In his recent speech, the head of the Republic of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, said that several terrorism-related draft bills are under consideration in the Russian State Duma. He noted that it was important to provide a legal definition of a new type of crime—international terrorism. “It is the type of threat that our country has encountered for the past 20 years, but we have not given it a legal definition,” Yevkurov said (vestikavkaza.ru, April 8). The new legislation will specify the penalties for helping terrorists and financing terrorism, which will allow the government to use the law on fighting terrorism more widely, including the prosecution of relatives of those convicted of terrorism. Given Russia’s realities, the government frequently uses legislation to punish political opposition along with actual terrorists. The authorities, for example, can specify any action by rights activists as “supporting terrorism” and crack down on organizations that try to protect people from violations of their rights by the government.
In another speech, Yevkurov said: “We have not seen significant activities of the Islamic State (IS) in the republic yet. Two years ago we destroyed one group of militants. Since then, we have not seen any noteworthy manifestations of the rebel groups and their members” in Ingushetia (tass.ru, April 11).
According to Yevkurov, the recruitment of terrorists transitioned into Internet-based social networks, with recruiters trying to attract more young people from the North Caucasus. Ingushetia’s governor said the republic’s security services had registered 97 suspected militants, of whom 54 “have been, or are, on the territory of the IS, or were killed.” The security services closely monitor the remaining individuals, Yevkurov asserted. It is an optimistic view of the problem, because it is highly unlikely that the security services managed to locate everyone who visited Syria from Ingushetia. Relatives of young people who immigrated to Europe are forced to appear on Skype to convince the authorities they are in Europe, not in Syria. To do so, they show themselves with the Eiffel Tower in the background or hold up the latest local newspapers when talking to an FSB (Federal Security Service) officer on Skype. However, after the government has ascertained that the person they are looking for is in Europe, that person could still travel to Syria and the government will be unable to follow him there.
The fictitious nature of the fight against terrorism can be observed everywhere. For example, Andrei Strizhov, acting deputy of the head of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Russian Investigative Committee, announced with great pomp that the number of criminal cases related to Islamic State increased almost two-fold in 2016 compared to the previous year (gazeta.ru, April 14). While some might assume that means police started to solve IS-related crimes at twice the rate as the previous year, in fact, investigators had three such cases in 2015 and launched five more during the first three months of 2016. This allowed them to speak of “doubling” the criminal cases even though they total only five cases. In North Caucasian republics like Ingushetia, there are dozens of IS-related criminal cases. At the end of March, Ingushetia’s authorities launched two criminal cases against individuals suspected of participating in the war in Syria on the side of IS (kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 28).
Russia’s Investigative Committee in Ingushetia said in a statement that a 22-year-old resident of the republic had voluntarily joined the illegal armed group Qatiba Ahmada, which was part of IS, in July 2013. Subsequently, the suspect reportedly “took an active part in the clashes with the government forces of Syria.” The investigators apparently forgot that it was unlikely this resident of Ingushetia participated in the war back in the summer of 2013 because the first North Caucasian fighters to announce their loyalty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi did so a little later, in the fall of 2013. Umar Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) was among the first to leave Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (the Army of Emigrants and Helpers) and join the IS (kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 22).
Ingushetia’s authorities launched an investigation targeting one of the best known Chechen commanders in Syria, Muslim Shishani (Murad Margoshvili) (twitter.com, April 16), who is actually a Georgian citizen, not a Russian citizen. Overall, in the past several months, the Ingush authorities ramped up a public relations campaign trumpeting their fight against terrorism. A “Wanted in Ingushetia” section has been placed on every known social media network in Russia. Someone identified as 25-year-old Tamerlan Mankiev, who reportedly joined the rebel group in 2014, is also among the people wanted for their involvement with the IS, as is 30-year-old Osman Dobriev (rozysk06.livejournal.com, April 13). Officially, the Ingush authorities are looking for three people, but they have already detained several dozen.
Even when participants of illegal armed groups abroad voluntarily turn themselves in, they still face up to 10 years behind bars. Thus, Ingushetia’s police are unlikely to convince anyone to give up his freedom for 10 years in a Russian prison. Those rebels who return from the Middle East to the North Caucasus using forged passports do not expect to be pardoned by the authorities but are hoping to join local insurgent groups. That is the main threat they pose to Russia. The current relative calm in the North Caucasus could end at any time if those who return from Syria continue fighting in the region. The only question is whether the flow of Russian citizens from Syria to the North Caucasus will be sufficiently large for that.