Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 188

Radical nationalists and Islamists in the Republic of Tatarstan have vowed to travel to Afghanistan to help that country’s ruling Taliban to fight a jihad against the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition. NTV television reported today that a group of twenty-five men from the Tatarstan town of Naberezhnie Chelny, including what the channel described as “young nationalists” who “openly call themselves Wahhabis”–followers of the orthodox strain of Sunni Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia–had appealed to the local chapter of the Tatar Public Center, a large and influential Tatar nationalist group, to send them to Afghanistan to fight. A Tatar Public Center official said his group would not fulfill the request of the radicals, whose views would seem to remain in the minority both in Tatarstan and among Russian Muslims in general. Indeed, Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, stressed that he and Russia’s other Muslim leaders had condemned terrorism and were firm in their conviction “that the international community must fight international terrorism.”

On the other hand, it would appear that the sentiments of the Tatarstan volunteers, if not their methods, are shared by some Tatarstan clerics. NTV quoted a member of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Tatarstan as saying: “Our main instrument is to pray to Allah for an end to this war and for punishment of those nations that are led by Satan.” In addition, the channel quoted another nationalist leader in Tatarstan as predicting that the number of volunteers for the jihad in Afghanistan would rise as the U.S.-led bombardment of Afghanistan continued (, October 12).

The September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the U.S.-led retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan have resonated in another of Russia’s majority Muslim republics, Dagestan. The Council of the Dagestani Ulema, the supreme religious body of Dagestan’s Muslims, issued a fatwa (nonbinding legal decision) concerning the September 7 appeal made by fugitive Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden to Muslims worldwide to join his jihad against the United States.

“Today there exists in the world a certain group of figures who from time to time call on Muslims to start a jihad against this or that state or group of people,” the Dagestani fatwa declared. “These individuals use Islam for their questionable interests, often directly coming into conflict with the scholars of our religion. Osama bin Laden is the best known and most odious of these.” The Dagestani clerics called on Muslims to treat such calls for jihad with “an extreme degree of caution” in order to avoid becoming “hostages to someone’s political, financial or other… machinations.” They also said that only recognized Muslim theologians who possessed a “deep understanding of all the Islamic sciences, Sharia law in particular,” had the right to declare a jihad. The Dagestani fatwa noted that neither the Mecca-based Islamic World League nor the theologians of Cairo’s Al Azhar University had called for a jihad, adding that bin Laden is neither a scholar-theologian nor recognized by the Muslim world as being one. The Dagestani clerics concluded by calling bin Laden’s proclaimed jihad a “provocation” (, October 11).

While in the minority in Dagestan, radical Islamists took control of some Dagestani villages in the late 1990s and set up what amounted to Islamic mini-states. This led to the invasion of Dagestan from neighboring Chechnya by a force of Islamist radicals led by Chechen rebel field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev in late 1999. This invasion was one of the proximate causes for Russia’s second military intervention in Chechnya. Khattab, an Arab, said this week that he knew Osama bin Laden from the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and called the Saudi-born terrorist a “a good mujahid and scholar” (see the Monitor, October 11).