From the outside, the situation in Ingushetia appears deceptively quiet. But in reality, the republic is not nearly as peaceful as, for example, Adygea, where, despite tensions, no open conflict takes place. Public confrontations are common in Ingushetia, on the other hand. Also, the Islamist underground movement in the republic could still be reinvigorated. On March 19, the Ingushetian branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) announced the lifting of the counterterrorist operation regime that had been in effect in the republic since 2014. The FSB said the special regime was being lifted because of the absence of a terrorist threat in Ingushetia’s towns and villages. Is this a complete victory for the FSB? Not really. And realizing this, Ingushetian authorities warned the republic’s residents that “the counterterrorist operation regime is still in place in the forested mountainous areas of Nazran, Sunzha and Malgobek districts because there is information about movements of militants in those areas. Until a special announcement, temporary restrictions and counterterrorist measures will be in place” (Mk.ru, March 20).
Some areas of Nazran and Sunzha districts can be described as forested mountains but nothing even remotely resembling mountains exists in Ingushetia’s Malgobek district, which is in the northern part of the republic. Ingushetia consists only of four districts and, according to the government’s announcement, the regime of heightened security continues in three of them because of the information about “movements of militants.” Thus, the public statements of officials about lifting the counterterrorist regime in Ingushetia should be seen as little more than a PR campaign for the Russian media.
The activities of Ingushetia’s Sharia jamaat were substantially undercut back in 2010, when the Russian security services managed to capture its leader, Amir Magas. His trial took place in the city of Rostov-on-Don because the authorities were afraid to hold it in Ingushetia. Magas was sentenced to two life terms in prison (Regnum, July 9, 2015).
One of the last Ingush rebel amirs eliminated by the Russian security services was Beslan Makhauri, who was killed on October 31, 2015 (Interfax.ru, October 31, 2015). Shortly before his death, Makhauri managed to swear an oath of allegiance to the so-called caliph of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Makhauri’s oath made the territory of Ingushetia part of the IS “Caliphate.” Some members of the Caucasus Emirate in Ingushetia did not agree to join the IS and made this known to the public via the Sharia jamaat’s website (Hunafa.com, September 5, 2015). Those who control that website are still hoping the Caucasus Emirate’s followers will prevail in Ingushetia. The website, however, posts Islamic texts instead of news of what happening in the republic.
Since 2015, Ingushetia’s leadership has had to deal with a new headache—IS recruits who have tried to travel to Syria to join the militants. During Ingushetian Governor Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s last meeting with relatives of those who left the republic for Syria, officials said that 200 Ingush were fighting in Syria. The authorities said that they determined the exact location of 99 Ingush militants and were looking for the rest (YouTube, March 3).
Multiple arrests of people who went to Syria and returned to the North Caucasus indicate that the situation in the republic is far from normal. The authorities have recently launched a criminal investigation against a 22-year-old resident of the republic who went to Syria in July 2013 and fought alongside the Islamic State. The authorities charged the suspect with participation in an armed formation in a foreign country. The penalty for that crime is five to ten years in prison, but if the suspect voluntarily ends his participation in the armed group and gives up his weapons, the charges against him may be dropped (Kavkazsky Uzel, March 28). In Ingushetia, the authorities detain returnees from Syria practically every week, according to news reports from the republic.
The authorities of Ingushetia should be concerned about residents of the republic who are fighting in the Middle East. The number of Ingush militants in the Middle East is much greater than the number of members the Ingush jamaat had during 2004–2010, its heyday. Even during the Ingush jamaat’s best days, it numbered only several dozen people. Hence, the 200 Ingush militants fighting in Syria pose a serious challenge to the government of Ingushetia against the backdrop of the slow stabilization process in the republic since 2010. The actual number of Ingushetians fighting in Syria may be even higher than officially announced.
Ingushetia’s authorities are dealing with other problems, such as the confrontation with the Salafists, who provide non-military support to the militants. The leaders of the local Salafists, Isa Tsechoev and Khamzat Chumakov, have gained such great influence in the society that the government cannot afford to stop them from preaching or shut down their mosque, which thousands of Muslims attend every Friday. The Salafist mosque and the militants returning from Syria are the two main points of concern for the republican authorities. The authorities and the security services realize that the Salafists in Ingushetia are strong and influential. The republic is still in transition, however; and the next year or two will be crucial for the future of Ingushetia. By then, it will become clear whether the Salafists and the government will clash with each other or reach an agreement.