Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Bin Laden’s Death Won’t Affect North Caucasus Militants, Russian Analysts Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 3 – Although Russian analysts divide on whether the death of Osama bin Laden will lead to a new spike in terrorist acts around the world, those who have expressed an opinion so far are nearly unanimous that the passing of the Al Qaeda leader will have little or no impact on the fighting in the North Caucasus.

That conclusion, almost certainly correct because of the relatively small involvement of Al Qaeda in that region, will nonetheless have an impact on Moscow’s ability to continue to present its actions there as part of a worldwide anti-terrorist campaign and thus raise more questions about the nature of the militants the Russian government is confronting.

Yesterday, the Regnum news agency, an outlet that has been among the most vocal in seeking to link the North Caucasus militants to Al Qaeda, featured an article entitled “Will the End of bin Laden be Noticed in the Caucasus?” which surveyed what it described as bin Laden’s involvement there (www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1400597.html).

“Judging from everything,” Regnum begins its story, “bin Laden tried to demonstrate his active role in the Caucasus.” It gives the example of the statement by an Arab “military instructor,” Abu Daud, in 2000 during the second post-Soviet Chechen war that bin Laden “had sent 400” of his people to fight Russian forces.

After the conclusion of that war, the news agency continues, there have been scattered reports of Arab militants killed or captured in the North Caucasus. In March 2010, for instance, Abu Khaled, “who was considered close to the leader of the terrorist ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Doku Umarov was killed after having spent 13 years in Chechnya, Russian officials said.

And Chechen leaders have routinely talked about the existence of two “Arab instructors” named Mohannad [sic] and Yasir who supposedly help prepare suicide bombers. Meanwhile in Daghestan, in November 2006, “an Arab militant” named Abu Khavs, who the Russian interior ministry said was an Al Qaeda emissary, was liquidated.

But Regnum concedes, “at the same time, to speak about any dependence of the North Caucasus band formation underground on international terrorist structures including Al Qaeda today is not appropriate. Experts evfer more frequently conclude that the militants in the North Caucasus operate on a ‘self-financing’ basis, collecting ‘tribute’ from local business.”

Moreover, at a Makhachkala roundtable on this subject last week, Zaid Abdulagatov, a sociologist at the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Daghestani Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Science, said that a poll showed that “the majority of young people” join the militants in search of employment.

According to Regnum, however, another link between Al Qaeda and the North Caucasus involves people from the North Caucasus who “fought in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban.” The exact number of such people, the news agency says, is “unknown,” but at least two of them were at one time in the US prison in Guantanamo.

And implying that there may be more, Regnum concludes with the observation that “information about leaders of North Caucasus extremists directly making contact with the leaders of the terrorist community of Afghanistan and Pakistan have not been published” in the open media.

A decade ago, such contacts may have been probable, but “in recent years, such subjects have ever less actively been discussed by experts and journalists,” a likely indication that the numbers of those involved, if any, have fallen off or completely disappeared.

The lack of such ties gives even more credibility to those who point to the domestic sources of violence in the Caucasus. In an interview published in the current issue of the Daghestani weekly “Nastoyasheye vrema,” Federation Council member and former general Aslambek Aslakhanov provides a list of these (gazeta-nv.ru/content/view/5973/109/).

Among the causes the general points to are “the extremist statements of Vladimir Zhirinovsky relative to the Caucasus, the Nazi pogrom on Manezh Square, the corrupt nature of Caucasus and Moscow bureaucrats, and the throwing of youth [in the region] to the arbitrariness of fate.”

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