News / Europe

Fighting Islamic Terrorism Seen as Common Ground for US, Russia

A Russian special forces trooper stands amidst the rubble following a major police operation in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, near the border with Chechnya (file photo)
A Russian special forces trooper stands amidst the rubble following a major police operation in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, near the border with Chechnya (file photo)
James Brooke

In Moscow’s struggle against its southern Islamic insurgency, Russian officials see the death of Osama bin Laden as a psychological victory.

From President Dmitry Medvedev on down, Russian officials have warmly hailed the successful American effort to track and kill Osama bin Laden.

Russia’s foreign ministry, hardly known for its pro-American statements, issued a congratulatory note, saying: "as members of the anti-terrorism coalition, we share the Americans’ feelings."

Combating Islamic terrorism constitutes a rare point of common ground for the old Cold War rivals.

Last year, Russia lost as many security officials in its Muslim majority North Caucasus as the United States lost soldiers in Afghanistan. Last year, 440 Russian police and soldiers were killed in the Caucasus - roughly the same number as American troops killed by hostile action in 2010 in Afghanistan. In both countries, about 10 security officials were wounded for each one killed.

But in both battlegrounds, Osama bin Laden’s influence seems to have recently been far more inspirational than operational.

Alexander Cherkasov, Caucasus expert for the Memorial Human rights group, says that Osama bin Laden was a powerful symbol for Russia’s radicalized Muslims.

He said the financing for the rebels now is largely generated locally, through extortion rackets.

Pavel Baev, Caucasus expert for the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, agrees, saying that the rebel groups in the four Islamic majority regions of Russia’s Caucasus no longer live off donations from Saudi Arabia. Instead, they feed off the massive aid transfers from Moscow to the region. "Structure of funding is very certainly linked to Moscow, and not to any other sources of external funding.  So Al Qaeda has a symbolic role, maybe, as creator of ideals and discourse, but hardly anything greater than that," Baev said.

Historically, there are links. Osama bin Laden acquired his guerrilla skills fighting against Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. Until his death on Monday, he often posed with a Kalashnikov rifle that he said he seized from a Russian soldier he had killed in the 1980s.

In late 1996, after Russian soldiers withdrew from Chechnya,  Ayman al Zawahiri, then al Qaeda’s number two, traveled to Chechnya, looking for a new home for the movement.

On leaving Chechnya, he was jailed for several months in the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan. After that experience, al Zawahiri decided it would be safer to move al Qaida to Afghanistan.

Three years later, when Russian soldiers moved to reassert control over Chechnya, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Arab mujahedin traveled to Chechnya to fight against the Russians.

But Andrei Soldatov, a Russian security analyst, said most of the foreign fighters did not depend on bin Laden and his Saudi financing. And bin Laden had shifted his target - from Russians to Americans.

"To be frank, al Qaida was never very significant for the North Caucasus. And al Qaida itself never considered Chechnya as a front against for example American or British targets," Soldatov said.

But, to gain a wider international prominence, several insurgent units in the Russian Caucasus claim loose affiliation with al Qaida. And every year, a few Arab fighters are killed in the Russian mountains.

Two weeks ago, Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, announced that his soldiers had killed "the chief representative of al-Qaida in the North Caucasus," Khaled Yusef Muhammed, a Saudi national.

Self-styled as Commander of the Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya, Muhammed was sharing a camp with one bodyguard when he was killed. Kadyrov said he was sold out by a comrade for bounty.

Kadryov and other regional officials say that bin Ladin’s death removes a charismatic symbol for the radical Islamic movement.

Baev, the analyst, agrees. "So the death of bin Laden is merely of abstract importance," Baev said.

But with operations controlled and financed inside Russia, the Islamic insurgents remain powerful forces who may want to respond to the death of their hero.

Russians are bracing for more violence. Security is being tightened for the annual Red Square military parade, which will take place on Monday to mark the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

Looking ahead, Alexander Bortnikov, director of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, warns that terrorists plan to target the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a normally peaceful resort city - on the western end of the Caucasus mountain chain.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs