Chechens join the fight in Syria

Tuesday, 27 August 2013
North Caucasian Fighters Join Syrian Civil War Featured
Published in Analytical Articles
by Emil Souleimanov (the 08/21/13 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In mid-July, the Chechen Republic‘s President Ramzan Kadyrov admitted that Chechens have taken part in the Syria civil war on the side of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), allegations that he categorically denied one year ago. Simultaneously, the formal leader of the Caucasus Emirate Doku Umarov reversed his stance on the participation of Chechens in Syria. Umarov has earlier appealed to Chechen and North Caucasian youth to refrain from joining the Syria jihad and instead fight the “infidels” in their native land, but has now expressed his support for North Caucasian jihadists going to Syria, with the ultimate goal for them to return and join the insurgency upon their return from the Middle East.

BACKGROUND: The statements of both rival leaders suggest that the participation of Chechens, as well as other North Caucasians, in the Syrian civil war has gained momentum in recent months, a fact that many foreign observers have increasingly pointed out. According to some estimates, hundreds of North Caucasians along with natives of Central Asian republics, particularly Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and to a lesser extent the Volga-Ural region and Azerbaijan have been fighting on Syrian battlefields, with Chechens and Dagestanis in the numerical lead.

Recently, Andrei Konin, the head of the FSB’s regional branch, admitted that about 200 residents of Dagestan are currently in Syria, most of which are fighting alongside the rebels. The actual number of Chechens is likely even higher. The majority of post-Soviet Muslims recruited to the Syrian jihad come from their respective native countries. However, due to strict surveillance and a threat of collective punishment for insurgents and their family members imposed by the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities as part of the highly controversial counterinsurgency policy within the republic, the majority of Chechen fighters stem either from among the ethnic Chechen community in northern Georgia, Chechen diaspora groups in Europe (particularly Norway, France, Austria, and Poland), or Chechen students of Islamic theology in the Middle Eastern countries.

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