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The Petersburg Jihadi Attack in Context: Recent Developments in Jihadism in Russia, 2014-2017


by Gordon M. Hahn

The recent jihadi attack in St. Petersburg, Russia, which killed 14 and wounded 45, was long in coming and has limited connection with Russia’s role in the war in Syria. 2017 was bound to see an uptick in jihadi terrorist attacks inside Russia in comparison with the very low number of attacks in the last few years, since the departure of CE mujahedin and potential replacement recruits to the Levant began more than four years ago. 2016 was the year when many of the mujahedin who went to fight under the Islamic State (IS, ISIL, IGIL) or IS and Al Qa`ida (AQ) banners in Syria and Iraq began returning home. This is a result of the onset of serious and more successful Russian and, secondarily, American operations against the jihadists in those countries. This began to squeeze Caucasus jihadists out of the Levant, driving them back hoe and leading to a small uptick in the number of jihadi attacks in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Moreover, as I noted elsewhere, the increasing involvement of North Caucasus jihadists, then united under the lone jihadi organization in Russia, the Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate)  or IK in Syria and Iraq and with AQ and IS, with the latter now the key IK franchiser with the VK franchise, means that North Caucasus jihadists and others — Tatars, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Uighurs and others — from across Eurasia were becoming more networked with the global jihadi revolutionary movement than ever before (Gordon M. Hahn, “Special Report: China and Central Asia After Afghanistan’s ‘Kabulization’,” Islam, Islamism in Russia and Eurasia Report, No. 67, 14 October 2013, GordonHahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, https://gordonhahn.com/2013/10/14/islam-islamism-and-politics-in-eurasia-report-no-67-oct-2013-special-report-china-and-central-asia-after-afghanistans-kabulization/). Common Russian-language knowledge, historical legacy as part of Russia and the USSR, and immigrant – given visa-free travel for Central Asians to Russia — and other networks with Russia make Central Asia the global jihadi geographical hub most likely to partner with IK and other Russian jihadists and otherwise target Russia (Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond, Jefferson, N.C., McFarland Publishers, 2014, p. 278). Thus, St. Petersburg counter-terrorism officials stae that since November 2015 the bulk of those arrested on terrorism-related charges come from Central Asia (https://tvrain.ru/teleshow/videooftheday/zaderjanie_peterburg-431614/). The larger Eurasian hub of which Russia, Central Asia, and the Transcaucasus are a part like others in the global jihadi revolutionary movement is a network of networks that includes an e-network of websites, social media pages, and other media carrying forth the global jihadi message in Russian, Tatar, as well as the Central Asian languages (Gordon M. Hahn, “Jihadi Target – ‘Eurasia’: The Islamic State’s New Russian-Language Journals,” Gordonhahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, 3 June 2015, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/06/03/jihadi-target-eurasia-the-islamic-states-new-russian-language-journals/).

Russia’s Caucasus-based jihadists are now divided into perhaps two groups unequal in their capacity. The nearly or actually defunct AQ-affiliated IK and the more robust IS-affiliated Vilaiyat Kavkaz (Caucasus Governate) or VK, made up largely of former IK members who defected to IS beginning in 2014. Thus, any uptick in attacks in Russia in store in 2017 might be additionally driven by competition between the VK and IK, intensifying overall jihadi efforts to carry out successful attacks in Russia. However, this could be softened by significant developments at the end of 2016, including the Russian security forces’ killing of the leader of IS operations in Russia.

The IK’s Exodus to Syria and Demise and the Rise of IS in Russia

Jihadism in Russia took several serious turns in 2016. Most important was the apparent continuing demise of the AQ-allied IK in contrast to the IS-affiliated VK, made up largely of former IK members. At the same time, the VK also suffered a series of setbacks but also carried out its first major operation – an assault on Chechnya’s capitol Grozny in December.

The IK’s demise began in 2012 with the exodus of jihadi fighters and potential recruits to replace them to the jihadi in Syria and Iraq and the rise of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS, IGIL, etc.) or IS. By November 2014, a small DV cell or ‘jamaat’ from Aukhovskii village took the bayat to IS’s Baghdadi. On December 19, 2014 the most damaging defection occurred when the amir of the IK’s largest network – its Dagestan network or the ‘Dagestan Vilaiyat’ (DV) – Abu Muhammad al-Kadarskii (born Rustam Asildarov) and the amir of a key DV sector covering Dagestan’s capitol, Makhachkala, issued an announcement that they had taken the Islamic loyalty oath or “bayat” to IS and Baghdadi (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/254364/). Days later, amir Markhan, the amir of the Eastern Front under the IK’s Chechen Nokchicho Vilaiyat (NV), followed suit. Since there are only two fronts under the NV, Markhan could have be taken half of the NV mujahedin with him already at that time (www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/12/25/107471.shtml). Overall the previous CE defectors must have ‘taken’ already hundreds of CE mujahedeen and thousands of potential recruits to IS, though it remains unclear whether they plan to go to the Levant. The DV and NV Eastern Front alone could comprise as much as 80 percent of the IK’s already dwindling forces. These defections were already a severe blow to the IK, which has seen its capacity diminish since 2011, following the surge in emigration to Syria since 2012.

On 15 June 2015 a videotape from amir of the IK’s declining NV, and the amir of the CE’s GV in Ingushetiya was published on the NV’s ‘InfoChechen’ site. In the video NV amir ‘Khamzat’ Aslan Byutukaev and GV amir Abdurakhim declared the bayat to IS and ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi (http://infochechen.com/tribuna/310-podtverzhdaetsya-prisyaga-amirov-vilayata-nokhchicho-i-vilayata-g1alg1ajche-khalifu-abu-bakru-al-bagdadi.html). With NV amir Khamzat and GV amir Abdurakhim going to IS, the IK was apparently left with the weak OVKBK which had carried out only a handful of minor attacks in the last year or more and small remnants of the other three vilaiyats, which had not done much better, excluding the major NV attack in Grozny in December of last year. This nearly completed the process of the CE’s full integration into IS which began in the last days of 2014.

In July 2015, an audio declaration from key IK amirs representing perhaps almost all of the IK mujahedin and a statement from a top Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) operative emerged in which the IK’s defectors confirmed to have officially been accepted into IS. In the former declaration IK amirs declare in videos their joint bayat to IS and its self-appointed ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The “Official Audio Statement of the Mujahedin of the Caucasus Governate (Vilaiyat)” identifies the IK amirs as hailing from the ‘Caucasus Governate of the Islamic State’ (Vilaiyat Kavkaz Islamskogo Gosudarstva) or VKIG or simply VK (http://furat.info/?p=197). The VK audio declaration appeared to mark the official incorporation of the overwhelming majority of the IK amirs and mujahedin into IS as the Vilaiyat (Welaiyat) Kavkaz or VKIG or simply VK after earlier separate bayats to IS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi set the stage.

The declararion had some glaring inconsistencies with reality; for example, that all the mujahedin of all four of the IK’s main vilaiyats support the change of allegiance to IS. The same claim was made in another video called “The Unity of the Mujahedin of the Caucasus on the VKIG’s site ‘Furat.info’ without offering any irrefutable or even clear evidence for the claim (http://furat.info/?p=193). The IK’s four vilaiyats have included: the Dagestan Vilaiyat (DV), the Nokchicho (Chechnya) Vilaiyat (NV), the Galgaiche (Ingushetiya) Vilaiyat (GV), and the United Vilaiyat of Kabardiya, Balkariya and Karachai (OVKBK, covering Russia’s North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkariya and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya) (http://furat.info/?p=197). The DV’s shariah court qadi and its Mountain Sector amir Abu Usman al-Gimravii (born Magomed Suleimanov) rejected the incorporation into IS. Gimravii became successor of his close associate, Ali Abu Mukhammad ad-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Kebekov), as the IK’s amir after Dagistani’s death in March 2015.

Another opponent to the IK’s integration into IS was Zalim Shebzukhov, an amir in the IK’s OVKBK, who opposed OVKBK amir Robert Zankishiev’s support for the IK’s integration into IS (kavlaz-uzel.eu/articles/276180). Shebzukhov was killed during a special forces’ op in St. Petersburg in August 2016 (www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/287725). As late as December 2016 two possible leaders within the failing IK might have survived in Dagestan, but they were killed that month in Teletl, the homeland of the next to last IK amir, Ali Abu Muhammad Dagistani. Identified as the amir of the Shamil (Buinaksk) Jamaat Ibragim Amirov and his naib or deputy amir Hamzatapandi Magomedov (http://vd.ag/shamilskie-voiny.djihad). Thus, it cannot be excluded entirely that IK remnants remain in the North Caucasus in places like Teletl and Gimri and that the St. Petersburg attack was an operation organized by some of them.

However, Gimravii is the IK’s last known top amir, becoming IK amir in June 2015 and killed by Russian forces shortly thereafter in August 2015. He like his predecessor opposed the IS’s declaration of the caliphate supported AQ, and jihadi unity between the AQ and IS. The absence of an announcement regarding the appointment of a new IK amir now approaching two years suggests the IK remnants are headless and disorganized if not non-existent; with its near entirety incorporated into IS under the VK.

On 24 June 2015, IS sheikh and operative Abu Muhammed al-Adnani am-Shamii announced in a long statement to the mujahedin on all fronts in the global jihadi revolutionary movement that ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi had accepted the IK amirs’ bayat, created an IS Vilaiyat Kavkaz or VKIG or VK, and appointed former IK DV amir Kadarskii-Asildarov to be the new VK’s vali (wali) and amir (http://furat.info/?p=204). A Twitter statement from VK propagandist Murad Atayev two days earlier tipped off Alsidarov’s appointment (https://twitter.com/Atajev_M).

The IK’s defection to IS in the form of the VK institutionalized and consolidated the IK’s integration into the global jihadi revolutionary alliance, which actually began with the IK’s predecessor organization, the Chechen republic of Ichkeriya, with the first seeds planted in the mid-1990s but long denied in the American think tank, lobbying, academic and journalistic communities. Indeed, in a post by Anna Paraczuk of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – notorious for its decades-long apologetics and cover up of the ChRI’s jihadism and IK’s alliance with Al Qa`ida — the writer seems to be persisting in the delusion of the IK’s ‘national jihad’ and “the Caucasus Emirate’s localized struggle” (www.chechensinsyria.com/?p=23902). There has been nothing national about the North Caucasus mujahedin since at least as far back as October 2007. As I detail in my book, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond, both of the CE’s first two amirs – ‘Abu Usman’ Doku Umarov and, most explicitly, Dagistani – stated their goal was that of AQ’s and the building of the caliphate.

With the politics of IS-AQ schism’s repercussions in the North Caucasus largely settled and the bulk of the CE’s transformation into the VK, I wrote in July 2015 that “we can expect an upsurge in suicide bombings and other jihadi atrocities in Russia and its North Caucasus” (www.gordonhahn.com/2015/07/03/the-caucasus-vilaiyat-of-the-islamic-state/). That expectation just unfolded in St. Petersburg and likely elsewhere in Russia and Eurasia.

North Caucasus jihadists’ fate, especially that of the IK, is reminiscent somewhat of their Uzbek and Tajik counterparts in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). With little or no strong home base, they are scattered across various jihadi fronts not just in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan. They have formed and re-formed various AQ- and IS-affilates across these fronts as well, most prolifically in Syria a (see, Gordon M. Hahn, “REPORT: An Anatomy of North Caucasus-Tied Jihadi Groups in Syria and Iraq,” Gordonhahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, 20 October 2015, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/10/20/report-an-anatomy-of-north-caucasus-tied-jihadi-groups-in-syria-and-iraq/; Gordon M. Hahn, “REPORT “The Islamic State-Al Qa`ida Tussle Over the Caucasus Emirate Continues,” Gordonhahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, 10 March 2015, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/03/10/the-islamic-state-al-qaida-tussle-over-the-caucasus-emirate-continues/; Gordon M. Hahn, “REPORT: The Caucasus Emirate in the Levant and the IS-AQ Fitna,” Gordonhahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, 25 February 2015, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/25/the-caucasus-emirate-in-the-levant-and-the-is-aq-fitna-complete-parts-1-and-2/; and http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2016/11/11/113590/kadij-akhmad-al-khorasani-poslanie-mudzhakhidami-imarata-kavkaz-iz-khorasana-video.shtml). Thus, it is in Syria that IK remants now survive. With no visible presence in Russian North Caucasus for well over a year, the IK remains present in Syria as a carry over from the original exodus of IK fighters and recruits to Syria beginning in 2012. The remaining IK-tied groups in Syria are: Liwa al Muhajireen wal Ansar (LMA), a Russian-speaking brigade within the AQ-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al Sham; the Nogai Jamaat, which may be autonomous or under the LMA, and perhaps an independent Imarak Kavkaz in Sham (Caucasus Emirate in Syria) or IKS (Gordon M. Hahn, “Between Al-Nusra and ISIS: The Caucasus Emirate in Syria (Sham) Survives,” Gordonhahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, 7 August 2015, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/08/07/between-al-nusra-and-isis-the-caucasus-emirate-in-sham-syria-survives/and http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/03/north-caucasian-group-highlights-training-in-syria.php). If IK fighters abroad were to return to the North Caucasus and eschew joining the VK, then the IK could revive itself on the basis of fighters with experience in Idlib, Latrakia and other Syrian jihadi strongholds.

The Vilaiyat Kavkaz’s First Full Year of Existence 

The year 2015 ended with Russian security forces’ first major counter-terrorist operation against VK operatives, killing Abdul Nustafaev (Nustapaev), a member of the formerly IK-allied Gimri jamaat, in Gimravii’s Gimrii township in October (www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/271214 and http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles271224). 2016 was the VK’s first full year in operation as an official Islamic State affiliate. The year featured the first successful IS attack in Russia and numerous arrests of jihadists, some identified by security forces as working for IS and presumably the VK, others not.

In April the FSB uncovered a cell preparing a terrorist attack in Bashkiriya’s capitol of Ufa. At least one or more of the alleged plotters was likely abroad, probably Central Asia, since the arrests led to 100 more detentions of CIS citizens involved in a smuggling and document falsification ring. In August, police detained a Central Asian resident in Samara in possession of weapons and jihadist literature, including an oath of loyalty to IS’s ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi, and suspected of plotting a terrorist attack in a city in the Volga region, perhaps in Ufa, Bashkiriya or some city in Tatarstan (https://ria.ru/incidents/20160929/1478151793.html).

In late September, Russian security forces arrested 100 likely mostly Central Asians for engaging in ‘extremist activity.’ Their detention led to uncovering another human smuggling cell (https://tvrain.ru/news/ekstremizm-418013/). In early November, the FSB announced that with the help of Tajikistan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s secret services its operatives had arrested 10 Central Asian residents planning a series of major terrorist attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The alleged plotters had developed ties with the IS and a support base located in Russia and, as state security sources put it, “abroad” (https://tvrain.ru/news/fsb-420885/ and https://tvrain.ru/news/fsb-420885/?utm_campaign=breaking&utm_source=push&utm_medium=420885&utm_term=2016-11-12). In particular, a Tajik, the lone member to maintain direct contact with IS, sought to recruit members to fight in Syria, arguing it was better to fight and die in jihad in Syria rather than rot in prison in Russia (www.kommersant.ru/doc/3142628 and https://tvrain.ru/news/kommersant_rasskazal_o_planah_zaderzhannyh_v_moskve_i_sankt_peterburge_podozrevaemyh_v_organizatsii_teraktov-420956/). Divided into cells based in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Moscow group’s plot involved detonating an explosive device in a crowded place and then firing maching guns at other Russians in another part of Moscow along the 2014 Paris attack scenario (https://rg.ru/2016/11/12/reg-cfo/terakty-v-moskve-i-peterburge-planirovali-po-francuzskomu-scenariiu.html). Another involved bombing two malls in separate parts of St. Petersburg (www.kommersant.ru/doc/3142628). The Moscow cell may also have been targeting the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetiya (https://tvrain.ru/news/fsb_ig-421053/), in 2009 a key node under the IK’s Galgaiche (Ingushetiya) Vilaiyat and the influence of the Buryat-Russian Islamic convert Said Abu Saad Buryatskii (born Aleksandr Tikhomirov).

On December 3rd Russian security services killed VK vali (governor) and amir, the former Dagestani amir Abu Muhammad, born Rustam Asildarov, whose bayat to Baghdadi sealed the IK’s defection IS and its transformation into the VK (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/293704/). It is unclear whether intelligence gathered from the November arrests led to the FSB to Asildarov.

On December 7th police arrested 12 unidentified people in Moscow and Moscow Oblast for belonging to an organization banned in Russia (https://tvrain.ru/news/mvd-422789/ and https://tvrain.ru/news/ekstremizm-422767/). IS, VK, as well as AQ and Ik are all banned in Russia. On the same day, another 25 unidentified people were detained in Moscow for engaging in extremist and terrorist activity (https://tvrain.ru/news/mvd-422789/ and https://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2016/12/07/127239-smi-opublikovali-video-zaderzhaniya-v-moskve-podozrevaemyh-v-ekstremizme?utm_source=push).

On December 15th, responding to reports of an explosive device being found, the FSB detained four IS members belonging to an IS cell consisting of citizens of Tajikistan and Moldova in possession of weapons, explosive materials, and IEDs and planning a series of major terrorist attacks in Moscow around New Year’s Eve. The attack was ordered and sponsored by an IS emissary based in Turkey, the FSB reported  (www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2016/12/15/127464-fsb-zayavila-o-zaderzhanii-gotovivshih-seriyu-teraktov-v-moskve-boevikov and https://tvrain.ru/news/ren-423420/ ).

Later in December IS scored its first major success. Rather than hitting Dagestan wherefrom the bulk of VK mujahedin would have been, given the predominance of Asildarov’s Dagestan Vilaiyat within the IK ever since 2010, the VK IS hit Chechnya. On Decemeber 17-18, VK attacked Chechnya’s capitol, Grozny, in rather conventional armed assault, as opposed to suicide bombings. Seven mujahedin were killed and four were captured after attacking police, of which three were killed and one was wounded. The leader of the IS Chechen cell was identified as Said Ibragim Ismailov. IS took responsibility for the attack on December 19th (www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/294592/; https://twitter.com/CITeam_ru/status/810942170513494016; and www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2016/12/19/127586-ig-vzyalo-na-sebya-otvetstvennost-za-napadeniya-v-groznom?utm_source=push). In the wake of the attack, hundreds were arrested in Chechnya, and Chechnya’s chief mufti called for banning ‘Wahhabbism’ in Russia (www.ng.ru/faith/2016-10-05/2_chechnia.html), as was done in Dagestan. On December 19th, an apparent lone wolf, perhaps inspired by IS, VK, AQ and/or IK killed the Russian ambassador to Turkey (www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2016/12/19/70950-v-ankare-zastrelili-posla-rossii-v-turtsii?utm_source=push).

2017 began with a major blow to IS’s Vilaiyat Kavkaz the news that more than 60 IS members had been arrested in Chechnya in early January, and four had been killed resisting arrest in the process. They are alleged to have been preparing attacks in Chechnya, Ingushetiya, Dagestan, and Stavropol Krai (www.ng.ru/news/568400.html).

The Petersburg Attack, VK and Central Asia’s Jihadists

The recent, April 3rd attack in St. Petersburg was long in coming. While Moscow has been hit by suicide bombings numerous times in the last two decades and Volgograd twice in 2013, St. Petersburg has been spared, despite it being Russia’s ‘second capitol’ and President Vladimir Putin’s hometown. It was presaged by the alleged prevention of IS Central Asia-tied plots targeting both Moscow and St. Petersburg, as noted above. Similarly, the perpetrator of the April Petersburg metro attack, a suicide bomber named, was originally from Kyrgyzstan. The Central Asian state’s special services were first to report that the possible perpetrator was the Osh native, Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, who was born in 1995, had Russian citizenship, and may have been an ethnic Uzbek given his name. Dzhalilov appears to have lived mostly in St. Petersburg in recent years (https://ruposters/news/03-04-2017/foto-terrorista-spb; http://echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1956206-echo/). Dzhalilov, 22, was part of the Uzbek minority in the troubled city of Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, where inter-ethnic criminal gang-tied pogroms have occurred in the last decade. He came to St. Petersburg six years ago after obtaining Russian citizenship through his father and became a car mechanic. His VKontakt social media page had links to Islamist websites and there are no known direct ties to IS’s KV, AQ or IK remnants. Thus, he appears to be a radicalized lone wolf likely influenced by the global jihadi revolutionary movement’s web propaganda and the IS-AQ-KV-Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan milieu. A familiar story: One source told Russia’s Interfax that Dzhalilov returned from a February visit to Osh “a changed man – sullen and withdrawn,” and his parents expressed disbelief about the incident (“St. Petersburg Metro Attack Included Many Students Among Victims,” New York Times, 5 April 2017). The following day six Central Asians were arrested and charged with having ties to IS, though it appeared there ins no connection with the attack (http://echo.msk.ru/news/1957458.html).

Context Summary

Russia has long been a chief jihadi target. It has had an Al Qa`ida presence since the mid-1990s when AQ elements tied themselves to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI) through the Khattab-Basaev partnership. By mid-2002 the jihadists gained the upper hand within the ChRI, and in 2007 Doku Abu Usman Umarov declared the ChRI a global jihadist organization, called the IK, targeting any countries fighting Muslims anywhere in the world. By 2012 the IK was carrying out international operations with plots targetting Azerbaijan, Belgium and NATO, and other states and inspiring radicals like the Tsarnaevs to hit other targets in and outside Russia. However, the oubreak of the Syrian civil war and rise of IS sparked a mass exodus to Syria and less so to Iraq of IK mujahedin and the recruits to replace them. In 2015 the overwhelming majority of IK amirs and mujahedin switched their loyalty from AQ to IS, taking the bayat loyalty oath to the IS ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi, who in turn recongized their bayat an rebranded the IK to be called the Vilaiyat Kavkaz (Caucasus Governate) or VK of the Islamic State.

The highly politicized Washington think tank world is misinterpreting the causes of the Petersburg attack as it has the entire history of jihadism and its rise in Russia. The attack represent neither a continuing worsening of the terrorism situation in Russia nor blowback from Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, as is being assumed and trumpeted (see, for example, Ilan Berman, “Terrorism in Russia: Why the Problem Is Set to Worsen,” Foreign Affairs, 5 April 2017, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russian-federation/2017-04-05/terrorism-russia?cid=nlc-fatoday-20170407&sp_mid=53801694&sp_rid=Z29yZG9uLWhhaG5Ac2JjZ2xvYmFsLm5ldAS2&spMailingID=53801694&spUserID=MjU0MzU2MTE2MDA0S0&spJobID=1141122446&spReportId=MTE0MTEyMjQ0NgS2). The attack in St. Petersburg has much more to do with the jihadization of the ChRI, the jihadi globalization or internationalization of the IK and its integration into the global jihadi revolutionary movement (in particular the exodus of large numbers of IK mujahedin to Syria beginning in 2012), and the network of networks, including Internet propaganda networks, that the movement generates across borders and hence in Russia. As I documented in my work and books, several thousand jihadi attacks were carried out in Russia, especially its North Caucasus, during the peak of the IK’s existence from 2007-2015; that is, well before Russia intervened in Syria. So Russia’s Syria intervention would have played a small if any part in motivating the jihadist or jihadists who carried out the Petersburg attack and the others that have occurred since Putin decided to act in Syria in autumn 2015. And in recent years, the number of terrorist attacks has been declining steadily from the peak reached in 2010-2011. Again the very recent uptick since December has more to do with the return of mujahedin from Syria and Iraq just as the fall in attacks was caused by the exodus of fighters to those countries.

Interestingly enough, the Washington element that is claiming it is Russian actions that have ‘brought the chickens home to roost’ is the same that claims that global jihadism is constantly on the offensive and seeks to destroy all ‘infidel’ regimes and replace them with a worldwide caliphate. Thus, they need neither Russian nor Western military actions to inspire them. Jihadists are inspired by their perverse jihadist theo-ideology and love of violence.

Russia is not the only country under threat from the IS’s rout in Iraq and Syria and the consequent exodus of foreign fighters back home. On their way, Caucasus jihadists may also hit targets in Turkey and Azerbaijan. The 1 January 2017 attack on an Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 and wounded 65 was carried out by a Chechen native of Chechnya, Abdulgadir Masharipov (Абдулгадир Машарипов), trained by IS in Afghanistan. He is said to have known four languages and had $200,000 in his apartment in Turkey. Masharipov was arrested for the attack along with an Iraqi and three as yet unidentified women (http://echo.msk.ru/news/1911188-echo.html). In other words, there is a growing IS threat to all of Eurasia not just Russia and not simply as a reaction to Moscow’s intervention in Syria.

There is little Putin or other political leaders can do to stop someone determined to blow himself up in order to carry out a mass casualty attack short of creating an outright totalitarian regime. Putin’s regime is a soft authoritarian regime and that type of regime is very vulnerable – as are weak democracies – to such terrorism. The only way to defeat the global jihadi revolutionary movement is to defeat it theo-ideologically and that is a battle for generations as was the battle with communism, which still rears its ugly head now and again, even in the most advanced democracies.


About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an analyst and Advisory Board member at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago, Ill.), http://www.geostrategicforecasting.com; member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles, Calif.), http://www.aigeo.org; a contributing expert for Russia Direct, russia-direct.org; a senior researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group (San Jose, Calif.); and an analyst and consultant for Russia – Other Points of View (San Mateo, California), www.russiaotherpointsofview.com.

Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. Previously, he has authored three well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.

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