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How Many North Caucasian Mujahedin Are Fighting in Iraq and Syria?

photo Middle East & Caucasus

by Gordon M. Hahn

Russia’s presidential envoy for the North Caucasus Federal District Sergei Melikov has stated that there are 1,500 North Caucasians fighting in Syria and Iraq with various jihadi groups (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/259518/). This approximates the high end of my April 2014 estimated range of 700-1,500 fighters (http://gordonhahn.com/2014/04/01/the-caucasus-emirate-and-other-north-caucasus-mujahedin-in-syria-implications-for-russia-eurasia-and-the-global-jihadi-revolutionary-movement/).

For earlier estimates made by others see – http://gordonhahn.com/2014/04/01/the-caucasus-emirate-and-other-north-caucasus-mujahedin-in-syria-implications-for-russia-eurasia-and-the-global-jihadi-revolutionary-movement/.

Fighters affiliated with the Caucasus Emirate mujahedin or unaffiliated North Caucasus Muslims are fighting in the Levant region with groups like the Islamic State (IS), Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN), and the CE affiliated Jeish al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (Army of the Emigrants and Helpers or JMA) led by Chechen amir Salahuddin al-Shishani (born Feizullah Margoshvili).

Melikov also stated that IS is recruiting in higher educational institutes in the North Caucasus, which students subsequently denied (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/259229/ and http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/259524/). Russian expert on Islam Yevgenii Satanovskii claimed IS is targeting the better students (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/259629/). IS has published guides on how make the emigration or ‘hijra’ from Russia to the region in order to join its jihad (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/new-manual-in-cyrillic-tells-russians-how-to-join-islamic-state/518119.html).

Russia’s FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov stated in February 2015 that 1,700 Russian citizens were fighting in Iraq and Syria (http://tvrain.ru/articles/fsb_v_rjadah_islamistov_v_irake_vojujut_do_17_tysjachi_rossijan-382245/). However, the number making the hijra from Russia as a whole is comprised of more than just Islamists from just the North Caucasus. Potential IS recruits are to be found across Russia, in particular within the North Caucasus ‘internal diaspora’ spread across tens of Russian regional capitols, Moscow and St. Petersburg. In addition, Muslim peoples from outside the North Caucasus, especially the Tatars and Bashkirs of Tatarstan and Bashkiriya, have similar diasporas. The Tatar community in Belovezhe in Russia’s Volga republic of Mordoviya, for example, has produced several global jihadists and more recently IS members (http://www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2015-04-01/2_halifat.html).

Seven Russian citizens were captured in the first week of April trying to cross the border from Turkey to Syria and join IS, Turkish authorities reported (http://tvrain.ru/articles/semeryh_rossijan_zaderzhali_v_turtsii_po_puti_k_silam_ig_v_sirii-385336/).


Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.

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