows months of recruitment among Chechnya’s Muslim community. Among the Islamic State’s most revered military leaders is Omar al-Shishani, “Omar the Chechen,” who is believed to be in charge of much of ISIS’s military strategy in Iraq and Syria. The fair-skinned, red-haired militant stands out in videos and photos distributed by the terrorist group. Murad Margoshvili, also known as Muslim al-Shishani, is another Chechen figure in ISIS and “has a Che Guevara status” in Syria.
A video recently released by the group featured a Russian militant who vowed to liberate Chechnya and the North Caucasus from Russia’s grips. He also told Russian President Vladimir Putin the terrorist group captured the weapons and equipment he sent to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian women already in ISIS released a letter via social media to recruit more “sisters” for the terrorist group. The women try to lure women on the idea of hijra and jihad, which ISIS uses as a way to justify its barbaric atrocities in the Middle East. It claims the ladies in Russia must participate in hijra, a migration in the steps of Mohammad, since it is a religious duty. A few women from Dagestan and Chechnya with ties to ISIS attacked Istanbul this year:
Petimat Oisayeva, an 18-year-old Chechen, was detained in the southern Russian city of Nalchik in April as she was heading to Syria to join her Chechen fiance, who had been fighting alongside an unidentified militant group there, Russian media reported at the time.
In January, 18-year-old Diana Ramazova, a native of Russia’s restive republic of Dagestan, carried out a suicide bombing outside a police station in central Istanbul, killing one policeman. She had reportedly married an Islamic State militant who was killed in Syria in December 2014.
Pavel insists his daughter will not be like these women. He told the media he will travel to Istanbul to bring her home. He admitted he did not know how she gathered funds for her trip, but Russian authorities said she was granted an international passport.