Number of Russian citizens fighting for ISIS in Syria up dramatically in last year

Some of Russia's North Caucasians fighting for ISIS (Image: kavkaz-uzel.eu)

Some of Russia's North Caucasians fighting for ISIS (Image: kavkaz-uzel.eu) 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

The Kavkaz-Uzel portal has just published a detailed, 20,000-word study about people from Russia’s North Caucasus who are fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State in Syria, including details on their recruitment and activities before, during and after leaving their homelands for the Middle East.

Among the most important findings has been the dramatic increase in the number of North Caucasians in the ranks of the Islamic State not only during the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad when Russian security services are known to have helped some radicals to leave the North Caucasus but also in recent months when Moscow has trumpeted its opposition to ISIS.

In June 2013, when Moscow first acknowledged that there were Russian citizens fighting for ISIS in Syria, the FSB put their number at approximately 200. Now Russian officials, including Vladimir Putin, say there are 4,000 or more, a number that has grown even though Moscow claims that half of those who have gone have been killed in the fighting or returned.

The Kavkaz-Uzel news agency says that the number of people from Daghestan fighting in ISIS forces has risen from 900 to 1200 over the last year, that the number from Chechnya has gone up from a few hundred several years ago to more than 600 now, and that those from Kabardino-Balkaria have gone up from 60 in 2014 to a hundred or much more now. Other republics in the North Caucasus have experienced similar increases.

These numbers should be used with care: Local officials may have their own reasons for exaggerating the size of the threat. But one thing is clear: Moscow has not been able — or perhaps has not been willing — to take steps to block this flow of militants from its own territory even though, as the new study documents, at least some who go will return and cause problems.

And this study, together with reports about the killing of senior ISIS figures who were born in Russia, the Caucasus or Central Asia this past week (see svpressa.ru and svpressa.ru), underscores something else that many have not yet been willing to focus on.

The former Soviet space, with its specific history and current repressive but brittle regimes, is an increasingly important source of Islamist cadres for militant movements abroad – even as Moscow and other post-Soviet capitals proclaim themselves as frontline fighters in the war against terrorism. (Cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com.)


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Alex George

    The details may vary, but the general truth has been well understood for some time: Russia encourages its Islamic militants to join ISIS, and Russia avoids fighting ISIS.

    The Kremlin sees groups like ISIS as an excellent way to continue its traditional policy of state-sponsored terrorism against the democratic West.

    During the Cold War, the Kremlin sponsored terrorism in the West by proxy groups such as the Red Brigades and the Baader-Meinhof gang. These days it uses ISIS, but the principle remains the same.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      There is, however, a crucial difference. The Baader-Meinhof, Brigade Rosso, Action Directe and other western terrorist thugs were hardly likely to start attacking Soviet targets or targets in Socialist Brother States e.g. the DDR or Hungary. It’s quite diffferent with the FSU IS fighters. They WILL attack targets in Dwarfstan and the Stans e.g. Uzbekistan- indeed, they are far more likely to attack them as they can move easily in these territories, being familiar with local languages, customs etc. In Dwarfstan itself they can pose as migrant workers from the Stans- and will. I wonder whether Pedo Putolini has even stopped to consider this angle. Given his obsessive hatred of the west I doubt it.

    • veth

      Even the terrorist who blew up the bus of the Borussia Dortmund football club with players inside was an Russian. He is arrested today.

  • zorbatheturk

    Putin gives them a free one-way flight to Syria.