The Threat Of Eurasian Terrorism: A Tinderbox Waiting For A Match – Analysis

In April 2013, the Tsarnaev brothers detonated a pair of homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon, unleashing terror and chaos onto the streets of the Massachusetts capital and the suburbs nearby.

Last month, just over two years since that fateful spring day, Dzhokhar was sentenced to death. Much of the trial focused on his brother’s connections to the Caucasus Emirate (IK), a jihadist organization based in the North Caucasus – a historically tumultuous and Muslim-dominated region in southern Russia. Today, members of the IK, along with disaffected citizens from the Caucasus and Central Asia, have abandoned the fight at home to join ISIS, resulting in a notable decline in terrorist violence in the North Caucasus. However, these emboldened militants could soon return from the Middle East, rekindling the threat of terrorism in the post-Soviet world.

Regional authorities speculate that ISIS might soon attempt to establish a “Northern front” in the North Caucasian republic of Dagestan. Their concerns are not unfounded; Eurasian Muslims (particularly migrant workers from Central Asia), disgruntled by political, religious, and economic disenfranchisement at home and abroad, are heeding ISIS’s call to arms in increasingly large numbers. In a widely cited January report, the International Crisis Group estimated that between 2,000 and 4,000 Central Asians have left their home countries to fight for ISIS, a figure which now includes Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, the former head of Tajikistan’s elite police force. In February, Alexander Bortnikov, the Director of the FSB (a Russian security agency with historical connections to the Soviet KGB), announced that 1,700 Russian nationals, mostly Chechens, have joined the group as well.

The exodus of militants from the post-Soviet region to the Middle East (along with Russia’s heavy-handed counterterrorism tactics ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi) has severely weakened the Caucasus Emirate’s ability to inflict damage on the Russian state. The numbers speak for themselves: according to Caucasian Knot, 1,705 people were killed or wounded due to terrorism in the North Caucasus in 2010, compared to 1,225 in 2012, 986 in 2013, and 525 in 2014. Furthermore, Russian security forces recently killed IK Emir Aliaskhab Kebekov. Kebekov had tried to steer IK militants away from ISIS, condemning defectors as traitors. With him gone, some analysts predict that the IK will lose even more fighters to ISIS in the coming months.

Although the North Caucasus has restabilized over the past year and a half due to the IK’s weakened state, what we are witnessing is only the eye of the storm. In the long term, ISIS poses a very real security threat to the post-Soviet region. Some of the Eurasian militants fighting with the Islamist group will eventually return home battle-hardened and more resolved than ever, where they might commit acts of terror either as lone wolves or in coordination with local extremist groups, such as the Taliban or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Regional governments have responded by attacking moderate Islam and political opposition in the name of counterterrorism, as has been seen in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Russian-annexed Crimea. These repressive policies are backfiring and pushing otherwise non-radical Muslims to engage in Islamist violence.

If we have learned anything from the post-9/11 security dynamic, it is that extremism is not a self-containing phenomenon – it spreads like a disease. The Boston Marathon bombings demonstrated all too painfully the threat that Eurasia-based Islamism poses not just to the Caucasus and Central Asia, but also to the United States itself. If and when Eurasian ISIS militants return home from the frontlines in the Middle East, international attention will need to be paid to the post-Soviet world – a tinderbox just waiting for a match.

A shorter version of this piece was published on the American Enterprise Institute’s foreign policy blog.

*Daniel Frey is a freelance writer with a focus on Russia and Eurasia. A graduate of Tufts University, Daniel studied abroad for a year at St. Petersburg State University and traveled throughout Russia. Also a photographer, Daniel manages a portfolio through his website, Daniel is fluent in Russian and currently interns at the Institute of Modern Russia. He resides in the New York metropolitan area.



Popular posts from this blog

Pak off FATF Grey List; ‘Black Spot’ on Fight Against Terror Irks India; J&K Guv Says 'World is Watching'

‘The chances of nuclear use are minimal. Both Russia & Ukraine are well aware of results’: DB Venkatesh Varma

3 Pakistanis among 7 terrorists gunned down in Kashmir Valley, says J&K Police