Is ISIS behind the recent wave of Islamic terrorist attacks in Russia?

A close examination of the evolution of the violence in Russia indicates that Islamic terrorists and followers of Al-Qaeda have increasingly sought to co-opt the Chechen Muslim separatist movement as their own.”

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CFR  The Chechens are a largely Muslim ethnic group that has lived for centuries in the mountainous North Caucasus region. For the past two hundred years, Chechens have resisted Russian rule. During World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin accused the Chechens of cooperating with the Nazis and forcibly deported the entire population to Kazakhstan and Siberia. Tens of thousands of Chechens died, and the survivors were allowed to return home only after Stalin’s death. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Chechen separatists launched unsuccessful, campaigns for an independent Islamic state, which resulted in two devastating wars and an ongoing insurgency in Russia’s republic of Chechnya. Violence in the North Caucasus has escalated since the ’90’s. Chechnya’s long and violent guerrilla war has attracted a small number of Islamist militants from outside of Chechnya–some of whom are Arab fighters with possible links to al-Qaeda. 

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Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted for his involvement in the September 11 attacks, was reported by the Wall Street Journal to be formerly “a recruiter for al-Qaeda-backed rebels in Chechnya.” Chechen militants reportedly fought alongside al-Qaeda and Taliban forces against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in late 2001. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was one of the only governments to recognize Chechen independence.

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The most notorious and devastating attack came in September 2004, when Basayev ordered an attack on a school in Beslan, a town in North Ossetia. More than three hundred people died in the three-day siege, most of them children. Since then, violence has generally targeted individual officials and government offices rather than large groups of civilians. Experts say there are several ties between the al-Qaeda network and Chechen groups. Attacks include:

  • An August 1999 bombing of a shopping arcade and a September 1999 bombing of an apartment building in Moscow that killed sixty-four people.
  • Two bombings in September 1999 in the Russian republic of Dagestan and southern Russian city of Volgodonsk. Controversy still surrounds whether these attacks were conclusively linked to Chechens.
  • A bomb blast that killed at least forty-one people, including seventeen children, during a military parade in the southwestern town of Kaspiisk in May 2002. Russia blamed the attack on Chechen terrorists.
  • The October 2002 seizure of Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater, where approximately seven hundred people were attending a performance. Russian Special Forces launched a rescue operation, but the opium-derived gas they used to disable the hostage-takers killed more than 120 hostages, as well as many of the terrorists. Basayev took responsibility for organizing the attack, and three Chechen-affiliated groups are thought to have been involved.
  • A December 2002 dual suicide bombing that attacked the headquarters of Chechnya’s Russian-backed government in Grozny. Russian officials claim that international terrorists helped local Chechens mount the assault, which killed eighty-three people.
  • A three-day attack on Ingushetia in June 2004, which killed almost one hundred people and injured another 120.
  • Street fighting in October 2005 that killed at least eighty-five people. The fighting was in the south Russian city of Nalchik after Chechen rebels assaulted government buildings, telecommunications facilities, and the airport.
  • An attack on the Nevsky Express, used by members of the business and political elite, in November 2009 killed twenty-seven people.
  • In March 2010, two female suicide bombers detonated bombs in a Moscow metro station located near the headquarters of the security services, killing thirty-nine people. Islamist Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the bombing; he had also claimed responsibility for the derailment of the Nevsky Express.
  • Two days after the metro station bombing in March 2010, two bombs exploded in the town of Kizlyar, in Russia’s North Caucasus, killing at least twelve people.

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