Youths declaring themselves supporters of the ISIS extremist organization have carried out five attacks during half a year, but unlike the terrorist attacks in Western Europe these were ill-prepared and did not cause many victims.
In the 2010s Chechnya yielded to Dagestan the title of most conflict-ridden region in Northern Caucasus. Conflicts between the police and Islamic radicals claimed at least 2,000 lives in Dagestan in 2010-2016. Chechnya, which had survived two wars in 1994-2003, lost five times fewer people in revolts during the same period.
However, between last autumn and this spring there were five larger attacks. The targets of all attacks were police or military personnel. Altogether 14 servicemen were killed in these attacks and dozens were injured. At least 28 attackers died. They all were younger than 30, a large share were only 20 years old or less. Moreover, the police have arrested over 60 youths in Chechnya this year, suspected of being ISIS members or supporters.
These youths are a new generation who is waging armed struggle against the Chechnya authorities. Their very age shows that they cannot be the underground fighters, who carry out the struggle against the Russia and present Chechnya authorities since the period of the wars 15-25 years ago.
«After the death of Doku Umarov (the last leader of underground fighters, died in 2013 – JP) there are effectively no guerrillas left in Chechnya and the Caucasus Emirate (a virtual state of Islamic extremists proclaimed by Doku Umarov – JP) no longer exists,» said Islam Saidayev, who participated in the resistance movement for nearly 20 years and surrendered to the present authorities only in 2010. «The latest attacks are carried out by youths who allegedly swore allegiance to ISIS.»
Radicalized via the Internet
After the best-known attack in Grozny last December, which claimed the lives of four police officers, video recordings were found in cell phones of killed attackers, where they declare their loyalty to ISIS in Arabic. But that was the sole proof of their possible ties with the organization.
«These youths had no physical contact with the organization,» assured Saidayev, who headed for years the Chechnya Ministry of Youth Affairs department for the prevention of extremism and radicalism. He currently heads a foundation dealing with the same problem in Grozny, which is financed by the Russian Federation. «If these attacks had been well prepared with real ISIS support, the consequences would have been much more serious. But now these were meaningless and ill-prepared attacks.»
According to Timur Aliyev, an adviser of Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov and former pro-independence journalist, the investigation showed that most of the youths had come under the ISIS influence via the Internet. The youths were usually also acquaintances or relatives.
«Unfortunately they know how and where such youths can be found,» Aliyev said. «These are the youths who have never been involved in war (in 1992-2004), they have no experience of armed struggle, but they may view armed resistance to authorities in a romantic manner.»
Aliyev told Postimees that there is no evidence of any ISIS support besides ideological words: financial, with weapons or advice. He cited an attack carried out in central Grozny in December 2014, where 14 police officers and 11 attackers were killed. Unlike the latest attacks that one had an organizer, who had received financial support from ISIS. «But he cheated the youths, claiming that several groups would be attacking, In fact they were the only attackers,» Aliyev said.
The latest attack in Grozny and the other recent attack with the most victims – against a National Guard unit in March, where six military and six attackers dies – were characterized by the fact that the attackers initially had no firearms. They obtained their first firearm in Grozny by stabbing a police officer and in the army unit they killed sentries using knives before seizing their assault rifles.
According to Saidayev, this proves that they did not even have money to obtain weapons. If they had been connected with the anti-government guerrillas, they would have known the location of arms caches. There are enough arms caches of resistance fighters in Chechnya and some are still found all over the country.
«If the anti-government attacks used to have some logic previously – for independence and freedom, revenge for some specific incident during the war – the nothing like that can be seen now,» Saidayev said, explaining that the attacks may rather be based on protest against increasing social injustice.
According to Saidayev this is protest against the developments all over Russia rather than just in Chechnya; extensive and ever-increasing social stratification, absence of prospects for personal advancement, ubiquitous corruption and other such causes.
«The problem is in the absence of any other forms of protest. No one allows them public demonstration. Where do you see in today's Russia that someone can freely organize a meeting?» Saidayev asked.
«But what bad can happen if I come to the street and say what I do not like? That I do not like, for example, a resolution of the parliament. Why cannot I express my positions in a civilized manner? We see today that no such opportunity exists. The authorities have closed down all forms of the freedom of expression.»
Alcohol or weapons
Opportunities for protest are absent in other Russia's regions as well, but no one is raising weapons against the authorities there. «The reason is that Chechnya has survived two wars, They know only one way to reach: some begin to drink, others take up weapons,» Saidayev said.
Igor Kalyapin, a Russia human rights activist, who had worked in Chechnya for years, agreed that youths are driven to attack in the name of ISIS by the need to protest. Primarily against the absence of opportunities to realize themselves, since everything depends on clan relations and money.
«Besides they can see tremendous injustice in Chechnya, some people have become super-rich without being intelligent, well educated or industrious,» Kalyapin said. «And they are not very nice towards their compatriots. At the same time others can barely make ends meet. The youths can see that government institutions do not handle any problems without taking bribes. They can see that the police and the authorities only protect those who have power. All that drives them towards ISIS.»
«The attacks used to be related to the idea of Chechnya's independence. No one is fighting for it any more,» Kalyapin added.
According to Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the head of the Russian section of an international crisis team and a great specialist of North Caucasus, the radicalization of youths in Chechnya is caused by material reasons. «Many of them have no father, the house has burned down, mother is ill etc. The consequences of the wars can still be felt, All these problems contribute so that youths are radicalizing in very early age,» she said, According to her, one third of the population of the country is bordering on poverty.
According to Kadyrov's adviser Timur Aliyev, not many people have left Chechnya to fight for Isis in Syria. «There are dozens, not hundreds,» he said.
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