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Islamic extremism

Chechen female terrorist in Moscow during the 2002 theater siege

Chechen female terrorist in Moscow during the 2002 theater siege


Czarist Russia conquered the previously independent Muslim peoples in the 19th century and forcibly incorporated them into the Russian Empire. The Soviet government repressed all forms of religion, creating an ideological void that Islamists exploited following the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The two Russian wars, which began out of nationalist and separatist aspirations, eventually took on a religious element as well.  Difficult social and economic conditions, two brutal wars and the virtual abandonment of the Caucasian region by international communities – further encouraged the turn to radical Islam, despite the fact that the region practices a moderate type of Islam (Sufi Islam).

After 1996 (when the first war was over and Chechnya was declared independent), the islamization of the Chechen ethnic group, the penetration of the Islamic fundamentalist movements  from Saudi Arabia and Turkey began. Aslan Maskhadov – the elected president of independent Chechnya, known to be a moderate leader – put an interdiction on the wahhabist ideology, but lost the control over the situation given that the country was weakened by war and lacked any type of support in its post-war reconstruction.

Ilyas Akhmadov (former Chechen minister) wrote a book describing, among other things, the Islamization of a secular republic of Chechnya once the foreign fighters started arriving during the second war.

He also explained that, during the short-lived independence of mid-1990’s, the democratically elected president Maskhadov tried the impossible task of pleasing all sides, including the radical islamic opponents, who represented a minority but nevertheless, were constantly interfering in all issues.

Quote from Akhmadov’s book “Maskhadov expected that they would make similar compromises and the experience of doing so would teach even the radicals to become responsible. Instead, because they did not make similar compromises, his compromises became one-sided concessions and every concession Maskhadov made emboldened them to become increasingly more brazen and rebellious.”

Ibn al-Khattab, Saudi general who participated in the second CChechen war. He trained Chechens and also introduced radical Islam.

Ibn al-Khattab, Saudi general who participated in the second Chechen war. He trained Chechens and also introduced radical Islam.

Women fighting alongisde men are common until radical Islam was introduced. Ilyas Akhmadov describes it in his book

Women fighting alongside men was common until radical Islam was introduced. Chechen minister Ilyas Akhmadov describes it in his book The Chechen Struggle


To this day, there is conflict of ideologies between Caucasus nationalists and Islamic extremists.

In the meantime, favored by post 9/11 international politics and the US “war on terror”, Russia changed its official position towards Chechnya – from keeping control of its borders, to fighting “Islamic terror”.

Russians in Dagestan
Russian soldiers conduct a special operation near the Dagestani vilage of Tsvetkovo, Kyzlyar District. Since the collapse of the USSR, the abuse of human rights in Dagestan as in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria has reached massive proportions  (Photo: Abdula Magomedov , RIA Novosti Agency, all rights reserved)

In the name of fighting terrorism, Russia undergoes counter-terrorism practices in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, which have been classified as “abusive” by international Human Rights organizations. Young people (especially men) are taken away by force from their homes or workplace (most times by masked military men who cannot be identified and traced), and many will never be heard from again. (source “Human Rights Watch”, BBC News).

Independent journalists and human rights representatives who reported on the abuse inflicted on local communities have disappeared and/ or were murdered.

Destabilization factors in the region – abuses, the lack of a proper justice system and protection for citizens, the corruption,  the disintegration of the economy.

The lack of jobs, the lack of future prospects, the constant abuses from the federal forces and the lack of confidence in any state authority draws more and more young people into the Islamic ideology. The military groups are most often funded from outside Chechnya since late-1990’s.

To understand more on the issue, I recommend “The Chechen struggle: Independence won and lost” by former minister Ilyas Akhmadov.


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