A post I am a little late in putting up, as I have had difficulty accessing the site. It is also one that is actually not really mine, but rather one I asked Ces Moore of Birmingham University to contribute to Free Rad!cals. I understand he is doing an event at Kings sometime towards the end of the month for those in London and able to go.
Filed under: Terrorism
Cognizant of my own limited knowledge on the topic of Russia and terrorism, I asked Dr Cerwyn Moore of the University of Birmingham, one of the top scholars on the topic in the UK, for his thoughts. He has kindly agreed to share them with us all:
“Since 2000, there have been three waves of suicide attacks linked to the insurgency in the North Caucasus. I won’t detail the three waves here, but will note that the recent attacks in Moscow on Monday (29th March), and the most recent suicide attack directed against security personnel in Dagestan (Kizlyar, 31st March), form part of a wave of attackers which began in 2008, when a lone bomber detonated explosives near military officials in the highland Chechen town of Vedeno. Thereafter, a suicide attacker attempted to assassinate Musa Medov, an Ingush official, again in 2008. Although overshadowed by the war in South Ossetia, another suicide attack occurred in 2008, in November, when a female attacker detonated explosives in a taxi cab in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. Few statements were released related to these attacks, but all served symbolic, tactical and strategic purposes, in support of the case of the North Caucasus insurgency led by Dokku Umarov. Throughout 2009, suicide attacks became commonplace in Chechnya, Ingushetia and latterly in Dagestan, as the third wave gained momentum. For the most part, the attacks revolve around five points:
1) They have served a broader strategic goal, garnering international news attention, while allowing the insurgents to draw federal forces into an evermore internecine cycle of violence, thereby demonstrating the weakness of federal and local security measures.
2) They have served a tactical goal, targeting key officials such as the Ingush President, federal forces including key police compounds in Nazran (17th August, 2009) and in Dagestan (6th Jan 2010) and more general interior ministry and political officials.
3) Thirdly, they have been used symbolically, on the one hand, to unnerve local political officials, and on of the other hand, to bring the war to the heart of Russia. Given widespread human rights abuses by local law enforcement agencies, although condemned by the wider population, the attacks are viewed as a legitimate retaliatory tool by the military units of the insurgency.
4) Politically and strategically, the leader of the insurgency, Doku Umarov has successfully integrated different ethnic groups, including a younger generation of disillusioned men and women into the insurgency. In 2008, Umarov re-instated the Riyad us-Saliheyn, a franchise organisation which links different jamaats and facilitates the use of suicide terrorism. The Riyad us-Saliheyn, essentially a group of martyrs, was founded by Shamil Basayev as part of the second war, and was used to deadly effect in the second wave of suicide attacks, named ‘Operation Boomerang’. Following the Beslan school siege and a series of decrees and military reforms by the leader of the resistance between late 2005 and 2006, the unit was disbanded.
5) Finally, the recent attacks raise the broader issue of the relationship between insurgencies and terrorist networks. How do the former host the latter? How do these relationships evolve and change over time? The insurgency in the North Caucasus is, and indeed always has been multi-ethnic, with Chechen fighters at the forefront. The transformation from a separatist movement to a North Caucasus movement has its roots in the early 1990s, but became more marked in the inter-war year. This shift has also acted as a catalyst as a result of widespread poverty, years of conflict and latterly, the influence of religious radicalism and internal radicalisation.
Together these points have given insurgents from the North Caucasus, and Umarov, a willingness and capability to mount a campaign of suicide terrorism across the North Caucasus and in the heartland of Russia, as part of a broader anti-Russian or anti-federal campaign.
The return of suicide attacks to Russia, as well as the steady escalation in the usage of this tactic is partly due to the pressure exerted by federal forces since April 2009, and partly due to internal radicalisation in the North Caucasus insurgency. Commentators, reporters and even some academics often mistakenly focus on the sensational aspects of the attacks; the use of female attackers (depending on how attacks are assessed, there have been nearly as many male attacks over the last ten years) or so-called ‘black widows’, highlighting trauma, the influence of foreign groups or Wahhabi religion, contagion or Al Qaeda, as a motivational causes, instead of recognising the tactical, retaliatory and strategic and symbolic nature of the attacks, or the local cultural narratives of resistance and blood revenge, and dynamics in the insurgency. Moreover, commentaries often conflate attacks with suicidal intent (such as the Moscow Theatre or Beslan School siege) with suicide attacks. All of which blurs, rather than effectively highlights the decision to employ, halt and resume the use of suicide attacks as part campaign of terrorism within a broader multi-ethnic insurgency.
Although notable exceptions exist, a tendency also exists to view attacks through the lens of Russian studies, clouding analysis of the organizational dynamics in the insurgency. At the forefront of the recent wave of attacks, as I have argued, are two key jamaats – the first, the Ingush group headed by a long serving insurgent who operates under the nom de guerre Magas, hosted the young Islamic convert and radical ideologist, widely considered to be one of the advocates who re-instigated the use of suicide attacks – Said Buratsky. Said Buratsky was killed, along with around eight other people in a two day shoot-out in Ingushetia at the start of March. A few weeks earlier, a long-serving member of the Arab mujahideen, and key leader involved in the organisation of the insurgency, Seif Islam, was also killed by federal forces, who have had other notable successes in recent months targeting the jamaats which operate in Dagestan. Moreover, in the last few weeks Abu Khaled, another foreign fighter, and a key aid of the leader of the insurgency, Doku Umarov, was also killed in federal operations. These setbacks, along with the severe restrictions, widespread human rights abuses appear to have forced the insurgents to escalate their campaign – targeting the metro stations near the FSB headquarters, the Lubyanka, and the Park Kultury station, near the interior ministry in Moscow, as part of the broader wave of suicide attacks. Both the FSB and Interior Ministry were said to be behind the recent military successes which have targeted the leadership of the insurgency.
The recent attacks in Moscow clearly result from recent federal successes in the low-intensity conflict which has beset the region since 2007. Whilst federal authorities have repeatedly claimed major successes, indicating that the insurgency was all but defeated, wide-scale poverty in the region, corruption and hard-line policies by Kremlin – repeated in recent days in statements by Vladimir Putin (which are, incidentally, eerily reminiscent of statements he made prior to the outbreak of the second Russo-Chechen War) – appointed strongmen, and apparatchiks have helped to radicalise a generation of new fighters willing to undertake ‘smertniki’ operations or suicide attacks.”
Cerwyn has covered this topic extensively elsewhere (see his webpage for a complete list), including two recent pieces for the Jamestown Foundation on the recent wave of attacks (here, and here). He also has a forthcoming book “Post-Modern War in Kosovo and Chechnya” from Manchester University Press. He can be contacted directly at: email@example.com