Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Another op-ed for the South China Morning Post, this time written in conjunction with my friend Lifan Li who has been immensely helpful during my time in China. The article is timed to be pegged to the 10th anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and it is highly likely that this topic in general, China and Central Asia, is going to be a big focus in the near future. It is a fascinating subject that I have looked at before and did my post-graduate work on. At this point, unfortunately, the article is behind the SCMP’s paywall, but if you drop me a note I can probably help out.

Cosying Up

China’s holistic approach in Central Asia is gradually paying off. Ten years after its founding, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is helping Beijing advance its cause peacefully.

Lifan Li and Raffaello Pantucci

June 15, 2011

Ten years on and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) remains a work in progress. It has achieved much in its short life, but its hesitation in resolving unrest in Kyrgyzstan last year and its ongoing inability to contribute much to improve stability in neighbouring Afghanistan have shown the limits of its power. All of these raises questions about the grouping’s aims and hopes for the next decade.

China is increasingly becoming a force in Central Asia, a predominantly Russo-Turkic region. On the ground, it is still possible to find expressions of tension towards China, but, nevertheless, growing numbers of Central Asian families are electing to send their children to China to study. From Kazakhstan alone, there are some 1,600 students now in Chinese universities; Shanghai has 800 students from Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, numbers electing to go to the West are shrinking.

Find the rest here.

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A longer article in the latest HSToday, that predates the current chaos regarding a certain person who was killed in Pakistan. Looks at why terrorists remain fixated with aviation. The whole article can be found below, but those who want to read it in the magazine can find it here or at your local newsagents (if you are in the US).

Airport Security: Aiming At Aviation

Why terrorists continue to focus on planes as their number one target.

By: Raffaello Pantucci

05/04/11
A suicide bomber in the reception hall at Moscow’s Domodevo International, a shooter randomly targeting US servicemen as they wait for a bus outside Frankfurt International airport, parcel bombs placed upon international freight carriers heading for the United States intercepted in Dubai and the UK’s East Midlands Airport—aviation and airports have never seemed to be a higher priority target for terrorist groups.
This is not in itself a new phenomenon, but given estimated costs and disruption for each plot veering into millions of dollars and the guaranteed media attention that they bring, it seems equally clear that this is a problem that is only likely to get larger over time.

A short history of explosive flight

Terrorists have long sought out airlines as priority targets. Sept. 11, 2001, stands out as a major recent watershed, but this was merely a tactical fusion of two separate strands in terrorist targeting that had gone on before.

For groups seeking quite specific tactical aims, the idea of kidnapping aircraft laden with passengers provided a group of hostages that could be bartered for money or fellow comrades sitting in jails, all the while advancing their political cause before a global audience. Throughout the 1960s-1990s, terrorist groups of many different stripes would target aircraft, from the Japanese Red Army who in 1970 hijacked an internal Japanese flight that they redirected to North Korea, to Kashmiri extremists who in December 1999 hijacked a Kathmandu, Nepal, to Delhi flight and ended up securing the release of three fellow comrades sitting in Indian jails. The international nature of air travel meant that groups were guaranteed global media attention that would often translate into successful media operations whether or not the specific tactical aims were achieved.

This global attention and disruption was also at the heart of targeting aircraft with bombs to bring them down mid-flight. On June 22, 1985, Sikh extremists placed suitcases full of explosives on Air India flights originating from Canada. One exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Ireland while the other went off on the ground at Tokyo’s Narita airport, both bombs killing a total of 331 people. The campaign was part of a radical Sikh campaign to seek separation for an Indian state. Three years later, a bomb placed in a suitcase on Pan Am flight 103 from London Heathrow to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York brought down that aircraft over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and a further 11 on the ground. The bombing was part of a Libyan sponsored campaign that also included the bombing in September 1989 of a flight from Brazzaville, Congo, to Paris, killing 170, and the hijacking in 1986 of another Pan Am flight on the ground in Karachi, Pakistan. All these attacks were part of the shadow war between Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya and the United States.

The Sept. 11 attacks, however, brought these two deadly strands together in a manner that had not yet been seen—turning a hijacked craft into a flying bomb.

Echoes of the plot could be found earlier. In December 1994, a cell of Algerian Islamists linked to the Armed Islamic Group (known by its French acronym GIA) hijacked a flight from Algiers to Paris and, according to a French intelligence asset, intended to crash it full of fuel into the Eiffel Tower. The plotters were taken out on the ground in Marseilles by French special forces, and as a result their final intentions will never be known.

Weeks after the raid in Marseilles, police in Manila, Philippines, reported to an apartment fire and caught Pakistani national Abdul Hakim Murad in an apartment full of terrorist material. Murad later confessed to being part of a conspiracy masterminded by Ramzi Youssef to bring down about a dozen flights en route from Asia to the United States with undetectable bombs left on board the flights. The plotters had already tested out one of their devices on a Manila to Tokyo flight, killing a Japanese businessman. Youssef, who a year earlier had masterminded the 1993 attempt to topple the World Trade Center towers, was the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and continued to plot with his uncle until he was captured in Islamabad, Pakistan, in February 1995. Upon capture he was found to have US flight plans in his possession.

These dots were never connected until after September 2001. Some security planners were reported by the 9/11 Commission to have considered scenarios along the lines of 9/11 prior to the event, but no one had considered the implications of what might be required to respond.

Post-Sept. 11, however, there has been a noticeable drop off in attempts to hijack aircraft. While passengers with personal agendas or mental disorders threaten sporadic aircraft, there has not been an organized hijacking since September 2001, something that is a testament to the effectiveness of the 9/11 plotters. Having seen what can happen, it is now unlikely that a flight full of passengers will sit docilely by while they are flown to certain death.

None of this has, however, reduced the attraction of airlines and aircraft as a target for Al Qaeda. Subsequent to his arrest in March 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed revealed plans to attack Heathrow airport in London either using a hijacked craft or a mortar. Three months after his successful 9/11 strike, he had dispatched Richard Reid and Saajid Badat—two British Muslims who had been directed to Al Qaeda camps in the years prior to 2001 through the network around the Finsbury Park mosque in London—with bombs in their shoes to bring down transatlantic flights. Badat backed out at the last minute with a message to his handler saying “you will have to tell Van Damme that he could be on his own,” while Reid attempted to board a flight in Paris. Showing up looking unwashed and with no baggage, he was initially turned back by security but was able on the second day to board a Paris to Miami flight.

Russian terrorism takes flight

Even in the wake of the more stringent checks placed on aircraft and passengers caused by 9/11, Al Qaeda remained fixated on airlines, a consistency also visible among terror networks in Russia that targeted aircraft both before and after 2001.

In March 2001, a team of three Chechens armed with knives and what they claimed was a bomb hijacked a flight from Istanbul to Moscow, redirecting it to Medina in Saudi Arabia where they released some of the passengers and demanded refueling, supposedly to go on to Afghanistan. Fearing a bloody resolution if the terrorists blew the plane up as they threatened, Saudi authorities decided to storm the craft, resulting in the death of a hijacker, a passenger and one of the crew. The two captured terrorists were quickly identified as Aslanbek Arsayev, a prominent Chechen who had served previously as minister for state security in Chechnya, and his brother Supian Arsayev. Both men were eventually extradited to Russia and their current whereabouts are unknown.

Subsequent to the September 2001 attacks, Russian Military Air Forces Commander in Chief General Anatoly Kornukov was quoted as saying that “it would be impossible for terrorists to hijack several aircraft simultaneously in Russia.” Showing a certitude born from previous experience when he ordered the shooting down of a South Korean passenger plane that had accidentally violated Russian airspace, Kornukov told a Russian reporter, “if I knew for a fact that there were hostages aboard the hijacked plane and the terrorists were heading straight towards the Kremlin I would report so to the defense minister and suggest he destroy the aircraft. That would be the lesser evil. And then let others judge my actions as they will.”

As it turned out, it was not hijacking on which the Chechens focused. Three years later, Chechen fighters bribed their way onto a pair of planes leaving Moscow’s Domodevo airport on internal routes. Waiting patiently until they knew both flights would be in the air, the bombers detonated their explosives at 11 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2004, bringing both craft down and killing a total of 89 people.

Posthumously identified as Satsita Dzhebirkhanova and Amanta Nagayeva, the “black widows” were identified as Chechens who had suffered family losses as a result of the war and who had been dispatched by Chechen leader Shamil Basayev as part of a campaign called “Operation Boomerang.” According to Cerwyn Moore, an expert on Russian Islamist terrorism at the University of Birmingham, UK, the entire operation was “designed to demonstrate the weakness of Russian security measures … breaching security Domodevo not only caused embarrassment for the Putin administration, it also posed a security dilemma for the Russian authorities.” And as we saw in January, it is one that they have not yet managed to resolve.

For Russians, terrorism from Chechnya and the Northern Caucasus has become something of a routine affair. Aside from the targeting of airplanes, there have been takeovers by terrorists of hospitals, schools and theaters as well as periodic bombings of everything from the Moscow subway to outdoor concerts and the grim apartment bombings of September 1999 that claimed 293 dead. The decision, however, to target the international airport’s arrivals lounge in January 2011 was, according to Moore, specifically “to send a message to both the Russian authorities but also to the outside world … that the Russian authorities’ most secure transport hubs could be attacked.” The subsequent international media coverage guaranteed that this message reached a wider audience, though it is unclear that it will have any tangible impact on the group’s aims.

Al Qaeda’s innovative wing

In August 2006, British and Pakistani forces moved in to arrest a network of plotters that they had under surveillance as part of a large-scale plot, directed by Al Qaeda’s upper echelons, to bring down as many as eight aircraft on transatlantic routes.

Coordinated using a network of British extremists, six of whom had recorded martyrdom videos, the plotters were planning on using devices ingeniously devised to pass airport security. Using highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide hidden in soft drink bottles as the main charge, hollowed out batteries filled with explosive to provide the detonator and a disposable camera light bulb as the trigger, the bombs would have been likely to pass airport security and killed thousands. According to former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the attack “would have rivaled 9/11 in terms of the number of deaths and in terms of the impact on the international economy,” a statement that highlights quite precisely the double-impact that terrorist groups try to achieve through attacking airplanes.

Since this point, however, the Al Qaeda core has seemingly backed away from aviation, preferring more traditional targets like bombs in city centers. The Najibullah Zazi plot in New York, the April 2009 plot in Northern England and the July 2010 plot in Oslo, Norway, all seemed to target buildings in city centers. And the rumors swirling around the global intelligence community in late 2010 were that Al Qaeda was hoping to stage a Mumbai-style attack on an unspecified European city.

Instead, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni affiliate connected to Yemeni-American preacher Anwar Al Awlaki, has eagerly taken up the mantle of targeting aviation. Echoing their ideological leader Osama bin Laden in their English-language Inspire magazine, they declared, “if our messages can reach you by words, then they wouldn’t have traveled by planes.”

The group was behind the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down a flight en route from Amsterdam to Detroit in December 2009, and then just under a year later for the double-parcel bomb on airfreight craft en route to the United States.

Both attempts were directed and claimed by the group, with Anwar Al Awlaki seen as the ideological and operational leader and Ibrahim Al Asiri, a Saudi bomb maker, as the designer of the devices. Al Asiri had previously designed the bomb that his brother Abdullah had hidden in his rectal cavity and tried to use to kill Saudi security chief Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef. Showing his ongoing capacity to design devices able to get past airport-style security, in December 2009 he constructed the device that Abdulmutallab carried in his underwear, first on a plane from Ghana to Amsterdam and then on to Detroit. It is also believed that he designed the devices secreted in printers that were intercepted in October 2010.

This final operation was celebrated by the group in a special November 2010 edition of Inspire in which they provided images and details of what they dubbed “Operation Hemorrhage.” Alongside claiming responsibility for the two parcel bombs hidden in printers that had been intercepted at the Dubai airport and the UK’s East Midlands airport following a tip passed on by Saudi intelligence, the group also claimed responsibility for the downing of a United Parcel Service plane that crashed in early September 2010 near the Dubai airport. The plane went down for unspecified reasons, and the group claimed responsibility, declaring that “we have succeeded in bringing down the UPS plane but because the enemy’s media did not attribute the operation to us we have remained silent so we may repeat the operation.”

Non-government academic experts, who requested anonymity, told Homeland Security Today that, more likely than not, the group was simply claiming responsibility for something it had not done. But one former British official verified the impressive technical quality of the devices that were found in Dubai and the UK. While international air cargo has long been known as a security weakness in the international supply chain, these devices were able to penetrate security and then were only identifiable to British security officials who were looking for them after they were specifically told where to look by their Emirati counterparts who had located the other device. The bombs showed a new level of technical proficiency.

How the group had achieved this seems to be a combination of human and technical intelligence, something boasted by the “Head of Foreign Operations” in Inspire magazine. In preparing for the attack he claimed that, “we have researched the various security systems employed by airports. We looked into X-ray scanners, full body scanners, sniffing dogs and other aspects of security. The resulting bomb was a device that we were confident that, with the will of Allah, it would pass through the most stringent and up-to-date security equipment.” Later in the magazine the authors highlight in detail how they sealed the device in plastic and then cleaned the bag afterwards so that the device would be undetectable.

While much of the magazine remains anonymous (or penned under what look like pseudonyms), according to Thomas Hegghammer, a prominent scholar of Al Qaeda, this article “is almost certainly written by Awlaki.” Citing a number of references typical of Awlaki’s writing and the “long-held suspicions of intelligence analysts,” Hegghammer believed that this article signaled Awlaki’s “coming out.” Significantly, it also highlighted Awlaki’s personal obsession with targeting aviation—something born out by the parcel bomb attempts and the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempt, both of which he is believed to have played a key role in directing.

Analysis

In a seminal 1974 article written for the RAND Corporation, “International Terrorism: A New Kind of Warfare,” (http://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/2008/P5261.pdf) renowned terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins discussed the threat of terrorism and the then-increasingly common form of international air travel.

“Jet air travel furnishes unprecedented mobility and with it the ability to strike anywhere in the world. Recent developments in news broadcasting—radio, television, communication satellites—are also a boon to publicity-seeking terrorists,” he wrote.

It is a nexus that current terrorist groups have been targeting with regularity, recognizing the publicity and chaos that disrupting air travel can cause for relatively low cost. While likely overestimating the cost of their disruptions (they claim it will “cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures”), AQAP proudly boasted that “Operation Hemorrhage” cost the group merely $4,200—a more credible figure that highlights how cheap terrorism can be.

What is equally likely is that the groups will learn from their mistakes in targeting international travel, but also that they are likely to learn from the lessons of the two more successful attacks carried out in early 2011—the Moscow Domodevo bombing and the shooting at Frankfurt Airport.

Unlike AQAP’s efforts, these two attacks were effective in killing people and likely required a lot less planning. It is in fact likely that there will be an increase in attacks like that at Frankfurt airport—random acts of violence pursued by loners who believe they are part of an international movement—but whether they take place at airports will not be something that security planners can factor in any more than they can factor in similar attacks in other places. Heightened states of security already exist at most international hubs, and doubtless in the wake of the Frankfurt and Moscow incidents the security perimeter will be pushed out further in much the same way that a July 2007 attempt to drive a car bomb through the departures hall of Glasgow International Airport resulted in increased security at regional British airports.

But for terrorists the optimal target will continue to be aircraft in transit. The problem from a terrorist’s perspective is that a bomb at an airport is very similar to a bomb in any other public place, except the security is tighter (the exception would seem to be Russian airports where, at least in the case of the double-plane downing, individuals at the airport have been corrupted with small, on-the-spot bribes). Consequently, it can seem easier to simply deposit a device on a public transport system where security will be far less. Furthermore, it lacks the drama of an attack on an international flight.

As Brian Michael Jenkins put it in 1974, “terrorism is theater” and an airplane full of people traveling between two developed economies remains the only sure way to guarantee a large media splash, dramatic economic damage and intense attention for your cause. Given AQAP’s continuing fixation with aviation, security in the air will continue to be a major headache in the years to come.

_________________________________________________

Evil by e-mail

Further evidence of Anwar Al Awlaki’s obsession with aviation and the United States was seen in e-mails that emerged in the trial of a Bangladeshi man employed as a British Airways information technology worker who was incarcerated in February for plotting with Awlaki.

In an e-mail to the Bangladeshi in early 2010, Awlaki wrote that he “was excited by hearing your profession” and that “I pray Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you. As a starter, can you please answer these questions in as much elaboration as possible: can you please specify your role in the airline industry, how much access do you have to airports, what information do you have on the limitations and cracks in present airport security systems.”

In responding to the preacher, Karim stated he knew “two brothers, one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathise towards the cause of the mujahideen.” Two men were picked up by police in Slough in the wake of Rajib Karim’s arrest, though neither was charged with anything. One was subsequently fired from his job at Heathrow.

A later note from Awlaki highlighted the preacher’s overriding desire to attack the United States using planes. “Our highest priority is to attack the US. Anything, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the UK, would be our choice. So the question is: with the people you have is it possible to get a package or a person with a package on board a flight heading to the US?”

Two weeks after this e-mail was received in February 2010, Karim was arrested at his desk at a British Airways office in Newcastle. Awlaki went on to plan “Operation Hemorrhage” and clearly found other ways to gather information about airport security. Showing how this might have taken place, in late 2010 British intelligence officials released a story to the media that highlighted their belief that terrorist networks were “periodically testing” security at some of Britain’s regional airports. Images were released to the Guardian newspaper that appeared to show improvised explosive devices as seen through airport X-ray machines.

I have pulled this trick before, asking Ces to provide some insights on what is going on with terrorism in Russia. He kindly did this interview with me a while ago, but it got a bit lost and he kindly agreed to update it for Free Rad!cals. The links I had included have not made it, but the previous post can be found here, and Ces’s bio can be found here.

Interview: Terror in Russia

The attack on Moscow’s Domodevo airport earlier this year was the latest in a long litany of terrorism in Russia emanating from the troubled Caucuses region. While it is a subject I follow, I do not follow it in nearly enough detail and have in the past turned to Ces Moore of Birmingham University for more detailed analysis. In the wake of the recent attacks I have been sharing emails with Ces on the subject, and he kindly accepted to answer a few questions on the subject for this site – for Ces’s complete bio, please see his site at Birmingham. My questions in italics:

1. Who do you think might be responsible, and why did it take them so long to claim it?

In the past, groups involved in launching suicide operations in Russia have claimed responsibility in statements, in the days and weeks following attacks. As such, it is not surprising that two statements were released in quick succession in February by the leader of the Caucasus Emirate – a loosely connected group of militants fighting in the North Caucasus (for more on the ‘third wave’ of attacks). In recent years Doku Umarov has vowed to launch attacks in Russian cities. The video statements suggested that the leader of the Emirate, Umarov, and his supporters played a role in the Domodedovo attack, although that must be read in the context of ongoing operations by the militant underground across the North Caucasus.

Obviously it is difficult to ascertain which faction from the North Caucasus, if indeed any, were responsible. Significantly, although Al Qaeda have offered endorsements for attacks, they don’t have a track record of launching operations targeting Russia, so, as the statements indicate; it likely that indigenous groups with the willingness and capability may have been involved in the attack. Given the target – a key transport hub and symbol of Russia – and the nature and form of the attack – a suicide operation – it is likely that Umarov and his supporters were involved in the airport bombing.

These groups often wait a few days before issuing statements, partly in order to ratchet up pressure on the Russian authorities and partly because their systems of communication, command and control are a being closely monitored by the Russian authorities, making it difficult for them to operate. For example, in the past, rebel websites have been subjected to cyber attacks. It may well be that this attack is only loosely linked to the core of the insurgency – many attacks in the past were launched almost as independent operations – under the framework of a loose network of affiliates. For instance, in the wave of terrorism between 2002 and 2004 called Operation Boomerang, groups approached rebel leaders for funding to launch attacks – almost as a franchise operation – while other attacks were launched independently, as acts of retaliation. The claim of responsibility will shed some light on the groups involved, and help unpack if there is a link to the North Caucasus.

2. This is not the first time this airport has been targeted: is this in part a message to the outside world? What is the message if it is? Should other countries be concerned about these groups going international?

This again, is a very interesting set of questions. The airport itself has not been attacked in the past, although its security was breached when two female bombers boarded domestic flights in August 2004. They detonated their explosives destroying two planes, killing scores of people. These attacks were part of the aforementioned campaign of terrorism called Operation Boomerang, by Shamil Basayev, and were followed shortly afterwards by the hostage-taking tragedy in the Ossetian town of Beslan. These attacks were all designed to demonstrate the weakness of Russian security measures, and occurred against the background of political normalisation and elections in Chechnya proper. In 2004 then, breaching security measures at Domodedovo not only caused embarrassment for the Putin administration, it also posed a security dilemma for the Russian authorities.

On this occasion, the explosion occurred in the part of the airport terminal itself. Given that the explosion caused mass casualties, and given that many of those who died or were injured had recently arrived on international flights, it is likely that the attack was designed to garner international news coverage. In short then, yes, in part the attack appears to have been designed to send a message to both the Russian authorities but also to the outside world – that is that the Russian authorities most secure transport hubs could be attacked; that mass casualty attacks have returned to Russia, and more particularly to Moscow and its environs; and that the continued statements about the elimination of rebel groups in North Caucasus has by no means been successful.

In 2010 the Russian authorities had a series of notable successes, killing and capturing key members in the militant underground. In the simplest terms, the attack appears to have been timed to coincide with a trip by the Russian President, Dimtri Medyedev to Davos, at which he was tasked with giving a keynote speech. Meanwhile the attack also occurred against the backdrop of increasing inter-ethnic tensions in Moscow between Caucasian gangs and Russia youth groups.

Whether the international community should read more into the attack then these more localised messages – and whether these groups could adopt a more international agenda – is something of a moot point. The Russian authorities repeatedly claim that rebels in the North Caucasus are intimately linked to Al Qaeda – although little if any evidence of these links has ever been provided. That is not to say that groups in the North Caucasus have not adopted increasingly radical agendas – or indeed, that Chechnya and the North Caucasus have not been viewed by radicals as one focal point in a broader Jihadi movement. Indeed, very small splinter groups and factions from the North Caucasus may well have become involved in a Turkic militant movement – known as the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) – which maintains links to Afghanistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and parts of Europe. But the aim of this group – and its outlook are international – while the aims of those fighting in the North Caucasus remain focused on a set of localised, indigenous issues. Indeed, the IJU is responsible for radicalisation in the Islamic community in Germany, and may have played a background role – radicalising Islamists and members of the Turkic community in Germany for example in the recent ‘lone wolf’ attack on American pilots near Frankfurt. Importantly though, like the militants in the North Caucasus, the IJU needs to contextualised, if attacks attributed to them are to be properly

3. How come these attacks continue in Russia? Is it a question of a lack of security or a determined force being deployed against them?

I would say it is a bit of both. These attacks have re-emerged in Russia as a new generation of volunteers have come to the fore in the North Caucasus – and while Russia, and the Russian-backed administrations in Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria maintain a measure of control and security, rebel factions will use attacks against a broader range of targets across Russia. Targets – given Russia’s size – which will be difficult to secure, and which therefore creates a dilemma for the Medyedev administration. These attacks continue in Russia because of internal radicalisation within the movement in the North Caucasus; because a new generation of militants appear to be coming to the fore; because the groups behind the attacks have a willingness and capability; and because it is incredibly difficult to ensure security across such as vast area.

4. One hears more about Dagestan than Chechnya these days when thinking about insurgent extremist movements in Russia: what is behind this shift?

Dagestan is certainly one of two focal point of the insurgency at present (the other being Kabardino-Balkaria). Throughout 2010, a number of audacious attacks occurred in Chechnya, but the form, targets and relentless nature of attacks have wracked Dagestan. On the one hand this results from years of violent pacification and repression in Chechnya – including, of course, two brutal wars. This has done much to destroy any vestiges of the separatist cause which flared up in the early 1990s. On the other hand, poverty and the systematic abuse by the elites in neighbouring republics – in Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan have created the conditions in which a nascent underground movement could not only gain a foothold, but which could also undergo a process of internal radicalisation.

While brutal, the security measures in Ingushetia and Dagestan were piecemeal in 2008 and 2009, compared to the counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya. Corruption, inter-ethnic and inter-clan rivalries, alongside the fact that Dagestan has always hosted a radical militant movement, has meant that it has once again become the centre of the regional insurgency. Freedom of movement has also facilitated this growth in the militant underground in Dagestan. Tellingly, groups in Dagestan and small factions in North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria were relatively quick in pledging allegiance to Dokku Umarov as he sought to reo-organise the militant underground following the death of the Chechen leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev. Umarov integrated a host of different commanders into the hierarchy of his movement, shifting the focus of the militant underground away from separatism in Chechnya, to a more radical regional narrative of anti-Russian resistance. This included the adoption of a regional agenda, and gave Umarov a measure of influence over the groups in Dagestan. The slightly younger generation of commanders in Sharia Jamaat in Dagestan pledged allegiance to Umarov, while in Ingushetia the militant underground was led by Emir Magas (Ali Taziyev), a seasoned militant, and Emir Astemirov in Kabardino-Balkaria, a respected scholar and charismatic leader. In Chechnya, seasoned fighters – notably the jamaats led by the Gakaev Brothers – remained in control of the militant underground. Thus, while all pledged some allegiance to Umarov (known by the nom de guerre – Emir Abu Usman), his influence was at its most marked in Dagestan – the groups elsewhere operated in a loosely connected fashion largely orchestrating their own campaigns of resistance, drawing on their own jamaats. In fact, in 2010 a split of sorts also occurred when the jamaats in Chechnya sought to wrest control of the movement from Umarov, in what some experts have labelled a ‘palace coup.’ The relationship between Umarov and the small militant underground in Chechnya remains problematic.

The federal authorities captured Emir Magas and killed Emir Astemirov in 2010, making Dagestan an even more important front in the regional insurgency. In recent months there has also been a shift in tactics by groups in another republic in the North Caucasus – Kabardino-Balkaria. While the former leadership of the jamaats operating in KB advocated the creation of a clandestine support network, launching sporadic attacks, statements by the current leadership have called for a more systematic and violent campaign – which has been borne out by a real upsurge in attacks in the republic.

Dagestan continues to be a focal point of the insurgency at present – the two bombers who struck in Moscow in March 2010 came from Dagestan, and targeted suicide attacks have also continued in the republic, including twin attacks on the 14th of February. Sweep operations targeting militant strongholds continue in Dagestan, while the jamaats therein continue to pose a credible threat to the ruling elite, given that poverty and corruption is rife in the republic.

5. What kind of a role does Islam play in Caucasian groups thinking?

The question of religious influence in the movements in the Caucasus remains something of a moot point. By this I mean that different factions have variously deployed radical Islam – as a rallying cry; as an alternative to Sufi norms; as a way of countering the poverty and corruption in the region – but each group has been sensitive to local conditions. Emir Astemirov retained support because of his theological education, but also because he was a descendant of nobility in Kabardino-Balkaria; Emir Magas, sought to encourage support from the youth in Ingushetia, whether Sufi or if they had a radical agenda, in response to the harsh measures adopted by the Ingush authorities, the poverty and corruption; the jamaats in Chechnya, while radical, retain a focus on fighting in the republic; whereas in Dagestan, the radical strain of Islam has a deeper lineage. And so Islam plays a variety of roles unifying some factions of the resistance; it provides an overarching narrative which has been used to re-organise the insurgency, creating a regional social movement which had its genesis in the inter-war years in Chechnya.

6. Is there a role being played by outside actors in this violence, or is this purely an internal Russian question?

This is perhaps one of the questions which has received the most attention – along with readings (and in many cases mis-readings) of suicide attacks linked to the North Caucasus – but which are largely misunderstood by commentators. Outside actors have always played a role in the violence – although the vast majority have been linked to the broader Diaspora community. As aforementioned, Chechnya became a focal point for jihadis in the latter part of the 1990s, although many foreign jihadis were not accepted, nor became integrated into Chechen military formations. By 2000 many foreign volunteers had left Chechnya, although a staunch group of Arab fighters – numbering a few dozen – did remain in the region and did continue to operate in support of the insurgency. This included Jordanian, Saudi, Kuwati and Yemeni individuals, amongst others. The majority were linked to Ibn Khattab – and included a number of North African militants – although the ranks of the jihadi volunteer movement, including members of Khattab’s inner circle were decimated by 2000. As I have argued elsewhere, a fissure existed in the Salafi-Jiahdi movement in radical circles in the Middle East; in one sense groups in places like Saudi Arabia variously supported foreign fighters in Chechnya, placing Khattab as a traditional jiahdi volunteer fighting the ‘near enemy’ while others, such as the group linked to Bin Laden, targeted the near enemy (See Moore & Tumelty, 2008; Moore & Tumelty, 2009). Although the foreign fighter movement numbered around a few dozen by 2002 (Moore & Tumelty, 2008 & 2009), it has to be contextualised in the context of a broader Diaspora community, which included radical elements that overlapped with the Salafi-Jihadi movement and the indigenous militant movement.

Turkish volunteers also provided active manpower, in support of the then nascent military jamaats. The vast majority of volunteers did, however, come from the ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, although again, the number of volunteers remains unclear. The fact that the violence has continued, in varying degrees of intensity for nearly twenty years, indicates that the movements in the region have a social base – and are largely indigenous. Since 2007, the movement has adopted a more regional character – but can only exist through local support.

 

A slightly belated article on the recent events in Moscow for HSToday (belated in that there are now hints it has been figured out who the culprits are). There should be a longer interview I have done with Ces that should appear soon (and of course, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about it!).

Culprits Behind Latest Moscow Bombings Still A Mystery

By: Raff Pantucci

02/04/2011 (12:00am)

The New Year started with a deadly explosion in Moscow. Terrorists detonated a powerful bomb inside Moscow’s Domodevo international airport, killing 35 persons and injuring more than one hundred. Moscow had barely dodged an earlier attack on revelers in Red Square on the night of December 31.

News of the earlier failed attack emerged in the wake of the investigation into the bombing at the Domodevo airport. According to Russian media that quoted intelligence sources, the attackers were gathered in a rented house in Kuzminki Park where they were assembling an explosive device that they reportedly intended to explode at Red Square.

But the bomb detonated prematurely, when the cell phone that was to be used as the trigger was left turned on and received a text message from the phone company, setting off the bomb. The explosion killed the bomber and destroyed the safe house they were using. Two or three other suspected bombers were seen fleeing the scene who are believed to have been responsible for the later bombing at Domodevo airport.

Russian authorities have been tight lipped about sharing information on the plotters involved in the airport attack. In a particularly blunt statement, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said “the investigation is ongoing, and only the [investigators] can say what’s what. Everyone else needs to shut up.”

That pronouncement though had not stopped speculation that the bombers had ties to the North Caucasus and Islamist fighters from Chechnya or neighboring Dagestan.

In an attempt to allay speculation, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin said “this terrorist act, according to preliminary data, has no relation to the Chechen Republic.” Putin’s statement, however, increasingly has been contradicted by reports that individuals from the region were behind the bombing. According to Russian terrorism expert, Cerwyn Moore of the University of Birmingham, the most likely culprits were Islamists in the North Caucasus led by Dokku Umarov, who “has vowed to launch attacks in Russian cities.”

According to Moore, it was not necessarily the case that this was a plot that was centrally directed. “It may well be that this attack is only loosely linked to the core of the insurgency – many attacks in the past were launched almost as independent operations – under the framework of a loose network of affiliates.”

The affiliate that’s under suspicion is a group called Nogaisky Jamaat near Dagestan, a neighboring province of Chechnya. A number of suspects were leaked that support this speculation. An ethnic Russian convert named, Vitaly Razdobudko, from Stavropol near where Nogaisky Jamaat is from, are being sought in connection with the plots, and reports suggested that the woman who was blown up prematurely was the widow of Temerlan Gadzhiyev, a dead leader of the group.

Whoever proves to be culpable, it is unlikely that this is going to be the last such attack in Russia. In 2004, two female suicide bombers who’d bribed their way onto planes from Domodevo brought both aircraft down, killing 88. It was a particularly grim year that started with a suicide bombing in the Moscow underground in February which killed 39, and ended in September with the Beslan school massacre, which killed 331. The carnage has continued regularly since then, with two more female suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Moscow’s underground last March, killing 40.

Among the speculation about outside terrorist connections, one report from Pakistani stated that Russian agents had been in contact with sister services in Pakistan in connection with the incident. The suspicion is that some of the individuals might have trained in Waziristan – a development that is supported by media interviews of European radicals regarding Chechens who were at training camps in Pakistan.

The decision to target the international arrivals area at Domodevo airport would suggest that the group responsible for the bombing there intended to send a message beyond Russia. However, the lack of a claim for responsibility would seem to contradict this theory and denote that the bombers’ key constituency is on the home front. As Moore put it, “the fact that the violence has continued, in varying degrees of intensity for nearly twenty years, indicates that the movements in the region have a social base – and is largely indigenous.”

The underlying problem that has kept violence brewing for almost two decades has not dissipated, and it is uncertain that the response to the latest attack is going to do anything to bring these issues to a close.

 

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.

Dr Cerwyn Moore on Moscow Bombings

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: c.moore.1@bham.ac.uk

This is a very good question i feel, and one that Alexandros and myself have decided to attempt to answer. Not entirely successfully i feel, and anyway the issue still is for those Russkies to decide what game they are playing. But if the EU were to start figuring stuff out, we would be in a good spot. For those who don’t know the EU Observer, it is a respectable website that has remarkable penetration into the Brussels community.

http://euobserver.com/9/26073

[Comment] What does Europe want from Russia?

30.04.2008 – 17:48 CET | By Alexandros Petersen and Raffaello Pantucci

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT – In the aftermath of the divisive NATO summit in Bucharest, there is a growing sense in the European policy community that for the continent to effectively deal with its biggest neighbour, everyone needs to sing from the same song sheet. However, there is little clarity about the words of the song – we know we should be unified on the subject, but we do not seem to know what to do.
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Moscow Times

Posted: April 7, 2008 in Moscow Times
Tags: ,

I have co-written a couple of pieces for the Moscow Times (http://www.moscowtimes.ru/indexes/01.html) with my friend Alexandros Petersen (whose title has oscilated somewhat). Unfortunately, they charge to see them, so they are reproduced below. Both were also re-treaded in the St Petersburg Times. The most recent was written at around the time of the G8 Summit and chided Russia for fixating on the U.S. when their main issue should be their relations with the EU, and the older one instead examines the EU’s growing role in Eurasia, specifically Central Asia – a pet fixation of mine.

Bypassing Europe is a Mistake

June 6, 2007

By Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen
This week’s Group of Eight summit is one that is likely to be a triumph of process over substance. The reasons for this are many and multifaceted, but at their core lie two fundamental problems.

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