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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More