Chechen authorities claim that a group of 20 young Chechens and Ingush studying in Moscow tried to leave Russia for Syria and were stopped at the last moment. According to Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, Western security services are constantly seeking to undermine Russia’s prestige (Instagram.com, October 30), and Russian youths end up in the ranks of the “Iblis gangs” (as Kadyrov refers to the Islamic State) because of the intrigues of Western security services. Kadyrov also insisted that the Russian security services and, in particular, the Chechen authorities in Grozny, are effectively fighting off the Western threat. “Thanks to the measures taken, we have identified an apartment in Moscow that was used as a routing base for the recruits,” he said. “We have information that the apartment may have hosted two groups en route to the Middle East. Earlier, we intercepted about 20 young people who also tried to travel to the Middle East” (Gazeta.ru, October 30).
In other words, Russian authorities detained 20 young persons in Moscow who were allegedly trying to travel to Syria and handed them over to Kadyrov without an official investigation or a court hearing. The arrest and transfer of the suspected individuals was quite theatrical. First, TV showed their arrest in Moscow, after which they were transported by a special charter flight to Grozny, where the Chechen police met and photographed them. It probably would have been easier to take the suspects’ photographs while they were on the plane or in the police station in Moscow or in Grozny. The legal side of the incident is also unclear. In particular, the legal grounds for the arrest and transfer of the suspects to Chechnya without the security services’ knowledge and or consent of their parents are unclear. The suspects’ parents were not even notified of the whereabouts of their children until they saw them on TV (YouTube, October 30). A voiceover on the Chechen TV program that featured the arrest of the suspects stated that they were recruited by the Western security services that control the Islamic State from behind the scenes.
Russian State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov played an essential role in the special operation in Moscow, according to Kadyrov. Delimkhanov is one of the Chechen governor’s closest associates. One of the detained individuals also testified to Delimkhanov’s involvement, texting his relatives before his cell phone was taken away. Koloev’s brother leaked the texts on the Internet (Vk.com, October 31).
According to the suspect, 27-year-old Amarakhan Koloev, he accidentally ended up at the apartment in question before the police raided it. Koloev and the other suspects were arrested by the police in Moscow’s Tver district, on October 24. After their arrest and registration as potential terrorists, the Russian police took the suspects to the President Hotel, which is located across the street from the Kremlin. Delimkhanov held a meeting with the suspects, after which they were taken to Chechnya. The suspects’ relatives stopped receiving information from them. It is unclear what was going on from the moment of their detention on October 24 to the official announcement of their arrest on October 30.
Human rights activists in Grozny, however, contradict the official version of the incident. They say that the suspects were unlikely to have gathered in such large numbers to travel to Syria, because neighbors would certainly have sounded the alarm. It is unclear, for example, how the landlord failed to notice that his apartment was full of Chechens wearing beards, which is in itself virtually a crime in today’s Moscow. Those living in the apartment reportedly did not pay rent for months. Moreover, it is unclear why Chechens who wished to travel to the Middle East would have gathered in Moscow for this purpose when they can easily take one of several non-stop daily flights from the North Caucasus to Istanbul. It is difficult enough for ordinary Chechens who hold Western passports to leave Moscow via its airports (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 31).
Normally, those in Russia who want to travel to the Middle East leave the country from airports located in the North Caucasus—including those in Makhachkala, Vladikavkaz, Mineralnye Vody and Grozny. A dozen flights from the region leave every week for Istanbul, and Russian citizens do not need a Turkish visa. Thousands of travelers from the Russian Federation cross the border into Turkey every day, and it is nearly impossible to distinguish freshly recruited militants from ordinary tourists and businessmen. The Russian government certainly takes note of those individuals who return after spending months in Turkey for business or study, but there is no guarantee that those who return are not militants. Thus, the absence of a visa regime with Turkey has worked against the Russian state’s strategic interests in this case and facilitates the flow of aspiring militants from the North Caucasus to Syria.