PAKISTANI TALIBAN THREATEN ISRAEL AND PASHTUN NATIONALISTS WITH SUICIDE BOMBERS
Well-pleased with the local “success” of their suicide bombing campaign, the leaders of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are now threatening to send their suicide bombers against Israeli targets and Pakistan’s Pashtun politicians.
In a telephone interview, TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud expressed his anger at Israel’s devastating incursion into Gaza, promising to avenge the Palestinian Muslims for Israel’s “atrocities” (BBC Urdu, January 18). Saying he would teach Israel an “historic lesson,” Baitullah declared his suicide bombers could strike anywhere in the worlds with God’s help (Daily Times [Lahore], January 18).
Baitullah’s right-hand man, Hakimullah Mahsud, followed up several days later by threatening to send TTP suicide bombers against leaders of the Pashtun-based Awami National Party (ANP) in response to the government’s offensive in the turbulent Swat region: “We have prepared a hit-list of ANP leaders and activists who will be the target of suicide attacks and gunfire. People must avoid meeting ANP leaders and attending their functions” (The News [Islamabad], January 22; Pak Tribune, January 24). Hakimullah, the regional TTP commander for the Khyber, Kurram, and Orakzai tribal agencies, has issued similar threats against the ANP before (The News, November 27, 2008).
Led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, the ANP is a secular/left national political party with a stronghold in the Pashtun-dominated North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. The ANP was a big winner in last year’s elections, forming the largest party in the NWFP’s ruling coalition and playing a supporting role in the central government coalition in Islamabad (Pakistan Times, February 25, 2008; The Nation [Islamabad], January 9). Under Asfandyar Wali Khan, the ANP has been a strong opponent of the Taliban, encouraging dialogue with moderate Islamist elements while rejecting Taliban violence. As a result, the movement has been a frequent target of the Taliban, which no doubt feels threatened by the ANP’s electoral success. Press reports of Asfandyar Wali Khan visiting U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Tampa Bay in 2006 and 2008 have not endeared the Awami Party leader to the Taliban (Dawn [Karachi], May 9, 2008). The militants demand that the ANP immediately implement Shari’a (Islamic law) in the NWFP, release all Taliban prisoners, and pay compensation for losses suffered during government offensives in Swat and elsewhere in the frontier region (Pak Tribune, January 24).
ARE SLAVIC NEO-PAGANS RUSSIA’S LATEST TERRORIST THREAT?
In recent years Russia has been beset by terrorist activities emanating from familiar sources – ethnic nationalism, radical Islamism, and criminal activity. The latest terrorist threat in Russia, however, may be coming from a completely unexpected direction – Slavic neo-paganism.
Earlier this month, the Federal Security Service (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti – FSB) and Interior Ministry police arrested six members of a group accused of bombing railway facilities and an Orthodox church, attacking foreigners, and planning an attack on a McDonald’s restaurant (Interfax, January 19; NTV-MIR [Moscow], January 21). Surprisingly, the young suspects (aged between 17 and 24) were described as belonging to a group that worshipped pre-Christian Slavic deities, part of the Slavic world’s growing Rodnovery (native faith) movement, which regards Christianity as an unwelcome and alien intrusion into Slavic life.
In Russia the movement has reverberated most with young people who grew up in the post-Soviet period and feel no particular attachment to the long-repressed Orthodox Church. Though its origins can be found in 19th century academic works, modern Russian Neo-paganism has tied itself closely to popular youth culture. Typical of the movement’s appeal to youth is the emergence of Arkona, a popular “Slavic pagan metal” band (http://ca.youtube.com/watch?<wbr></wbr>v=8U07boPwbKw).
The neo-paganists are charged with a number of bombings, including attacks on rail lines near the Tsaricino and Bulatnikovo metro stations (October 5 and November 4, 2008). They are also alleged to have carried out a bombing in an Orthodox church on November 30, 2008, and the January 16 attempted bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant near the Kuzminsi metro station (NTV-MIR, January 21; Moscow Times, January 22).
A Ministry of Sport official was originally detained in connection with the investigation, but was released due to lack of evidence after it appeared bomb-making materials found in his flat belonged to his cousin, an alleged group member (Kommersant, January 21). Yevgenya Zhikhareva, the 17-year-old girl who was alleged to be the group’s leader, was also released because of a lack of evidence (Moscow Times, January 22). The suspects are charged with involvement in the murder of at least ten foreign nationals and a series of bombings over the period 2008-2009. Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin reported a total of 47 fatal attacks on non-Slavic foreigners in Moscow last year (Moscow Times, January 22).
Since the last traces of Russia’s pre-Christian religion were purged in the medieval period (save those elements that had been absorbed into local Christian folk ritual), the modern movement draws heavily on the literary and artistic legacy of Russia’s 19th century Romantic movement, which focused on the mythology of an heroic pre-Christian era. Many Rodnovers (as followers are termed) use the allegedly ancient Book of Veles as a sacred text, though most scholars regard the work as a modern forgery (the original text, carved on a series of wooden planks, was lost in World War II). Though some Rodnovers are seeking an authentic religious experience, others are attracted to the movement by its association with extremist nationalism. Given the release of two of the suspects so far, it remains to be seen if neo-paganism poses a new security threat to the Russian Federation.