Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Russia primarily hunting down Chechens in Syria.

Russia primarily hunting down Chechens in Syria.. (Naharnet).

While Russian President Vladimir Putin's air campaign in Syria may have other aims, one result seems to be that it is hitting Islamists from Russia's Caucasus, say analysts.

High on the list of places Russia appears to have targeted are positions held by the Al-Nusra Front -- an al-Qaida associate with a high concentration of fighters from Chechnya, Dagestan and Muslim ex-Soviet nations in Central Asia.

At the weekend, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the mission aimed at protecting Russia itself.

"It's better to do it abroad rather than fight terrorism inside the country," he said.

Fighters originating from the Caucasus are believed to have first appeared in Syria in summer 2012, notably at the battle of Aleppo.

The men have a reputation for being good warriors and are dubbed "Chechens" by locals even if they come from elsewhere in the Caucasus, a region where Muslims overwhelmingly adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam.

Now there are "at least 2,000 fighters" from Chechnya, Dagestan and other Caucasus regions who operate in Jund al-Sham al-Shishan, alongside al-Qaida affiliate Al-Nusra front, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Raman told AFP.

"They are concentrated in Idlib, Aleppo, and Latakia provinces," he said.

These are the northwestern regions of Syria where Russia's campaign has been concentrated since being launched on September 30.

Other groups with a strong presence of Caucasus fighters include Ajnad Kavkaz (Soldiers of the Caucasus) in Idlib and Latakia, and the Jaish al-Muhajireen in Aleppo, which also includes Uzbeks and Tajiks and is split into al-Qaida and IS-loyal factions.

"The Russians consider it better to concentrate on the Al-Nusra Front where the Chechens and the Caucasians are, since they think the (US-led) coalition is already dealing with IS," said Romain Caillet, a French expert on jihadists.

A video circulated via Russian Islamist websites at the weekend purported to show Chechen fighters calling on Caucasus natives to come back home to wage holy war on Russian soil.

"We have successfully reached home and began searching for everything needed for jihad," a masked man says in the clip. "We ask other brothers to also come home." Read the full story here.

Source: Agence France Presse

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