RUSSIAN OPERATIONS IN TATARSTAN ELIMINATE MILITANT ISLAMIST CELL
Russian security forces conducted a special operation in the Tatarstan village of Novoye Almetyevo against a group of three Islamist militants. The gunmen attracted the attention of security forces after firing on a wildlife enforcement officer who thought they were poachers and shooting at the car of a private security firm in the Nurlatsky district (Itar-Tass, November 25).
The security forces arrived in strength, deploying armored vehicles, an Mi-8 helicopter, and 500 members of the FSB (Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti – Federal Security Service) and the Interior Ministry’s OMON (Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya – Special Purpose Police Units) (Islamic News, December 2). The three insurgents were killed after a gunfight lasting two hours.
The militant cell included 26-year-old Almaz Davletshin, described as a “radical cleric” who had previously served four years in prison for the theft of scrap metal, Ruslan Spirodonov, wanted for an unsuccessful November 11 bombing of a police car in Chistopol, and Albert Khusnutdinov. The men were each armed with an assault rifle and a grenade launcher.
A day after the gun-battle, security forces discovered a dugout in the nearby village of Butaikha. The dugout was believed to belong to the three insurgents and contained clothing, a pistol silencer, mobile communications gear, bomb-making equipment and a USB stick which contained bomb-making instructions and “rules of conduct for a young mujahid” (Interfax, November 30).
Tatarstan is a highly industrialized autonomous republic that produces much of Russia’s arms, chemicals and automobiles. Though official Islam in the republic has been known for its opposition to Salafism, the former Mufti of Tatarstan and current leader of the Center for Research on the Koran and the Sunna, Farid-Hazrat Salman, claims that radical Wahhabists have infiltrated the traditionally moderate Spiritual Board of Muslims of Tatarstan (DUM), becoming the dominant trend in that institution with the financial support of Saudi Arabia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta [Moscow], December 6). Nevertheless, current Mufti Gusman Iskhakov (accused by Salman of being a Wahhabist) warned Tatarstan Muslims in the aftermath of the raid not to “succumb to provocations,” warning that “certain political forces in our country do not want our peace and tranquility, and seek all ways to sow discord and confusion among us” (Islamic News, December 2).
The Tatars of the Volga-Ural region of Russia converted to Islam in the 10th century and today form the largest minority group in Russia. The arrival of radical conservative Salafism in recent years poses a major challenge to Tatar Islam, which is based on both traditional Sufism and the indigenous modernizing trend of Jadidism (a reformist and pan-Turkic attempt to reconcile Eastern Islam with Western thought and science) since the 19th century. Like most parts of Islamic Russia, Tatarstan was significantly secularized during Soviet rule, but is now enjoying an Islamic revival, though this has involved several competing trends. The entry of Salafism to the region in the 1990s has been aided by the relatively poor knowledge of Islamic theology held by many Tatar imams.
A recent conference of Islamic scholars in the Tatarstan capital of Kazan warned that growing extremism in the republic could lead to the development of an “Ingush-Dagestani scenario,” referring to the growth of religiously inspired armed militant groups carrying out attacks in previously stable regions of the Russian Federation.
ALGERIAN COUNTERTERRORISM OFFENSIVE HUNTS AQIM LEADERSHIP IN THE KABYLE MOUNTAINS
While the Sahel/Sahara Command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has dominated reports of the movement’s activities over the last year, Algeria’s military continues to combat AQIM’s northern command, based in the largely Berber Kabyle Mountains.
A major Algerian military offensive involving some 4,000 to 5,000 troops was launched on December 9 with the participation of Special Forces units and aerial support from helicopter gunships. Operations have focused on the North-Central wilayas (provinces) of Tizi Ouzou, Boumerdès and Bouira, mountainous strongholds of the Islamist insurgency since the 1990s. Operations in the latter regions were designed to prevent reinforcements from coming to the relief of the militants in Tizi Ouzou. The offensive was launched on the basis of information obtained through the interrogation of captured AQIM militants regarding a major meeting of AQIM amirs at Sidi Ali Bounab (70 miles east of Algiers), to be presided over by AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel (a.k.a. Abu Mus’ab Abd al-Wadoud) (El-Khabar [Algiers], December 12; Tout sur l’Algérie [Algiers], December 13).
According to sources in the Algerian security establishment, the meeting was intended to organize a group to be sent south to fend off a planned coup by the Sahel/Sahara command of AQIM designed to depose Droukdel as overall commander and establish an independent emirate in the Sahel/Sahara (El-Khabar, December 12).
The army jammed mobile telephone networks in the operational region to prevent AQIM cells from communicating or detonating prepared explosives with cell phones. Only days before the offensive, Algerian defense official Abdelmalik Guenaizia asked visiting AFRICOM commander General David Hogg for the latest jamming equipment to prevent remote cell phone detonation of improvised explosive devices (CNN, December 7; Ennahar [Algiers], December 6).
By December 12, as many as 20 AQIM terrorists were reported to have been killed. Algerian authorities have obtained DNA samples from relatives of AQIM commander Abdelmalek Droudkel and Amir Abou Derar in an effort to confirm their deaths in the operation (Tout sur l’Algérie, December 13). The offensive was also reported to have disrupted a major plot to use cell phone-detonated explosives in a bombing campaign in Tizi Ouzou, Boumerdès and Bouira (El-Khabar, December 12). The deaths of Droukdel and Derar remain unconfirmed at the time of publication while a reported 2,000 additional troops were reported to be joining the offensive as some militants remain under siege by Algerian forces (al-Fadjr [Algiers], December 12).