Kadyrov Plays Down Threat of Islamic State in Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 16 Issue: 13

On June 26, one day after the Russian security services killed Magomed-Ali Aliev and his wife Leila in Nazran, Ingushetia (Topwar.ru, June 25; see EDM, July 1), law enforcement agencies in the Chechen capital Grozny killed two suspected terrorists. According to the Chechen government forces, the suspects shot at the police when they tried to arrest them and were killed by return fire. Two police officers were wounded in the shootout. The slain individuals were identified as active members of the so-called Tagilov gang, which operates on Chechen territory (Interfax, June 26).

The police discovered the rebels in a house on Krenkel Street, in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district, while conducting a special operation. The Chechen Ministry of Interior’s press service stated: “Police killed a resident of Alkhan-Kala village of Grozny district of the republic, 23-year-old Mansur Usmanov, and a resident of Orekhovo village in Achkhoi-Martan district, 38-year-old Bislan Baidulaev. In 2013 both joined illegal armed groups. They were involved in a series of attacks on law enforcement agencies and have been on the federal wanted list for more than a year” (RIA Novosti, June 26). According to the police, the two slain suspects were involved in terror attacks in Grozny (Kavkazsky Uzel, June 27).

Because they were charged with terrorism-related crimes on Chechen territory, Mansur Usmanov and Bislan Baidulaev, in accordance with Russian law, will be buried in anonymous graves without notification of their relatives. Their bodies will not be returned to their relatives. Nor is the future of their relatives enviable. The official view in Chechnya is that relatives of slain rebels bear part of the blame for not having prevented them from launching attacks. Usmanov and Baidulaev were identified as active members of the Tagilov group, which is under the command of the leader of Chechen militants, Aslan Byutukaev (Kavpolit.com, June 28). Tagilov’s group was previously based in the Achkhoi-Martan and Urus-Martan districts of Chechnya, but it appears that the group also operates in Grozny. A suspected member of the group was arrested in the Chechen capital in February (Kavkazpress.ru, March 23).

Apart from the killing of the two suspects, Chechen police also detained four alleged accomplices in Grozny, Achkhoi-Martan and the Achkhoi-Martan district village of Davydenko. The four had allegedly provided various services to the insurgents since October 2013. In particular, according to the police, they gave money, food, USB flash drives and other items to Baidulaev. The authorities have accused the detained individuals of violating the criminal statute on organizing or participating in illegal armed group (95.mvd.ru, June 27).

Both insurgent attacks and the actions of government forces against insurgents always provoke a large response from the local media. The last large-scale attack by rebels took place in Grozny on December 4, 2014. The attack was the most significant action by the insurgency in Chechnya in the past several years (Novayagazeta.ru, December 11, 2014). Special operations against rebels in Chechnya are rare nowadays, which is why the public shows a high level of interest in such news, including the report on New Year’s Day this year that two rebels had been killed (Vesti.ru, January 1).

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov tied the July 26 killing of the two suspected militants to the Islamic State (IS). While officially on vacation, Kadyrov gathered the republic’s imams and chief mufti, calling on them to step up their work against the ideas of IS, which he called the State of Iblis (the Devil) (Instagram.com, June 28). Kadyrov’s comments can be regarded as an official response to the Chechen rebels who recently pledged fealty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Rosbalt, June 26). Kadyrov thinks the Chechen rebels have neither the forces nor the opportunity to launch any significant attacks under the flag of the Islamic State (Newsru.com, June 26).

Kadyrov said that there is no outflow of people from the republic to join the Islamic State terrorist organization. “We do not see any outflow from our territory; on the contrary—we return our people,” he said, adding that he was confident he would not allow the emergence either of IS members or even IS supporters in the republic (Vz.ru, June 26). The head of Chechnya also said he realized the rebels would, sooner or later, return home, but that anyone who left the Chechen Republic and joined IS had no way back. Kadyrov said parents and relatives of young people should increase their role in preventing further recruitment of youth to terrorist groups. Civil rights activists have criticized Kadyrov for trying to put the blame for young people joining IS on their relatives. According to North Caucasus expert Alexander Cherkasov, harsh methods against militants and the glorification of those methods provoke the insurgents to take counter-actions (Profi-forex.org, June 28).

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev apparently does not share Kadyrov’s assessment that young Chechens are not joining Islamic State, stating recently that the government has not yet been able to stem the outflow (Rg.ru, June 22). The problem may be bigger than the leadership of the republic imagines. More effective than bans and threats against relatives of IS recruits, might be for the government to seek a common platform with the Islamic world and—through that influence—with young people, thus clarifying the youths’ misconceptions about the Islamic States’ “caliphate.”