Monday, October 4, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Al Qaeda has Failed to Redirect Chechen Movement away from Nationalism, Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 4 – Recent events in the North Caucasus show, a Moscow expert says, that attempts by Al Qaeda to subordinate the Chechen national movement to a radical Islamist agenda have failed but that the influence of its representatives in Daghestan and Ingushetia remains strong, suggesting that even more violent terrorist attacks will emanate from there.
Yu. B. Shcheglovin of the Moscow Near East Institute argues that the recent criticism by the Caucasus Emirate’s head Doku Umarov of the Saudi representative Moganned “in fact marks the end of attempts of the worldwide ‘green international to subordinate the national separatist movement in Chechnya” (
As many observers have pointed out, the tensions within the Caucasus Emirate have their roots in money problems, but Shcheglovin says that it is important to understand why the Emirate has these problems. If one considers that issue, he suggests, it becomes obvious that Al Qaeda and its financial backers have shifted their focus.
That requires an understanding both of events in the North Caucasus and of changes in the agenda of the “green” international. Moganned, the object of Umarov’s wrath, is Al Qaeda’s representative in the region. He replaced the late Abu Haf, one of the Arabs who came to Chechnya earlier.
Such “emissaries” of the radical Islamist group, Shcheglovin continues, first came there “with the concrete goal of ‘taking control’ of the separatist movement as a whole and giving it a religious-ideological character and not in any case a purely nationalistic one,” as had been the case with the Chechen movement since the early 1990s.
To that end, the Arab representatives pushed for terrorist attacks outside of the region and the organization of suicide bomber units, but they also served as “political commissars” of the movement, seeking to direct the anti-Moscow movements in an Islamist direction, as those in Saudi Arabia providing the money wanted.
Shcheglovin says that the same thing is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, an indication that the world has to do with “a system set up by far from poor or stupid people,” one that operates on its own without the need so many Russian and other commentators feel to refer to the CIA and Wall Street.
In the early 2000s, this system focused on the North Caucasus because Al Qaeda and its backers thought that was a place for a breakthrough in their conflict with the non-Muslim world. “But with the rise of rise of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Shcheglovin continues, “the situation changed in a cardinal way.”
Al Qaeda and the Saudis “redirected their financial flows and recruits,” and that in turn “immediately had an impact on the situation in the North Caucasus,” a region that in the view of these people was now of only “peripheral” importance.” Given the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, “weakening Russia” was no longer a task of first importance.
That shift in the views of the Islamists, the Moscow analyst says, was first highlighted in the statements of the Saudis about “a multi-polar world” and the end of fetwas like the ones that its religious scholars had issued. Indeed, the more recent fetwas from there became “acceptable for Moscow in tone and meaning.”
Not surprisingly, Umarov continued to hope for getting such funding back, and his recent statements and actions, including his brief “resignation” and his attacks on Moganned, are all about that. But they reflect the deeper division between the Chechens who have nationalist goals and the Arab emissaries who reject such projects.
Arab influence among the Chechens began to fall and “the purely national began to win” with the deaths of Yandarbiyev and Basayev, on the one hand, and the appearance of Kadyrov and Maskhadov on the other. And that trend was reinforced by Chechen antagonism to the Arab “outsiders” who viewed the Chechens in many cases as little more than “pagans.”
As Arab financing declined, the Chechen militants sought to organize their own financing just as they had done earlier, not only compelling “contributions” domestically but also seeking money from abroad. Neither of these sources included many who backed the ideas of jihad and universal war.
But if that is the situation in Chechnya and among the Chechen militants now, Shcheglovin argues, “unfortunately, one cannot say the same about Ingushetia and Daghestan.” There, the influence of the Islamists remains strong as shown by the terrorist attack on the Moscow metro which Daghestanis conducted without the knowledge of Umarov.
And in Chechnya itself, “in our opinion,” Shcheglovin says, “the recent suicidal raid on Tsentoroy [Kadyrov’s home village] also was carried out by supporters of Moganned or under his direct influence” rather than by the Chechen militants. That is because, the Moscow analyst suggest, “he needs actions” in order to get financing.
This shift within the anti-Moscow forces, he says, is important because, unlike what many analysts argue, it points to a change in the kind of attacks the militants are likely to launch. Moganned is certain to push for even “bloodier” attacks, something he may increasingly organize from Daghestan or Ingushetia rather than Chechnya itself.
What Shcheglovin doesn’t say but what many of his readers in Moscow may conclude is that this shift in the pattern of Al Qaeda funding and influence may have more to do with the relative stability in Chechnya compared to other North Caucasus republics than the actions of Ramzan Kadyrov.
And if officials in Moscow reach that conclusion, one of the major reasons why the powers that be in the Russian Federation have felt that they cannot dispense with him, however many problems he causes, will disappear or at least decline in significance, something that could lead some at the center to consider more actively his replacement.

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