by Roman Kupchinsky
On October 3, units of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and Internal Ministry troops apprehended 3 men suspected of membership in an unnamed Islamic militant group in a mountainous region in the Crimea. The security forces discovered two caches of weapons, explosives and literature. A gunfight broke out and one of the militants was wounded.
Then, on October 26, Ukrainian Special Forces units detained 5 more Ukrainian citizens suspected of belonging to an international Islamic militant group operating in the Crimea. The arrests came after the authorities uncovered another cache of explosive materials, detonators, a Kalashnikov rifle, firearms manuals and propaganda materials.
According to Ukrainian authorities the men were linked to two Islamic extremist groups –al-Takfir wal-Hijra, which originated in Egypt and is active in North Africa and Hizb-ut-Tahrir which operates in Central Asia.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko stated:
“A network of the extreme Islamic movement al-Takfir wal-Hijra, which is banned by many countries in the world, is spreading in the Crimean territory of Ukraine.”
Lutsenko also pointed out that supporters of these organizations are seeking refuge in other countries, including Ukraine and have begun publishing a newsletter linked to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, “Revival”, in the Crimea.
Lutsenko also said that searches had been conducted in seven residences of the extremists. TNT blocks with detonators, daggers and a large amount of extremist literature were seized at one address in Simferopol.
The militant groups appear to be targeting the Crimean Tartars, a large Muslim Turkic ethnic minority in the strategically important Crimean peninsula which is largely populated by Russians and where the headquarters of the Russian Black Fleet is located.
Over the past few years a movement to unite the Crimea with Russia has been fostered by Russian nationalists with the support of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and some members of the Russian state Duma.
Relations between the Crimean Tartars and the Russian population have been tense with the leadership of the Tartar community firmly advocating that the Crimea remain part of Ukraine.
According to Ukrainian media reports, “the extremists planned to pass death sentences on the leader of the Mejlis (assembly) of the Crimean Tatar People, MP Mustafa Dzemilev, and his supporters, and plotted a number of terrorist attacks in Ukraine.”