Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

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FTR #863 9/11, The Muslim Brotherhood and the Earth Island Boogie, Part 2

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. The new dri­ve is a 32-giga­byte dri­ve that is cur­rent as of the pro­grams and arti­cles post­ed by late spring of 2015. The new dri­ve (avail­able for a tax-deductible con­tri­bu­tion of $65.00 or more) con­tains FTR #850.  

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment. 

Intro­duc­tion: This pro­gram under­scores key aspects of the high­ly com­plex dynam­ics sur­round­ing the 9/11 attacks and sub­se­quent events.

Once again, we vis­it the sub­ject of the Earth Island or “World Island” as it is some­times called. Stretch­ing from the Straits of Gibral­tar, all across Europe, most of the Mid­dle East, Eura­sia, Rus­sia, Chi­na and India, that stretch of land: com­pris­es most of the world’s land mass; con­tains most of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and most of the world’s nat­ur­al resources (includ­ing oil and nat­ur­al gas.) Geopoliti­cians have long seen con­trol­ling that land mass as the key to world dom­i­na­tion.  The pop­u­la­tion that occu­pies the mid­dle of that stretch of geog­ra­phy is large­ly Mus­lim.

Uti­liz­ing that Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion to con­trol the resources of the Earth Island is a strategem that has been in effect in the West for a cen­tu­ry.

After review­ing the pres­ence of Chechen fight­ers in Ukraine, we shift East­ward to exam­ine oper­a­tions under­tak­en against Chi­na. (We won­der if the recent Russ­ian build up of air force infra­struc­ture in Syr­ia may have some­thing to do with the for­mer­ly Syr­i­an-based Chechen fight­ers with ISIS decamp­ing to Ukraine?

We are now see­ing the Uighurs, a Turko­phoneMus­lim group in the petro­le­um and nat­ur­al-resources-rich Xin­jiang province of Chi­na, receiv­ing sup­port from the Pan-Turk­ist/­fas­cist  Nation­al Action Par­ty and its youth wingthe Grey Wolves.

As Rus­sia is being boxed in by renascent Ukrain­ian fas­cism in the East and Cau­casian Islamist ter­ror in the Cau­ca­sus, we must won­der if the NAP/Grey Wolf PR offen­sive against Chi­na and on behalf of the Uighurs is part of an ongo­ing NATO/U.S./Underground Reich effort against the core of the Earth Island, Rus­sia and Chi­na.

Next, the pro­gram flesh­es out infor­ma­tion about the sep­a­ratist move­ment in Xin­jiang province, Chi­na. Note that both Islamist and non-theo­crat­ic Pan-Turk­ist ele­ments are involved in this move­ment. Ele­ments of the Uighur/Xinjiang sep­a­ratist move­ment have strong con­nec­tions to Mus­lim Broth­er­hood-con­nect­ed ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions like al-Qae­da.

The broad­cast reviews the fact that the Dalai Lama has col­lab­o­rat­ed with Islamists from among the Uighur pop­u­la­tion of Xin­jiang province of Chi­na. (The Uighurs refer to Xin­jiang as East or East­ern Turkestan.) With Xin­jiang province being rich in petro­le­um, the Uighurs have had lit­tle trou­ble obtain­ing sup­port from for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vices. For addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about Uighur involve­ment with the Mus­lim Brotherhood/Al Qae­da milieu, see FTR#348 as well as FTR#549It should be not­ed that we are a long way from deal­ing with “Bud­dhists” here!! The Dalai Lama’s milieu is part of a larg­er Under­ground Reich “vir­tu­al state.” It is also impor­tant to bear in mind that the milieu of which the Dalai Lama is a part appears to focus on Cen­tral Asia—that part of the “Earth Island” seen by geopoliti­cians as key to con­trol­ling that land mass and, as a con­se­quence, the world. Note that the Uighurs are count­ed by the Pan-Turk­ists as among the “out­side Turks” to be includ­ed in a “Greater Turkestan”.

We reit­er­ate the role that Islamists asso­ci­at­ed with the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood play in the multi­na­tion­al cor­po­rate glob­al­iza­tion move­ment. They are work­ing in a fash­ion that dimin­ish­es nation­al con­trol and reg­u­la­tion and accen­tu­ates lais­sez-faire mar­ket dynam­ics. (This was set forth at some length in FTR #862, among oth­er pro­grams.)

Exam­in­ing the use of two dif­fer­ent types of what Peter Lev­en­da termed “weaponized reli­gion,” we high­light Pan-Turk­ist/Uighur activist Erkin Altep­kin’s links to: the Dalai Lama, ele­ments of West­ern intel­li­gence, the UNPO of Karl Von Hab­s­burg and Islamist­s/­Pan-Turk­ists asso­ci­at­ed with Mus­lim Broth­er­hood ter­ror­ist off­shoots.

For those who strug­gle with under­stand­ing the Altepkin/Dalai Lama/fascist asso­ci­a­tion, we review some of our dis­cus­sion with Peter Lev­en­da about the Dalai Lama, his asso­ci­a­tion with ele­ments of the SS and the Third Reich AFTER the war and his work on behalf of West­ern intel­li­gence (CIA in par­tic­u­lar.) For more about the Dalai Lama’s sin­is­ter asso­ci­a­tions, see FTR #547.)

Not­ing Altep­kin and the Dalai Lama’s links to the UNPO, we review Karl Von Hab­s­burg’s lead­er­ship role in that orga­ni­za­tion. Active in Ukraine as well, Karl Von Hab­s­burg is car­ry­ing on the dynas­tic tra­di­tion, with the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an Empire hav­ing estab­lished the polit­i­cal tem­plate for the OUN/B fas­cists of Gali­cia (West­ern Ukraine.)

With Mus­lim Broth­er­hood-linked Islamists and Pan-Turk­ists work­ing with the Dalai Lama, ele­ments of CIA and the Hab­s­burg milieu, we are in a posi­tion to see how high­ly diverse, seem­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry polit­i­cal aggre­gates are being deployed in con­cert in what we call “The Earth Island Boo­gie.”

We con­clude by not­ing that Paula Dobri­an­sky–deeply involved with the OUN/B milieu of her father Lev–ran the Tibet desk for George W. Bush’s State Depart­ment (after hav­ing been on Ronald Rea­gan’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil.)

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

  • Review of Otto Von Hab­s­burg’s close rela­tion­ship with Jaroslav Stet­sko, OUN/B head of Ukraine’s World War II col­lab­o­ra­tionist gov­ern­ment.
  • Analy­sis of func­tion­al oper­a­tional sim­i­lar­i­ties between Adolph Hitler and the Dalai Lama.
  • Review of the devel­op­ment of “weaponized Islam,” in play along with ele­ments of “weaponized Bud­dhism” in the ongo­ing “Earth Island Boo­gie.”

1. Two dif­fer­ent types of fas­cist cadres are oper­at­ing in tan­dem in Ukraine–in addi­tion to the OUN/B heirs such as the Pravy Sek­tor for­ma­tions, Chechen fight­ers (almost cer­tain­ly allied with some ele­ment of Mus­lim Broth­er­hood) are now fight­ing along­side them and under the Pravy Sek­tor admin­is­tra­tive com­mand.

The Chechen for­ma­tions are described as “broth­ers” of the Islam­ic State.

The Boston Marathon bomb­ing appears to have been blow­back from a covert oper­a­tion back­ing jihadists in the Cau­ca­sus.

“Ukraine Merges Nazis and Islamists” by Robert Par­ry; Con­sor­tium News; 7/7/2015.

In a curi­ous­ly upbeat account, The New York Times reports that Islam­ic mil­i­tants have joined with Ukraine’s far-right and neo-Nazi bat­tal­ions to fight eth­nic Russ­ian rebels in east­ern Ukraine. It appears that no com­bi­na­tion of vio­lent extrem­ists is too wretched to cel­e­brate as long as they’re killing Russ-kies.

The arti­cle by Andrew E. Kramer reports that there are now three Islam­ic bat­tal­ions “deployed to the hottest zones,” such as around the port city of Mar­i­upol. One of the bat­tal­ions is head­ed by a for­mer Chechen war­lord who goes by the name “Mus­lim,” Kramer wrote, adding:

“The Chechen com­mands the Sheikh Mansur group, named for an 18th-cen­tu­ry Chechen resis­tance fig­ure. It is sub­or­di­nate to the nation­al­ist Right Sec­tor, a Ukrain­ian mili­tia. … Right Sec­tor … formed dur­ing last year’s street protests in Kiev from a half-dozen fringe Ukrain­ian nation­al­ist groups like White Ham­mer and the Tri­dent of Stepan Ban­dera.

“Anoth­er, the Azov group, is open­ly neo-Nazi, using the ‘Wolf’s Hook’ sym­bol asso­ci­at­ed with the [Nazi] SS. With­out address­ing the issue of the Nazi sym­bol, the Chechen said he got along well with the nation­al­ists because, like him, they loved their home­land and hat­ed the Rus­sians.”

As casu­al­ly as Kramer acknowl­edges the key front-line role of neo-Nazis and white suprema­cists fight­ing for the U.S.-backed Kiev regime, his arti­cle does mark an aber­ra­tion for the Times and the rest of the main­stream U.S. news media, which usu­al­ly dis­miss any men­tion of this Nazi taint as “Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da.” . . .

. . . . Now, the Kiev regime has added to those “forces of civ­i­liza­tion” — resist­ing the Russ-kie bar­bar­ians — Islam­ic mil­i­tants with ties to ter­ror­ism. Last Sep­tem­ber, Marcin Mamon, a reporter for the Inter­cept, reached a van­guard group of these Islam­ic fight­ers in Ukraine through the help of his “con­tact in Turkey with the Islam­ic State [who] had told me his ‘broth­ers’ were in Ukraine, and I could trust them.”

The new Times arti­cle avoids delv­ing into the ter­ror­ist con­nec­tions of these Islamist fight­ers. . . .

2. We present more about the Chechen/Islamic State fight­ers in Ukraine. Note that, as dis­cussed in FTR #830, the Islam­ic State appears to be anoth­er branch of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood. Note, also, that Geor­gia also was har­bor­ing Islamist fight­ers cam­paign­ing against Rus­sia. We high­light­ed this in FTR #710.

The Dai­ly Beast has a new piece on the Chechen Jihadists fight­ing in Ukraine after fight­ing for ISIS and how, with talk of mak­ing Right Sec­tor part of the SBU, there’s grow­ing spec­u­la­tion that a Chechen ‘vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion’ is just a mat­ter of time:

“Chechen Jihadists Join Ukraine’s Fight­ers” by Anna Nemtso­va  ; The Dai­ly Beast; 9/04/2015.

Chechen Jihadis Leave Syr­ia, Join the Fight in Ukraine

A bat­tal­ion of fight­ers from the Cau­ca­sus is deployed on Kiev’s side in the Ukraine war. But their pres­ence may do more harm than good.

Just an hour’s dri­ve from this city under siege, at an old resort on the Azov Sea that’s now a mil­i­tary base, mil­i­tants from Chechnya—veterans of the jihad in their own lands and, more recent­ly, in Syr­ia—now serve in what’s called the Sheikh Mansur Bat­tal­ion. Some of them say they have trained, at least, in the Mid­dle East with fight­ers for the so-called Islam­ic State, or ISIS.

Among the irreg­u­lar forces who’ve enlist­ed in the fight against the Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists in the Don­bas region of east­ern Ukraine, few are more con­tro­ver­sial or more dan­ger­ous to the cred­i­bil­ity of the cause they say they want to serve. Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin would love to por­tray the fight­ers he sup­ports as cru­saders against wild-eyed jihadists rather than the gov­ern­ment in Ukraine that wants to inte­grate the coun­try more close­ly with West­ern Europe.

Yet many Ukrain­ian patri­ots, des­per­ate to gain an edge in the fight against the Russ­ian-backed forces, are will­ing to accept the Chechen mil­i­tants on their side.

Over the past year, dozens of Chechen fight­ers have come across Ukraine’s bor­der, some legal­ly, some ille­gally, and con­nected in Don­bas with the Right Sec­tor, a far-right-wing mili­tia. The two groups, with two bat­tal­ions, have lit­tle in com­mon, but they share an ene­my and they share this base.

The Dai­ly Beast spoke with the Chechen mil­i­tants about their pos­si­ble sup­port for the Islam­ic State and its affil­i­ate in the North­ern Cau­ca­sus region of Rus­sia, which is now called the Islam­ic State Cau­ca­sus Emi­rate and is labeled a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion by both Rus­sia and the Unit­ed States.

The Chechen fight­ers said they were moti­vated by a chance to fight in Ukraine against the Rus­sians, whom they called “occu­piers of our coun­try, Ichk­eriya,” anoth­er term for Chech­nya.

Indeed, they were upset that Ukrain­ian author­i­ties did not allow more Chechen mil­i­tants to move to Ukraine from the Mid­dle East and the moun­tains of the Cau­ca­sus. The Sheikh Mansur Bat­tal­ion, found­ed in Ukraine in Octo­ber 2014, “needs re-enforce­ment,” they said.

The man the Chechens defer to as their “emir,” or leader, is called “Mus­lim,” a com­mon fore­name in the Cau­ca­sus. He talked about how he per­son­ally crossed the Ukrain­ian bor­der last year: “It took me two days to walk across Ukraine’s bor­der, and the Ukrain­ian bor­der con­trol shot at me,” he said. He lives on this mil­i­tary base here open­ly enough but is frus­trated that more of his recruits can’t get through. “Three of our guys came here from Syr­ia, 15 more are wait­ing in Turkey,” he told The Dai­ly Beast. “They want to take my path, join our bat­tal­ion here right now, but the Ukrain­ian bor­der patrol is not let­ting them in.”

Mus­lim pulled out a piece of paper with a name of anoth­er Chechen head­ing to join the bat­tal­ion. The hand­writ­ten note said that Amayev Khavadzhi was detained on Sep­tem­ber 4, 2014, in Greece and now could be deport­ed to Rus­sia. (Khayadzhi’s lawyer in Greece told The Dai­ly Beast on the phone that there was a chance that his defen­dant would be trans­ferred to his fam­ily in France instead.)

“Two more of our friends have been detained, and are threat­ened with depor­ta­tion to Rus­sia, where they get locked up for life or Kady­rov kills them,” Mus­lim told The Dai­ly Beast, refer­ring to the pro-Putin strong­man of Chech­nya, Ramzan Kady­rov.

The com­man­der point­ed at a young beard­ed mil­i­tant next to him: “Mansur came here from Syr­ia,” Mus­lim said. “He used ISIS as a train­ing base to improve his fight­ing skills.” Mansur stretched out his right hand, which was dis­fig­ured, he said, by a bul­let wound. Two more bul­lets were still stuck in his back, he said.

“No pho­tographs,” Mansur shook his head when a jour­nal­ist tried to take his pic­ture. Not even of his hand, not even from the back: “My reli­gion does not allow that.”

...

Mansur said he did not have to run across the bor­der under a hail of of bul­lets like Mus­lim. “We man­aged to reach an agree­ment with the Ukraini­ans,” he said.

The arrival of pro-Ukrain­ian Chechen fight­ers from abroad helped relieve some of the immi­gra­tion prob­lems of Chechens already liv­ing in Ukraine, the mil­i­tants explained.

Kady­rov had sent some of his Chechens to fight on the Russ­ian side of the con­flict last year, said Mus­lim, and as a result “there was a tem­po­rary dan­ger that Chechen fam­i­lies might be deport­ed from Ukraine… But as soon as we start­ed com­ing here last August, no Chechen in Ukraine had rea­sons to com­plain.”

Were for­mer fight­ers com­ing to Ukraine from Syr­ia because they were dis­ap­pointed (or appalled) by the ide­ol­ogy of ISIS?

“We have been fight­ing against Rus­sia for over 400 years; today they [the Rus­sians] blow up and burn our broth­ers alive, togeth­er with chil­dren, so here in Ukraine we con­tinue to fight our war,” the com­man­der said. Many in Ukraine remem­bered the Chechen war of the mid-1990s as a war for inde­pen­dence, which briefly was giv­en, then tak­en away.

Since then the war in the Cau­ca­sus has mor­phed into ter­ror­ism, killing about 1,000 civil­ians, many of them chil­dren, in a series of ter­ror attacks. And what­ever the com­mon ene­my, that pos­es a seri­ous prob­lem for Kiev if it embraces such fight­ers.

“The Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment should be aware that Islam­ic rad­i­cals fight against democ­racy,” says Var­vara Pakhomenko, an expert at the Inter­na­tional Cri­sis Group. “Today they unite with Ukrain­ian nation­al­ists against Rus­sians, tomor­row they will be fight­ing against lib­er­als.”

Pakhomenko says some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pened in Geor­gia in 2012 when the gov­ern­ment there found itself accused of coop­er­a­tion with Islam­ic rad­i­cals from Europe, Chech­nya, and the Pankisi Gorge, an eth­nic Chechen region of Geor­gia.

For inter­na­tional observers cov­er­ing ter­ror­ism in Rus­sia and Cau­ca­sus in the past 15 years, the pres­ence of Islam­ic rad­i­cals in Ukraine sounds “dis­as­trous,” mon­i­tors from the Inter­na­tional Cri­sis Group told The Dai­ly Beast.

But many ordi­nary Ukraini­ans and offi­cials in Mar­i­upol sup­port the idea of retain­ing more Chechen mili­tia fight­ers. “They are fear­less fight­ers, ready to die for us, we love them, any­body who would pro­tect us from death,” said Gali­na Odnorog, a vol­un­teer sup­ply­ing equip­ment, water, food, and oth­er items to bat­tal­ions told The Dai­ly Beast. The pre­vi­ous night Ukrain­ian forces report­ed six dead Ukrain­ian sol­diers and over a dozen wound­ed.

“ISIS, terrorists—anybody is bet­ter than our lame lead­ers,” says local leg­isla­tive coun­cil deputy Alexan­der Yaroshenko. “I feel more com­fort­able around Mus­lim and his guys than with our may­or or gov­er­nor.”

The Right Sec­tor bat­tal­ion that coop­er­ates with the Chechen mil­i­tants is a law unto itself, often out of con­trol, and tend­ing to incor­po­rate any­one it wants into its ranks. In July two peo­ple were killed and eight wound­ed in a gun and grenade bat­tle between police and Right Sec­tor mili­tia in west­ern Ukraine. On Mon­day, Right Sec­tor mil­i­tants trig­gered street bat­tles in the cen­ter of Kiev that left three police­men dead and over 130 wound­ed.

Yet the gov­ern­ment in Kiev has been con­sid­er­ing the trans­fer of the Right Sec­tor into a spe­cial unit of the SBU, Ukraine’s secu­rity ser­vice, which has made many peo­ple won­der whether the Chechen mili­tia will be join­ing the gov­ern­ment units as well. So far, nei­ther the Right Sec­tor bat­tal­ion nor the Chechen bat­tal­ion have been reg­is­tered with offi­cial forces.

In Ukraine, which is los­ing dozens of sol­diers and civil­ians every week, many things could spin out of con­trol but “it would be unimag­in­able to allow for­mer or cur­rent ISIS fight­ers to join any gov­ern­ment-con­trolled or –spon­sored mil­i­tary unit,” says Paul Quinn-Judge, senior advis­er for Inter­na­tional Cri­sis Group in Rus­sia and Ukraine. “It would be polit­i­cally dis­as­trous for the Poroshenko admin­is­tra­tion: No West­ern gov­ern­ment in its right mind would accept this, and it would be an enor­mous pro­pa­ganda gift for the Krem­lin. The Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment would be bet­ter served by pub­li­ciz­ing their deci­sions to turn ISIS vets back at the bor­der.”

The Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment should be aware that Islam­ic rad­i­cals fight against democ­racy,” says Var­vara Pakhomenko, an expert at the Inter­na­tional Cri­sis Group. “Today they unite with Ukrain­ian nation­al­ists against Rus­sians, tomor­row they will be fight­ing against lib­er­als.”

...
The Right Sec­tor bat­tal­ion that coop­er­ates with the Chechen mil­i­tants is a law unto itself, often out of con­trol, and tend­ing to incor­po­rate any­one it wants into its ranks. In July two peo­ple were killed and eight wound­ed in a gun and grenade bat­tle between police and Right Sec­tor mili­tia in west­ern Ukraine. On Mon­day, Right Sec­tor mil­i­tants trig­gered street bat­tles in the cen­ter of Kiev that left three police­men dead and over 130 wound­ed.

Yet the gov­ern­ment in Kiev has been con­sid­er­ing the trans­fer of the Right Sec­tor into a spe­cial unit of the SBU, Ukraine’s secu­rity ser­vice, which has made many peo­ple won­der whether the Chechen mili­tia will be join­ing the gov­ern­ment units as well. So far, nei­ther the Right Sec­tor bat­tal­ion nor the Chechen bat­tal­ion have been reg­is­tered with offi­cial forces.

3. Once again, we vis­it the sub­ject of the Earth Island or “World Island” as it is some­times called. Stretch­ing from the Straits of Gibral­tar, all across Europe, most of the Mid­dle East, Eura­sia, Rus­sia, Chi­na and India, that stretch of land: com­pris­es most of the world’s land mass; con­tains most of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and most of the world’s nat­ur­al resources (includ­ing oil and nat­ur­al gas.) Geopoliti­cians have long seen con­trol­ling that land mass as the key to world dom­i­na­tion.  The pop­u­la­tion that occu­pies the mid­dle of that stretch of geog­ra­phy is large­ly Mus­lim.

Uti­liz­ing that Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion to con­trol the resources of the Earth Island is a strategem that has been in effect in the West for a cen­tu­ry.

Now, we are see­ing the Uighurs, a Turko­phoneMus­lim group in the petro­le­um and nat­ur­al-resources-rich Xin­jiang province of Chi­na, receiv­ing sup­port from the Pan-Turk­ist/­fas­cist  Nation­al Action Par­ty and its youth wingthe Grey Wolves.

As Rus­sia is being boxed in by renascent Ukrain­ian fas­cism in the East and Cau­casian Islamist ter­ror in the Cau­ca­sus, we must won­der if the NAP/Grey Wolf PR offen­sive against Chi­na and on behalf of the Uighurs is part of an ongo­ing NATO/U.S./Underground Reich effort against the core of the Earth Island, Rus­sia and Chi­na.

Are we see­ing an effort at break­ing those coun­tries apart?  Are the Islamist and Pan-Turk­ist move­ments align­ing in fur­ther­ing this goal?

“Anti-Chi­na Sen­ti­ment Is Sud­den­ly Sweep­ing Over Turkey” by Bar­bara Tasch [Busi­ness Insid­er]; Yahoo News; 7/21/2015.

Protests. Burnt flags. Attacks on tourists and restau­rants. Ram­pant racism on social media.

Anti-Chi­na sen­ti­ment has been reach­ing new heights in Turkey over the last few weeks, as Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan is set to make an offi­cial state vis­it to Chi­na lat­er this month.

It start­ed at the begin­ning of July, when a Chi­nese restau­rant in Istan­bul was attacked by five men with sticks and stones.

“We do not want a Chi­nese restau­rant here, get out of our town!” the men were heard say­ing, accord­ing to Al-Mon­i­tor.

A few days lat­er, a Kore­an tourist mis­tak­en to be Chi­nese was attacked by a group of ultra-nation­al­ists in the cap­i­tal. On the same day in Balike­sir, pro­test­ers hung an effi­gy of Mao Zedong. And a few days lat­er, the protests spread again to Istan­bul, where Chi­nese tourists were attacked and harassed, accord­ing to CNN.

The protests gath­ered momen­tum a few weeks ago, when reports emerged that Uighurs — who share eth­nic­i­ty and have close cul­tur­al ties with Turk­ish Mus­lims — who were liv­ing in west­ern regions of Chi­na had alleged­ly not been allowed to fast dur­ing the holy month of Ramadan. Those alle­ga­tions have been denied by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Uighurs make up around 45% of the Xin­jiang autonomous region of Chi­na.

On July 9, a group of about 200 men who are believed to be part of the East Turkestan Sol­i­dar­i­ty Group attacked the Thai embassy in Istan­bul with rocks and wood­en planks. The attack fol­lowed the repa­tri­a­tion of over 100 Uighurs back to Chi­na by the Thai gov­ern­ment.

In a recent inter­view, Devle­ty Bahceli, chair­man of the far-right Nation­al­ist Action Par­ty (MHP) in Turkey, whose mem­bers have been accused of assault­ing tourists, said they are “sen­si­tive to injus­tices in Chi­na.”

“Our nation­al­ist youth is sen­si­tive to injus­tices in Chi­na. They should have the free­dom to exer­cise their demo­c­ra­t­ic rights. These are young kids. They may have been pro­voked. Plus, how are you going to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between Kore­an and Chi­nese? They both have slant­ed eyes. Does it real­ly mat­ter?” he said, accord­ing to Al-Mon­i­tor

Those racist com­ments caused uproar in nation­al and inter­na­tion­al media. And fol­low­ing grow­ing social pres­sure, Nation­al­ist Action Par­ty mem­bers told Al-Mon­i­tor that they view all tourists as their guests. The head of the Grey Wolves, the youth wing of the MHP in Istan­bul, told the BBC that the attacks took place between pro­test­ers and the police — and that no tourists were harmed.

 “The safe­ty of every tourist com­ing to our coun­try is our respon­si­bil­i­ty. We can’t tol­er­ate any sort of vio­lence,” he said.

Amid the mul­ti­ply­ing attacks, the Chi­nese embassy issued a trav­el warn­ing to its cit­i­zens and told them to avoid going out alone, get­ting close to protests, or tak­ing pic­tures of them. The Chi­nese Phil­har­mon­ic Orches­tra also can­celed its August con­cert in Istan­bul, and local police announced it would pro­vide extra secu­ri­ty for an exhi­bi­tion by a Chi­nese artist. . . . .

4. Next, the pro­gram flesh­es out infor­ma­tion about the sep­a­ratist move­ment in Xin­jiang province, Chi­na. Note that both Islamist and non-theo­crat­ic Pan-Turk­ist ele­ments are involved in this move­ment.

Dol­lars for Ter­ror: The Unit­ed States and Islam; by Richard Labeviere; Copy­right 2000; Algo­ra Press [SC]; ISBN 1–822941-06–6; p. 10.

“Chi­na has not been spared. Xin­jiang (south­ern Chi­na), has a pop­u­la­tion that is 55% Uighur (a Turko­phone Sun­ni eth­nic group); it has been con­front­ed with Islamist vio­lence since the begin­ning of the 1990’s. Cre­at­ed in 1955, Xin­jiang (which means ‘new ter­ri­to­ry’) is one of the five autonomous areas of Chi­na and is the largest admin­is­tra­tive unit of the coun­try. The area is high­ly strate­gic at the geopo­lit­i­cal lev­el — Chi­nese nuclear tests and rock­et launch­es take place on the Lop Nor test grounds — as well as from an eco­nom­ic stand­point, since it abounds in nat­ur­al wealth (oil, gas, ura­ni­um, gold, etc.). Against this back­drop, attacks have pro­lif­er­at­ed by inde­pen­dence-seek­ing cliques, all preach­ing ‘Holy War.’ ”

5. “Some are act­ing in the name of Turk­ish iden­ti­ty, while oth­ers are fight­ing in the name of Allah (espe­cial­ly in the south­ern part of the region). As in the rest of Cen­tral Asia, in Xin­jiang we are wit­ness­ing the ris­ing influ­ence of Wah­habi groups and the increas­ing pros­e­lytism of preach­ers from Sau­di Ara­bia, Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Tra­di­tion­al­ly allied with pop­u­lar Chi­na, Pak­istan is nev­er­the­less try­ing to extend its influ­ence to this part of Chi­na, using the Islamists as it did in Afghanistan. For this rea­son Bei­jing closed the road from Karako­rum, con­nect­ing Xin­jiang to Pak­istan, between 1992 and 1995. Since 1996, the fre­quen­cy of the inci­dents has sky­rock­et­ed. In Feb­ru­ary 1997, riots explod­ed in Yin­ing (a town of 300,000 inhab­i­tants locat­ed to the west of Urumqi, near the Kaza­kh bor­der). This vio­lence caused ten deaths, accord­ing to Chi­nese author­i­ties, and the Uighurs have count­ed more than a hun­dred vic­tims.”

(Idem.)

6. “Every week in 1998 saw a bomb­ing or an attack with auto­mat­ic weapons. The region’s hotels, air­ports and rail­way sta­tions are in a con­stant state of alert. In April, Chi­nese author­i­ties in the vicin­i­ty of Yin­ing seized 700 cas­es of ammu­ni­tion from Kaza­khstan. In Sep­tem­ber, the Sec­re­tary of the Xin­jiang Com­mu­nist Par­ty declared that ’19 train­ing camps, in which spe­cial­ists return­ing from Afghanistan edu­cate young recruits in the tech­niques of ter­ror­ism, with the assis­tance of the Tale­ban,’ were neu­tral­ized. In Jan­u­ary 1999, 29 activists impli­cat­ed in the Feb­ru­ary 1997 riots were arrest­ed. On Feb­ru­ary 12, vio­lent clash­es between the police and groups of Uighur mil­i­tants wound­ed sev­er­al dozen peo­ple in Urumqi. Two hun­dred peo­ple were arrest­ed. In ear­ly March, 10,000 addi­tion­al sol­diers arrived at Yin­ing to beef up secu­ri­ty, while in Bei­jing, the Uighur Islamist orga­ni­za­tions took cred­it for sev­er­al bomb attacks.”

(Ibid.; pp. 10–11.)

7. “This Asian test-bed is sup­port­ing the emer­gence of a new type of rad­i­cal­ism. Sun­ni-ite and ide­o­log­i­cal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, it is supra­na­tion­al in its recruit­ment and in its ide­ol­o­gy. It does not emanate out of scis­sions in the great Islamists orga­ni­za­tions, but from a rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the Afghan Tale­bans, from their sanc­tu­ar­ies and their ties with small ter­ror­ist and mafia groups, mar­gin­al­ized and rad­i­cal­ized by repres­sion (as in Egypt and Alge­ria), in a con­text of eco­nom­ic and finan­cial glob­al­iza­tion, as well as from the cir­cu­la­tion of mil­i­tants who have lost their ter­ri­to­ries. The prin­ci­pal char­ac­ter­is­tic of these net­works (except in Cen­tral Asia and Egypt) is that they recruit, estab­lish their bases, and act at the mar­gins of the Arab-Mus­lim world. In addi­tion to the Egyp­tians, Pak­ista­nis, Sudanese, Yemenites, and Fil­ipinos, recent­ly there has been a wave of immi­gra­tion to Great Britain and the Unit­ed States. Oper­a­tions take place in Egypt, cer­tain­ly, in Alge­ria and Cen­tral Asia, but also in the east and the south of Africa, in Yemen, Bangladesh, New York, etc. The favorite ‘holy wars’ are Kash­mir, Afghanistan, Chech­nya, the Cau­ca­sus and, now, Chi­na.”

(Ibid.; p. 11.)

8. Note the role that Islamists play in the multi­na­tion­al cor­po­rate glob­al­iza­tion move­ment. They are work­ing in a fash­ion that dimin­ish­es nation­al con­trol and reg­u­la­tion and accen­tu­ates lais­sez-faire mar­ket dynam­ics. (“Lib­er­al­ism” in the con­text pre­sent­ed here means “free-mar­ket” rather than tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can polit­i­cal lib­er­al­ism.)

“Tak­ing advan­tage of eco­nom­ic lib­er­al­iza­tion, many for­mer chiefs of the ‘holy war’ have now trans­mut­ed into busi­ness­men. They make up an ‘Islamo-busi­ness’ world that has colonies in var­i­ous sec­tors: Islam­ic finan­cial insti­tu­tions, Islam­ic gar­ment indus­tries, human­i­tar­i­an and benev­o­lent orga­ni­za­tions, pri­vate schools, and so on. As polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Olivi­er Roy says, ‘Today’s Islam­ic actors are work­ing for lib­er­al­ism and against state con­trol.’ They rep­re­sent a glob­al­iza­tion of Islam, deter­ri­to­ri­al­ized, in an approach that has been uncou­pled from the Mid­dle East. A strik­ing West­ern­iza­tion of Islamism is tak­ing place or, more pre­cise­ly, of the tra­di­tion­al­ly infra-state net­works; tribes, Koran schools, etc. are link­ing up with world­wide net­works that func­tion in an extreme­ly mod­ern way and out­side the con­trol of any State author­i­ty. This evo­lu­tion results from a his­to­ry that began long ago...”

(Idem.)

9. The broad­cast reviews the fact that the Dalai Lama has col­lab­o­rat­ed with Islamists from among the Uighur pop­u­la­tion of Xin­jiang province of Chi­na. (The Uighurs refer to Xin­jiang as East or East­ern Turkestan.) With Xin­jiang province being rich in petro­le­um, the Uighurs have had lit­tle trou­ble obtain­ing sup­port from for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vices. For addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about Uighur involve­ment with the Mus­lim Brotherhood/Al Qae­da milieu, see FTR#348 as well as FTR#549It should be not­ed that we are a long way from deal­ing with “Bud­dhists” here!! The Dalai Lama’s milieu is part of a larg­er Under­ground Reich “vir­tu­al state.” It is also impor­tant to bear in mind that the milieu of which the Dalai Lama is a part appears to focus on Cen­tral Asia—that part of the “Earth Island” seen by geopoliti­cians as key to con­trol­ling that land mass and, as a con­se­quence, the world. Note that the Uighurs are count­ed by the Pan-Turk­ists as among the “out­side Turks” to be includ­ed in a “Greater Turkestan”.

“US & Ter­ror­ism in Xin­jiang” by B. Raman; From the web­site of the South Asia Analy­sis Group [an Indi­an intelligence/national secu­ri­ty think tank]; 7/2002.

“India should have rea­sons to be con­cerned over the Dalai Lama’s hob­nob­bing with the pan- Islam­ic ele­ments in Xin­jiang. One can­not avoid sus­pect­ing that the influ­ence of these ele­ments must have been behind his par­tic­i­pa­tion in a con­fer­ence orga­nized in Chen­nai last year by some ele­ments, which have been act­ing as apol­o­gists for Gen. Per­vez Mushar­raf, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor, which was attend­ed by a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Huryi­at of J&K and a large num­ber of Pak­ista­nis, some of them retired Pak­istani mil­i­tary offi­cers. The Dalai Lama’s set-up sub­se­quent­ly denied or played down some of the con­tro­ver­sial remarks attrib­uted to him at the con­fer­ence. The Gov­ern­ment of India should con­sid­er con­vey­ing to the Dalai Lama its unhap­pi­ness and con­cern over his asso­ci­a­tion with pan-Islam­ic ele­ments in Xin­jiang.”

10. Note that the U.S. has main­tained a dou­ble stan­dard on Islamist and sep­a­ratist ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions. Those per­ceived as “pure­ly indige­nous” are not clas­si­fied as ter­ror­ist, and may be receiv­ing assis­tance from ele­ments of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty that are at least nom­i­nal­ly Amer­i­can. It is Mr. Emory’s view that this ele­ment of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty is asso­ci­at­ed with the petro­le­um indus­try and, at a more pro­found lev­el, the Under­ground Reich. It appears that this same ele­ment (or relat­ed ele­ments) is at the epi­cen­ter of the drug-traf­fick­ing milieu with­in U.S. intel­li­gence. For lis­ten­ers who might find this dif­fi­cult to under­stand, con­sid­er the sit­u­a­tion vis a vis drug-traf­fick­ing. Some ele­ments of U.S. intel­li­gence are com­plic­it in the drug traf­fick­ing, while oth­er ele­ments (in con­junc­tion with law enforce­ment) are sin­cere­ly active in oppos­ing it. Not only are the ter­ror­ist and drug-traf­fick­ing sit­u­a­tions anal­o­gous, but, again, the drug-traf­fick­ing ele­ments are asso­ci­at­ed with the ter­ror­ist ele­ments. As researcher Peter Dale Scott has illus­trat­ed in his work [Drugs, Oil and War], the terror/drug ele­ment is close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the petro­le­um indus­try. This ele­ment of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty may well be part of the “Safari Club” milieu.

More on the Uighur involve­ment with Al Qae­da:

“10. The Islam­ic Move­ment of Uzbek­istan and the Abu Sayyaf of the south­ern Philip­pines have been des­ig­nat­ed as For­eign Ter­ror­ist Orga­ni­za­tions under the US law of 1996, but not the East­ern Turkestan Islam­ic Par­ty, though all the three are mem­bers of Osama bin Laden’s Inter­na­tion­al Islam­ic Front For Jehad Against the USA and Israel. In ini­ti­at­ing action, either for des­ig­na­tion as a For­eign Ter­ror­ist Orga­ni­za­tion or for action under the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion No, 1373 in respect of bank accounts, the US and the Euro­pean Union have focused essen­tial­ly on ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions, which are per­ceived by them as inter­na­tion­al in nature or which are seen as pos­ing a threat to their nation­als and inter­ests. Ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions viewed by them as pure­ly indige­nous have been exclud­ed. These mul­ti­ple yard­sticks have been used vis- a‑vis Chi­na as well as India.”

(Idem.)

11. Note that both the Islamist ele­ment of the Uighur inde­pen­dence move­ment and its more sec­u­lar Pan-Turk­ist allies have col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Dalai Lama.

“7. Uighurs were found fight­ing with al-Qae­da in Afghanistan. We are aware of cred­i­ble reports that some Uighurs who were trained by al-Qae­da have returned to Chi­na. . . .24. The sec­ond sim­i­lar­i­ty relates to the exter­nal caus­es of aggra­va­tion of the ter­ror­ist vio­lence in Xin­jiang. Just as in J & K, in Xin­jiang too, there are two dis­tinct terrorist/extremist move­ments- ‑one resort­ing to vio­lence on eth­nic grounds to assert the Uighur eth­nic iden­ti­ty against the per­ceived Han Chi­nese dom­i­na­tion and the oth­er using reli­gious and pan-Islam­ic argu­ments to jus­ti­fy vio­lence for the estab­lish­ment of an inde­pen­dent Islam­ic State. While the eth­nic sep­a­ratist ele­ments have been the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of sym­pa­thy and sup­port from the Dalai Lama’s set-up and the Tibetan dias­po­ra abroad, and the US, Tai­wanese and Turk­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies, the reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ist ele­ments have been in receipt of sup­port from the Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence (ISI)-backed jeha­di orga­ni­za­tions in Pak­istan, the Tal­iban and bin Laden’s Inter­na­tion­al Islam­ic Front For Jehad Against the USA and Israel.”

(Idem.)

12. Accord­ing to the Raman paper, the CIA had close con­nec­tions to Erkin Alptekin, a mem­ber of the board of the Dalai Lama foun­da­tion and a func­tionary of the move­ment to estab­lish Xin­jiang province of Chi­na as an inde­pen­dent (Mus­lim) Uighur state—East Turkestan. It should be not­ed that Alptekin is an oper­a­tive of the Pan-Turk­ist move­ment, which is dis­tinct from the Islamist ele­ment in the Uighur inde­pen­dence move­ment. The Pan-Turk­ist move­ment is dis­cussed at length in AFA#‘s 14 and 21, avail­able from Spit­fire.

“25. In the 1970s and the 1980s, the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency (CIA) of the USA had built up a net­work of con­tacts with the Uighur sep­a­ratist ele­ments and some of those, who had in the past worked for the Munich-based Radio Lib­er­ty of the CIA such as Erkin Alptekin, chair­man of the Europe-based East­ern Turkestani Union and a close Uighur asso­ciate of the Dalai Lama, are now in the fore­front of the eth­nic sep­a­ratist move­ment. . . .”

(Idem.)

13. In addi­tion to his back­ground with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—both close­ly con­nect­ed to U.S. intelligence—Erkin Alptekin is a founder and key mem­ber of the UNPO, about which we will have more to say below. Alptekin is also on the board of the Dalai Lama Foun­da­tion.

Excerpt from the list of the board of the Dalai Lama Foun­da­tion.

“ERKIN ALPTEKIN is one of the fore­most human rights advo­cates for the Uighur peo­ple of East­ern Turkestan, also known as the Xin­jiang Autonomous Region of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Chi­na. Mr. Alptekin was employed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­er­ty from 1971 to 1994. He is one of the founders of the Unrep­re­sent­ed Nations and Peo­ple’s Orga­ni­za­tion (UNPO), and cur­rent­ly serves as its gen­er­al sec­re­tary.”

14. Anoth­er board mem­ber of the Dalai Lama Foun­da­tion is a mem­ber of the UNPO.

“MICHAEL VAN WALT cur­rent­ly serves as Exec­u­tive Pres­i­dent of the Peace Action Coun­cil, and Legal Advi­sor to the Office of H.H. The Dalai Lama. From 1991 to 1998 Dr. Van Walt was Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary of UNPO, the Unrep­re­sent­ed Nations and Peo­ples Orga­ni­za­tion. Dr. Van Walt holds law degrees from Europe and Amer­i­ca, and is cur­rent­ly Adjunct Pro­fes­sor of Inter­na­tion­al Law, Gold­en Gate Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law, San Fran­cis­co.”

(Idem.)

15a. With the Dalai Lama and his milieu, we appear to be look­ing at man­i­fes­ta­tions of the Under­ground Reich as a “vir­tu­al state”—a state with­out for­mal geo­graph­i­cal bor­ders. We should also note that Cen­tral Asia—the area that is the focal point of the Dalai Lama’s and UNPO’s sup­port for Uighur sep­a­ratist ele­ments was viewed by geopoliti­cians as crit­i­cal for main­tain­ing con­trol of the Earth Island.

Entry for Karl von Hab­s­burg

“The eldest son and heir of the dynasty is Karl (Kar­l’s web­site), who lives in Aus­tria and has served in the Aus­tri­an army and was a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, like his father, from 1996–1999. [Empha­sis added.] He has worked hard to keep the fam­i­ly in the pub­lic lime­light, even host­ing a pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion game show. He works qui­et­ly to change the Aus­tri­an laws of 1919 that for­bid the Hab­s­burgs from hold­ing any polit­i­cal office and has often been men­tioned as a pos­si­ble Chan­cel­lor of the Aus­tri­an Repub­lic. At this time he is the Gen­eraldirek­tor of the UNPO (Unrep­re­sent­ed Nations and Peo­ples Orga­ni­za­tion). In 1993 Karl mar­ried Francesca Thyssen-Borne­misza who is well known in Euro­pean high soci­ety.”

15b. Note that, as dis­cussed in FTR #‘s 833, 824, Karl Von Hab­s­burg is active in Ukraine today and his father, Otto Von Hab­s­burg, was very close to Jaroslav Stet­sko, hav­ing served in a promi­nent posi­tion with Stet­sko’s Euro­pean Free­dom Coun­cil. The gen­e­sis of the mil­i­tant fas­cism of Gali­cia (West­ern Ukraine) lies with the 1848 Spring of Nations imple­ment­ed by the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an Empire.

16. Recap­ping a point of dis­cus­sion from FTR #842, we fur­ther devel­op the nature of Tibetan Bud­dhism, cer­tain sim­i­lar­i­ties with Nazi phi­los­o­phy and occult beliefs, and how this played into the devel­op­ment of the Dalai Lama’s oper­a­tional links to some tru­ly “inter­est­ing” ele­ments.

The Hitler Lega­cy by Peter Lev­en­da; IBIS Press [HC]; Copy­right 2014 by Peter Lev­en­da; ISBN 978–0‑89254–210‑9; pp. 244–245.

. . . . Both Hitler and the Dalai Lama were sec­u­lar rulers of their respec­tive coun­tries. Both had been the spir­i­tu­al rulers of their respec­tive coun­tries. Both had been the spir­i­tu­al rulers of their peo­ples, as well. Both revered the swasti­ka as a sym­bol of their iden­ti­ty. And both were fight­ing Com­mu­nism: Hitler against Rus­sia, and the Dalai Lama against Chi­na. And just as Nazi offi­cers were incor­po­rat­ed into the US and British intel­li­gence oper­a­tions against Rus­sia, so were Tibetan polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers incor­po­rat­ed into Amer­i­can intel­li­gence and para­mil­i­tary oper­a­tions against Chi­na. The fol­low­ers of both Hitler and the Dalai Lama were (and are) moved by ecsta­t­ic wor­ship of their lead­ers and dreams of a par­a­disi­a­cal future. . . .

. . . . This might have been con­so­nant with an eso­teric tra­di­tion in Tibet, enshrined in the sem­i­nal work of Tibetan Bud­dhism, the Kalachakra Tantra. In this work, men­tion is made of the Kal­ki: a kind of God-King that will storm out of Shamb­ha­la (the secret, hid­den king­dom in the Himalayas made famous in the film Shangri-La) and put to waste all non-Bud­dhists, in a jihad wor­thy the most insane fan­tasies of frus­trat­ed ter­ror­ists every­where. The Dalai Lama is known to be fas­ci­nat­ed with the machin­ery of war, as he him­self men­tioned dur­ing the New York Times inter­view above-ref­er­enced.

It would be a stretch to accuse the Tibetans of the same type of war crimes of which the Nazis have been charged. There is no indi­ca­tion of geno­cide or “eth­nic cleans­ing” as a result of Tibetan poli­cies, for instance. How­ev­er, if we sub­tract geno­cide from the polit­i­cal incli­na­tions of both the Nazis and Tibetans as rep­re­sent­ed by the Dalai Lama, we are left with the uneasy feel­ing that there was much they had in common.Both the Nazis and the Tibetan Bud­dhists rep­re­sent reli­gions that are non-Abra­ham­ic in nature. The Nazis embraced a kind of neo-pagan­ism as their spir­i­tu­al resource, and with it a rejec­tion of the eth­i­cal and moral ideals of Judaism, Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam.

It should be not­ed, how­ev­er, that the Kalachakra Tantra–which forms the back­bone of the type of Bud­dhism pro­mul­gat­ed by the Dalai Lama–includes sim­i­lar ideas. there is a patent rejec­tion of non-Bud­dhist reli­gions and the promise of the appear­ance of the Kal­ki: an avatar of Vish­nu and the last ruler of the Kali Yuga (the dark age in which we present­ly live). Kal­ki was asso­ci­at­ed with Hitler by Miguel Ser­ra­no, and by the Indi­an nation­al­ist leader Sub­has Chan­dra Bose, among oth­ers. The Kal­ki would come out of his myth­i­cal king­dom of Shamb­ha­la at some point in the future and cleanse the world of non-Bud­dhists in a major, apoc­a­lyp­tic-style con­fla­gra­tion. This seems a tri­fle incon­sis­tent with the con­cept of “mer­cy.” The Dalai Lama is con­sid­ered to be an incar­na­tion of Akalovites­vara, the Indi­an God of Mer­cy and Com­pas­sion; per­haps some­thing is lost in the trans­la­tion.

We do not see the Dalai Lama sit­ting down and smil­ing benign­ly with Com­mu­nists. We do see him embrac­ing Nazis. One can imag­ine that the Sea of Com­pas­sion that is the Dalai Lama has man­aged to bestow mer­cy on even these unre­pen­tant war crim­i­nals and fear-mon­gers, and per­haps that is the les­son he wish­es to teach us; but that is not a les­son he has the moral right to teach. . . .

17. Shift­ing focus from the Mid­dle East to Asia, the Cold war saw the Amer­i­can adap­ta­tion of yet anoth­er Third Reich man­i­fes­ta­tion of “weaponized reli­gion.” Hav­ing sent an SS expe­di­tion to Tibet in 1938, the Third Reich may well have been explor­ing a poten­tial out­post to be used for their con­quest of the “Earth Island,” in addi­tion to indulging their anthro­po­log­i­cal fan­tasies about Tibet being the fount of the “Aryan Race.”

The Hitler Lega­cy by Peter Lev­en­da; IBIS Press [HC]; Copy­right 2014 by Peter Lev­en­da; ISBN 978–0‑89254–210‑9; pp. 239–240.

One expe­di­tion mount­ed by the SS-Ahnenerbe, and with the spe­cif­ic bless­ing of Hein­rich Himm­ler, ws the 1938 SS-Tibet Expe­di­tion led by Ernst Schafer and includ­ing the anthro­pol­o­gist Bruno Beger among the expe­di­tion mem­bers. While the Dalai Lama was only three years old at the time of this expe­di­tion, the Panchen Lama was avail­able to greet the Nazis to the Himalayan king­dom and to pro­vide them with texts (includ­ing the 108-vol­ume Tibetan scrip­ture, the Kangjur), ani­mal and plant spec­i­mens, and pho­to­graph­ic footage to take back with them. In addi­tion, Beger con­duct­ed ethno­graph­ic and anthro­po­met­ric research among the Tibetans, mea­sur­ing their skulls with calipers, for instance. Pho­tographs of this expe­di­tion are still extent and exam­ples of it are found in the pho­to­graph­ic sec­tion of this book, includ­ing a famous pho­to of Beger mea­sur­ing the skull of a smil­ing Tibetan maid­en. . . .

. . . . by the time the SS-Tibet Expe­di­tion arrived back in Ger­many, the Sec­ond World War was just begin­ning. Bruno Beger–the anthro­pol­o­gist with the calipers–found him­self gain­ful­ly employed in build­ing an ethno­graph­ic muse­um of the human race, more­over one which would demon­strate the supe­ri­or­i­ty of the Aryan over the Semit­ic peo­ples. In order to do this, he need­ed a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­pling of human skulls for his col­lec­tion.

Eighty per­sons were mur­dered at Natzweil­er-Struthof con­cen­tra­tion camp to sat­is­fy this require­ment.

After the war, Beger was denaz­i­fied. While he was con­vict­ed of the mur­der of more than eighty indi­vid­u­als for the express pur­pose of build­ing his skull col­lec­tion, he nev­er served a day in prison. In fact, he remained a close friend of the Dalai Lama all his life, just as his old SS col­league Hein­rich Har­rer. . . .

18. After Chi­na occu­pied Tibet, that coun­try’s leader–the Dalai Lama–became yet anoth­er ally in the Cold War. The CIA pur­sued alliance with the Dalai Lama’s forces, appar­ent­ly employ­ing SS offi­cer Hein­rich Har­rer as an agent. (Har­rer was the Dalai Lama’s tutor and close per­son­al friend.)

The Hitler Lega­cy by Peter Lev­en­da; IBIS Press [HC]; Copy­right 2014 by Peter Lev­en­da; ISBN 978–0‑89254–210‑9; pp. 236–237.

Thus we have the strange tableau of an SS man and com­mit­ted Nazi in Lhasa, at the same time that his friend, the Dalai Lama, is offi­cial­ly in con­tact with the US gov­ern­ment con­cern­ing the Chi­nese sit­u­a­tion. What did Hein­rich Har­rer know of these nego­ti­a­tions? How much did the Dalai Lama him­self know at this time? Even more to the point, was Amer­i­can intelligence–in the form of the CIA and the State Department–aware of Har­rer’s pres­ence in Lhasa and the influ­ence he had over the king?

Har­rer would remain a close friend and ally of the Dalai Lama for the rest of his life. As a Nazi and a mem­ber of the SS as well as of the SA (the Sturm Abteilung or Storm Troop­ers), Har­rer would have been a devot­ed anti-com­mu­nist, and would have seen in the strug­gles of the Tibetan peo­ple against Chi­nese Com­mu­nism an echo of his ow coun­try’s fight against the Sovi­et Union. Har­rer, as some­one with a demon­strat­ed and inti­mate knowl­edge of the land­scape, cul­ture, lan­guages, and envi­ron­ment of north­ern India and Tibet would have been an excel­lent choice for Amer­i­can intel­li­gence as an asset to run oper­a­tions against the Chi­nese. After all, the CIA had hired the Gehlen Orga­ni­za­tion at the end of World War Two to run ops against the Rus­sians from east­ern Europe. Rein­hard Gehlen was a Nazi intel­li­gence offi­cer who bartered his way to free­dom from pros­e­cu­tion by offer­ing his ser­vices (and those of hun­dreds of his close per­son­al friends in the SS, Gestapo, and SD) as an anti-com­mu­nist fight­er against the Sovi­ets. It would have made per­fect sense to hire Nazis who had expe­ri­ence of Asia in the fight against Chi­nese-style Com­mu­nism.

In fact, as Thomas Laird reveals: “Only dur­ing the past ten years, State Depart­ment doc­u­ments have been declas­si­fied that show Har­rer may have been involved with sev­er­al covert oper­a­tions for the Amer­i­cans after he left Tibet. . . .”

19a. Note that Paula Dobri­an­sky was in charge of the Tibet desk for George W. Bush.

“Under­sec­re­tary for Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al Affairs”; U.S. Depart­ment of State: Archive.

The Office of the Under Sec­re­tary for Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al Affairs, head­ed by Dr. Paula J. Dobri­an­sky, coor­di­nates U.S. for­eign rela­tions on a vari­ety of glob­al issues, includ­ing democ­ra­cy, human rights, and labor; envi­ron­ment, oceans, health and sci­ence; pop­u­la­tion, refugees, and migra­tion; wom­en’s issues; and traf­fick­ing in per­sons and avian and pan­dem­ic influen­za.

Since her appoint­ment in 2001, Under Sec­re­tary Dobri­an­sky has also served con­cur­rent­ly as the Spe­cial Coor­di­na­tor for Tibetan Issues. In this capac­i­ty, she is the U.S. gov­ern­men­t’s point per­son on Tibet pol­i­cy mat­ters, includ­ing: sup­port for dia­logue between the Chi­nese and the Dalai Lama or his rep­re­sen­ta­tives; pro­mo­tion of human rights in Tibet; and efforts to pre­serve Tibet’s unique cul­tur­al, reli­gious and lin­guis­tic iden­ti­ty.

19b. Paula Dobri­an­sky is part of the OUN/B milieu. (Her father Lev Dobri­an­sky was chair­man of the U.C.C.A., the top OUN/B umbrel­la orga­ni­za­tion in the Unit­ed States.)

“Is the US Back­ing neo-Nazis in the Ukraine?” by Max Blu­men­thal [Alter­net]; Salon.com; 2/25/2014.

. . . . Many sur­viv­ing OUN‑B mem­bers fled to West­ern Europe and the Unit­ed States – occa­sion­al­ly with CIA help – where they qui­et­ly forged polit­i­cal alliances with right-wing ele­ments. “You have to under­stand, we are an under­ground orga­ni­za­tion. We have spent years qui­et­ly pen­e­trat­ing posi­tions of influ­ence,” one mem­ber told jour­nal­ist Russ Bel­lant, who doc­u­ment­ed the group’s resur­gence in the Unit­ed States in his 1988 book, “Old Nazis, New Right, and the Repub­li­can Par­ty.”In Wash­ing­ton, the OUN‑B recon­sti­tut­ed under the ban­ner of the Ukrain­ian Con­gress Com­mit­tee of Amer­i­ca (UCCA), an umbrel­la orga­ni­za­tion com­prised of “com­plete OUN‑B fronts,” accord­ing to Bel­lant. By the mid-1980’s, the Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion was hon­ey­combed with UCCA mem­bers, with the group’s chair­man Lev Dobri­an­sky, serv­ing as ambas­sador to the Bahamas, and his daugh­ter, Paula, sit­ting on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. Rea­gan per­son­al­ly wel­comed Stet­sko, the Ban­derist leader who over­saw the mas­sacre of 7000 Jews in Lviv, into the White House in 1983.

“Your strug­gle is our strug­gle,” Rea­gan told the for­mer Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor. “Your dream is our dream.” . . .

Discussion

8 comments for “FTR #863 9/11, The Muslim Brotherhood and the Earth Island Boogie, Part 2”

  1. It’s the largest ter­ror­ist attack in Rus­sia in decades. Days after Rus­si­a’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. With dozens dead and over a hun­dred more wound­ed and the con­cert hall up in flames, the attack on a con­cert hall in Moscow was an unmit­i­gat­ed spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess from a ter­ror stand­point.

    And while ISIS has already claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty, with­out proof, and the attack­ers seem­ing­ly hav­ing escaped, we’re see­ing a murki­er nar­ra­tive devel­op as Rus­sia still grap­ples with assign­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty. The murk­i­ness starts with the fact that the US embassy in Moscow issued a warn­ing about exact­ly this kind of attack just two weeks ago. The warn­ing came hours after the FSB report­ed thwart­ing an ISIS plot tar­get­ing a Moscow syn­a­gogue. A dis­turbing­ly pre­scient warn­ing that explic­it­ly iden­ti­fied con­cert halls as like­ly tar­gets in upcom­ing attacks: “The Embassy is mon­i­tor­ing reports that extrem­ists have immi­nent plans to tar­get large gath­er­ings in Moscow, to include con­certs, and U.S. cit­i­zens should be advised to avoid large gath­er­ings over the next 48 hours.”

    As we’re going to see, that warn­ing did not go down well with the Krem­lin. On Tues­day, three days before the attack, Vladimir Putin gave a speech where he called the US warn­ing “provoca­tive,” say­ing “these actions resem­ble out­right black­mail and the inten­tion to intim­i­date and desta­bi­lize our soci­ety.”

    So those are the facts on the ground that is lead­ing to spec­u­la­tion inside Rus­sia that the US was ulti­mate­ly behind the attacks. But then we get this pret­ty inter­est­ing coin­ci­den­tal admis­sion, or retrac­tion, that was pub­lished in the Wash­ing­ton Post on the morn­ing of March 22, hours before the attack: Ilya Pono­marev, the for­mer Russ­ian law­mak­er how now resides in Kyiv lead­ing the Russ­ian resis­tance group, the Free­dom for Rus­sia Legion, was inter­view for a col­umn enti­tle “How Rus­sians are join­ing the fight against Putin.” And while Pono­marev sug­gests that his move­ment has around 25,000 sym­pa­thiz­ers still liv­ing inside Rus­sia, he actu­al­ly retract­ed one of the biggest claims of attri­bu­tion he’s made to date. That would be the claims that his group was involved with the August 2022 assas­si­na­tion of Daria Dug­i­na. Now, all of a sud­den, Pono­marev retract­ed that claim in this inter­view pub­lished just hours before the attack. Keep in mind that an attack on a con­cert hall that indis­crim­i­nate­ly tar­gets civil­ians may not be ‘on brand’ for the kind of resis­tance move­ment image Pono­marev is try­ing to cul­ti­vate inside Rus­sia. That’s part of what makes the tim­ing of his retract­ed attri­bu­tion so inter­est­ing. It hints at fore­knowl­edge.

    So we have a brazen and wild­ly suc­cess­ful ter­ror attack with ISIS already claim­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty but not pro­vid­ing any proof and the attack­ers seem­ing­ly escaped with no way to iden­ti­fy them. An attack the US warned about two weeks ago. Warn­ings that Putin described as provoca­tive black­mail just three days ago. And just hours before the attack, the leader of one of the lead­ing Russ­ian resis­tance units inside Ukraine with­drew his attri­bu­tion of the assas­si­na­tion of Daria Dug­i­na. It’s a remark­able turn of events.

    Is this all just a coin­ci­dence? Per­haps. ISIS does­n’t exact­ly need a new motive to launch attacks in Rus­sia after the dev­as­tat­ing blows Rus­sia land­ed against ISIS’s ambi­tions in Syr­ia. But as we’ve also seen, the con­flict in Ukraine isn’t with­out its own jihadist dimen­sion. Vol­un­teers with jihadist ties, in par­tic­u­lar from Chech­nya, have been a pres­ence inside Ukraine for years now. This is also a good time to recall how the Free­dom for Rus­sia Legion envi­sions break­ing Rus­sia up into dozens of eth­nic statelets, a goal that groups like ISIS would undoubt­ed­ly rel­ish. So while it remains to be seen what will ulti­mate­ly be learned about who was respon­si­ble for the attack on the Moscow con­cert, it’s look­ing like the ulti­mate attri­bu­tion for the attack is only going to get murki­er:

    CNN

    ISIS claims respon­si­bil­i­ty for attack in busy Moscow-area con­cert venue that left at least 40 dead

    By Mariya Knight, Anna Cher­no­va and Darya Taraso­va, CNN
    Updat­ed 7:13 PM EDT, Fri March 22, 2024

    CNN — ISIS has claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for an attack at a pop­u­lar con­cert venue com­plex near Moscow Fri­day that left at least 40 dead and more than 100 wound­ed after assailants stormed the venue with guns and incen­di­ary devices.

    The ter­ror group took respon­si­bil­i­ty for the attack in a short state­ment pub­lished by ISIS-affil­i­at­ed news agency Amaq on Telegram on Fri­day. The group did not pro­vide evi­dence to sup­port the claim.

    Video footage from the site of the attack, the Cro­cus City Hall con­cert venue, shows the vast com­plex, which is home to both the music hall and a shop­ping cen­ter, on fire with smoke bil­low­ing into the air. State-run RIA Novosti report­ed the armed indi­vid­u­als “opened fire with auto­mat­ic weapons” and “threw a grenade or an incen­di­ary bomb, which start­ed a fire.” They then “alleged­ly fled in a white Renault car,” the news agency said.

    State media Rus­sia 24 report­ed the roof on the venue has par­tial­ly col­lapsed.

    The attack unfold­ed before the music group Pic­nic was set to per­form, accord­ing to Rus­sia 24. The band’s man­ag­er told state media that the per­form­ers were unharmed.

    The Rus­sia Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Office said: “Uniden­ti­fied peo­ple in cam­ou­flage broke into Cro­cus City Hall and start­ed shoot­ing before the start of the con­cert,” accord­ing to TASS.

    Video footage showed pan­ic as the attack unfold­ed, with crowds of peo­ple hud­dling togeth­er, scream­ing and duck­ing behind cush­ioned seats as gun­shots start­ed echo­ing in the vast hall.

    Footage geolo­cat­ed by CNN shows an armed indi­vid­ual start­ing at least one fire inside the venue. The indi­vid­ual is seen car­ry­ing some­thing in their hand and, as they walk off-screen, a bright flash of light from a large flame is seen in the video.

    Region­al gov­er­nor Andrey Voroby­ov said every­thing was being done to save peo­ple in what is now the dead­liest ter­ror attack on Moscow in decades. A SWAT team was called to the area and more than 70 ambu­lance teams and doc­tors were assist­ing vic­tims.

    One hun­dred and fif­teen peo­ple have been hos­pi­tal­ized, includ­ing five chil­dren, the Russ­ian Health Min­istry told TASS. Six­ty peo­ple are in a “seri­ous con­di­tion.”

    On Fri­day night, Moscow City Duma Chair­man Alex­ey Sha­posh­nikov called on Moscow res­i­dents to donate blood to help treat vic­tims, say­ing that “this is a mat­ter of life and death for dozens of peo­ple.”

    Sha­posh­nikov list­ed sev­er­al blood cen­ter facil­i­ties in the Moscow area that will accept donors through­out the week­end.

    Around 100 peo­ple were evac­u­at­ed from the build­ing by fire­fight­ers, TASS report­ed. Res­cuers are still work­ing to get peo­ple off the roof, accord­ing to the Main Direc­torate of the Min­istry of Emer­gency Sit­u­a­tions of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion.

    ...

    Accord­ing to the Krem­lin, Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was informed about the attack and is being kept updat­ed on mea­sures on the ground.

    Ear­li­er this month, the US embassy in Rus­sia said it was “mon­i­tor­ing reports that extrem­ists have immi­nent plans to tar­get large gath­er­ings in Moscow,” includ­ing con­certs. The embassy warned US cit­i­zens to avoid large gath­er­ings.

    In a speech Tues­day to Russia’s fed­er­al secu­ri­ty agency, Putin called the embassy’s warn­ings about poten­tial ter­ror attacks in Moscow “provoca­tive,” say­ing “these actions resem­ble out­right black­mail and the inten­tion to intim­i­date and desta­bi­lize our soci­ety.”

    The US embassy in Moscow on Fri­day said it was “aware of reports of an ongo­ing ter­ror­ist inci­dent at Cro­cus City Hall” and advised US cit­i­zens not to trav­el to Rus­sia.

    Ukraine, which has been embroiled in a war with Rus­sia for more than two years, denied hav­ing any involve­ment in the attack.

    “Ukraine has nev­er resort­ed to the use of ter­ror­ist meth­ods,” Ukrain­ian pres­i­den­tial advis­er Mykhai­lo Podolyak wrote, in part, in a post on X. He said he believed Rus­sia would use the attack to jus­ti­fy the ongo­ing con­flict and scale up oper­a­tions as part of “mil­i­tary pro­pa­gan­da” in Ukraine.

    ...

    ———–

    “ISIS claims respon­si­bil­i­ty for attack in busy Moscow-area con­cert venue that left at least 40 dead” By Mariya Knight, Anna Cher­no­va and Darya Taraso­va; CNN; 03/22/2024

    “Video footage from the site of the attack, the Cro­cus City Hall con­cert venue, shows the vast com­plex, which is home to both the music hall and a shop­ping cen­ter, on fire with smoke bil­low­ing into the air. State-run RIA Novosti report­ed the armed indi­vid­u­als “opened fire with auto­mat­ic weapons” and “threw a grenade or an incen­di­ary bomb, which start­ed a fire.” They then “alleged­ly fled in a white Renault car,” the news agency said.

    ISIS has already claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty. And yet, with the gun­men hav­ing got­ten away, warn­ings about exact­ly this kind of attack from the US embassy two weeks ago and, just three days ago, Putin explic­it­ly described the US embassy warn­ings as actions resem­bling black­mail, we have all the ele­ments need­ed for aggres­sive spec­u­la­tion about who was ulti­mate­ly behind the attack:

    ...
    One hun­dred and fif­teen peo­ple have been hos­pi­tal­ized, includ­ing five chil­dren, the Russ­ian Health Min­istry told TASS. Six­ty peo­ple are in a “seri­ous con­di­tion.”

    ...

    Ear­li­er this month, the US embassy in Rus­sia said it was “mon­i­tor­ing reports that extrem­ists have immi­nent plans to tar­get large gath­er­ings in Moscow,” includ­ing con­certs. The embassy warned US cit­i­zens to avoid large gath­er­ings.

    In a speech Tues­day to Russia’s fed­er­al secu­ri­ty agency, Putin called the embassy’s warn­ings about poten­tial ter­ror attacks in Moscow “provoca­tive,” say­ing “these actions resem­ble out­right black­mail and the inten­tion to intim­i­date and desta­bi­lize our soci­ety.”
    ...

    At the same time, it does appear that ISIS was indeed like­ly behind the attack giv­en that the US embassy warn­ing a cou­ple of weeks ago came hours after Russ­ian author­i­ties foiled an ISIS attack on a syn­a­gogue in Moscow. It was hours after that foiled attack on a syn­a­gogue when the US embassy issued a warn­ing about immi­nent plans that could include large gath­er­ings and con­certs. So there is strong evi­dence that ISIS real­ly was behind this attack, but the US was also some­what pre­scient about an attack on a con­cert hall. Which, again, is a recipe for spec­u­la­tion that this is some­how a West­ern-direct­ed attack on Rus­sia:

    Reuters

    US embassy warns of immi­nent attack in Moscow by ‘extrem­ists’

    By Guy Faulcon­bridge
    March 8, 2024 12:05 PM CST
    Updat­ed

    Sum­ma­ry

    * U.S. embassy warns of immi­nent attack by “extrem­ists”
    * It tells cit­i­zens to avoid con­certs and mass events
    * FSB says it foiled an attack on a syn­a­gogue in Moscow
    * FSB says Afghan arm of Islam­ic State was plan­ning attack

    MOSCOW, March 8 (Reuters) — The U.S. embassy in Rus­sia warned that “extrem­ists” had immi­nent plans for an attack in Moscow, hours after Russ­ian secu­ri­ty ser­vices said they had foiled a planned shoot­ing at a syn­a­gogue by a cell from the Afghan arm of Islam­ic State.

    The embassy, which has repeat­ed­ly urged all U.S. cit­i­zens to leave Rus­sia imme­di­ate­ly, gave no fur­ther details about the nature of the threat, but said peo­ple should avoid con­certs and crowds and be aware of their sur­round­ings.

    “The Embassy is mon­i­tor­ing reports that extrem­ists have immi­nent plans to tar­get large gath­er­ings in Moscow, to include con­certs, and U.S. cit­i­zens should be advised to avoid large gath­er­ings over the next 48 hours,” the embassy said on its web­site.

    It issued its warn­ing sev­er­al hours after Rus­si­a’s Fed­er­al Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice (FSB), the main suc­ces­sor to the Sovi­et-era KGB, said it had foiled an attack on a syn­a­gogue in Moscow by a cell of the mil­i­tant Sun­ni Mus­lim group Islam­ic State.

    It was unclear if the two state­ments were linked.

    U.S. allies includ­ing Britain, Cana­da, South Korea and Latvia repeat­ed the U.S. warn­ing and told their cit­i­zens not to trav­el to Rus­sia.

    Most West­ern coun­tries advise against all trav­el to Rus­sia and say their cit­i­zens should leave. The U.S. has the high­est lev­el of warn­ing for Rus­sia — red “4 — Do not trav­el” — the same lev­el as Afghanistan, Syr­ia, Yemen and South Sudan and Iran.

    ...

    The FSB said an Islam­ic State cell was oper­at­ing in Rus­si­a’s Kalu­ga region as part of the Afghan arm of the group, which is known as ISIS-Kho­rasan and seeks a caliphate across Afghanistan, Pak­istan, Turk­menistan, Tajik­istan, Uzbek­istan and Iran.

    The group first appeared in east­ern Afghanistan in late 2014 and estab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for extreme bru­tal­i­ty.

    The cell “was prepar­ing to attack the con­gre­gants of a syn­a­gogue using firearms,” the FSB said.

    When tack­led, the mil­i­tants offered resis­tance by Russ­ian spe­cial forces and were “neu­tralised” by return fire, it said.

    “Firearms, ammu­ni­tion, as well as com­po­nents for the man­u­fac­ture of an impro­vised explo­sive device were found and seized,” the FSB said.

    ...

    ———-

    “US embassy warns of immi­nent attack in Moscow by ‘extrem­ists’ ” By Guy Faulcon­bridge; Reuters; 03/08/2024

    ““The Embassy is mon­i­tor­ing reports that extrem­ists have immi­nent plans to tar­get large gath­er­ings in Moscow, to include con­certs, and U.S. cit­i­zens should be advised to avoid large gath­er­ings over the next 48 hours,” the embassy said on its web­site.”

    A warn­ing about immi­nent attacks on con­certs. The US clear­ly had intel­li­gence that some­thing like the attack that just tran­spired was in the works. A warn­ing that came hours after the FSB report­ed foil­ing an ISIS plot against a Moscow syn­a­gogue:

    ...
    It issued its warn­ing sev­er­al hours after Rus­si­a’s Fed­er­al Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice (FSB), the main suc­ces­sor to the Sovi­et-era KGB, said it had foiled an attack on a syn­a­gogue in Moscow by a cell of the mil­i­tant Sun­ni Mus­lim group Islam­ic State.

    ...

    The cell “was prepar­ing to attack the con­gre­gants of a syn­a­gogue using firearms,” the FSB said.

    When tack­led, the mil­i­tants offered resis­tance by Russ­ian spe­cial forces and were “neu­tralised” by return fire, it said.

    “Firearms, ammu­ni­tion, as well as com­po­nents for the man­u­fac­ture of an impro­vised explo­sive device were found and seized,” the FSB said.
    ...

    So with that remark­ably pre­scient warn­ing from the US just a cou­ple of weeks ago in mind, note anoth­er remark­able state­ment that was pub­lished in the Wash­ing­ton Post on the morn­ing of March 22, hours before the attack: In a piece by col­umn Jim Ger­aghty about the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion anti-Krem­lin resis­tance unit oper­at­ing in Ukraine led by for­mer Russ­ian law­mak­er Ilya Pono­marev, Pono­marev actu­al­ly back­tracked on pre­vi­ous attri­bu­tion claims that Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion was respon­si­ble for the 2022 Moscow bomb­ing of Alexan­der Dug­in’s daugh­ter, Daria Dug­i­na. So hours before this spec­tac­u­lar ISIS attack in Moscow, we have an inter­view pub­lished where the leader of the group that pre­vi­ous­ly claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the 2022 car bomb­ing assas­si­na­tion in Moscow with­drew those claims:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post
    Opin­ion

    How Rus­sians are join­ing the fight against Putin

    By Jim Ger­aghty
    Con­tribut­ing colum­nist|
    March 22, 2024 at 6:30 a.m. EDT

    KYIV — Ilya Pono­marev is a for­mer mem­ber of the Russ­ian leg­is­la­ture and was the only law­mak­er to vote against the annex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014. The fol­low­ing year, he was charged with embez­zle­ment — an accu­sa­tion he says was moti­vat­ed by pol­i­tics and his defi­ance of Vladimir Putin. Pono­marev is now in exile in Ukraine, work­ing as the polit­i­cal head of the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion, a group of Rus­sians fight­ing along­side the Ukraini­ans against the Russ­ian army, or as he calls it, “the Putin­ist army.”

    In addi­tion, Rus­sians “who are ignit­ing the war, financ­ing the war, mak­ing pro­pa­gan­da around the war, they are legit­i­mate mil­i­tary tar­gets, and they should be tar­get­ed,” Pono­marev told me dur­ing an inter­view. “They are more harm­ful than any mis­siles. They kill more peo­ple with what they do. That’s why we’re doing this and con­tin­ue doing this. We under­stand that some­times it is met with mixed reac­tion.”

    Pono­marev — con­tra­dict­ing past com­ments, appar­ent­ly — told me that he and the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion were not involved in the 2022 car bomb­ing in Moscow that killed Daria Dug­i­na, the daugh­ter of ultra­na­tion­al­ist writer and Putin favorite, Alexan­der Dug­in.

    “Dug­in, he was the man — to my mind, he was overex­ag­ger­at­ing his role, nev­er­the­less, he was say­ing ‘I invent­ed this war.’” Pono­marev said. (In 2014, Dug­in told BBC News that war between Rus­sia and Ukraine was “inevitable,” and he called on Putin to inter­vene mil­i­tar­i­ly in east­ern Ukraine “to save Russia’s moral author­i­ty.”)

    Asked how many sol­diers the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion has, Pono­marev said, “It’s against the law in Ukraine to give the num­ber, just direct­ly pro­hib­it­ed,” but he gave a strong hint. “If you lis­ten to what Mr. Putin has said recent­ly, he said that it was 2,500. … It’s not that far off. His num­ber is a lit­tle bit over. The actu­al num­ber is small­er.”

    Pono­marev said that, on aver­age, the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion receives about 1,000 appli­ca­tions each month, but the num­ber of appli­cants who actu­al­ly com­mit to leav­ing Rus­sia to join the legion are only about 50 each month. He said the legion scru­ti­nizes appli­cants not just to weed out dou­ble agents and spies, but also to iden­ti­fy those like­ly to be reli­able fight­ers.

    ...

    But hav­ing an oth­er­wise cleared appli­cant take a lie-detec­tor test presents its own chal­lenge: “You need to get him out­side Rus­sia,” Pono­marev said, “so it’s a ques­tion of a visa, and it’s a big prob­lem. How can you get him into Ukraine, or into Poland, or into Moldo­va? Moldo­va is heav­i­ly infil­trat­ed by Russ­ian agents. And it’s some­times not very easy to get to oth­er coun­tries, they require Schen­gen visas.” Those visas per­mit a hold­er to trav­el almost any­where with­in the Euro­pean Union and stay up to 90 days in any 180-day peri­od.

    “Schen­gen visas, right now in Moscow, are very hard to get,” he says with a chuck­le. “Russ­ian secu­ri­ty forces are sur­veilling the embassies. It’s a whole process.”

    At this stage, the line blurs between the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion and the resis­tance groups with­in Rus­sia who are com­mit­ting sab­o­tage or vio­lent attacks like the car bomb that killed Dug­i­na.

    “Many of the peo­ple we are ready to accept, but we can­not always get them phys­i­cal­ly out­side of Rus­sia, and they usu­al­ly go into this resis­tance move­ment in the home front,” Pono­marev said. “That’s why our pro­por­tion of peo­ple who are inside the coun­try is almost 10 to 1 to those who are in the front.” (Because Pono­marev said ear­li­er in our con­ver­sa­tion that the num­ber of Rus­sians fight­ing on behalf of Ukraine was slight­ly less than 2,500, it is rea­son­able to con­clude he’s assert­ing that the resis­tance has some­thing few­er than 25,000 mem­bers work­ing inside Rus­sia.)

    A non­fa­tal but high-pro­file exam­ple of the resistance’s work was the two drones that flew over the Krem­lin last May. One drone appeared to have struck the dome of the Krem­lin Sen­ate, which hous­es Putin’s office, and anoth­er explod­ed above it. No deaths or injuries were report­ed.

    “Nobody was think­ing about these high-pre­ci­sion drones, they are very light­weight, so they don’t car­ry much of the explo­sives, so it’s more fire­works, rather than a seri­ous attack,” Pono­marev said. “But it was very inter­est­ing fire­works. Sym­bol­ic.”

    ...

    ———–

    “How Rus­sians are join­ing the fight against Putin” By Jim Ger­aghty; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 03/22/2024

    “Pono­marev — con­tra­dict­ing past com­ments, appar­ent­ly — told me that he and the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion were not involved in the 2022 car bomb­ing in Moscow that killed Daria Dug­i­na, the daugh­ter of ultra­na­tion­al­ist writer and Putin favorite, Alexan­der Dug­in.”

    It’s a remark­able coin­ci­dence: hours before the ISIS attack on Moscow, a retrac­tion of Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion’s pri­or attri­bu­tion claims for the assas­si­na­tion of Daria Dug­i­na is issued by Ilya Pono­marev in the Wash­ing­ton Post. And in the same inter­view, he alludes to a force of per­haps 25,000 sym­pa­thiz­ers with his move­ment oper­at­ing inside Rus­sia:

    ...
    Asked how many sol­diers the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion has, Pono­marev said, “It’s against the law in Ukraine to give the num­ber, just direct­ly pro­hib­it­ed,” but he gave a strong hint. “If you lis­ten to what Mr. Putin has said recent­ly, he said that it was 2,500. … It’s not that far off. His num­ber is a lit­tle bit over. The actu­al num­ber is small­er.”

    ...

    At this stage, the line blurs between the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion and the resis­tance groups with­in Rus­sia who are com­mit­ting sab­o­tage or vio­lent attacks like the car bomb that killed Dug­i­na.

    “Many of the peo­ple we are ready to accept, but we can­not always get them phys­i­cal­ly out­side of Rus­sia, and they usu­al­ly go into this resis­tance move­ment in the home front,” Pono­marev said. “That’s why our pro­por­tion of peo­ple who are inside the coun­try is almost 10 to 1 to those who are in the front.” (Because Pono­marev said ear­li­er in our con­ver­sa­tion that the num­ber of Rus­sians fight­ing on behalf of Ukraine was slight­ly less than 2,500, it is rea­son­able to con­clude he’s assert­ing that the resis­tance has some­thing few­er than 25,000 mem­bers work­ing inside Rus­sia.)
    ...

    This is, again, a good time to recall how Pono­marev isn’t just an advo­cate of over­throw­ing Putin. He wants to break Rus­sia up into eth­nic statelets. A goal ISIS would obvi­ous­ly share.

    But shared goals don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean shared oper­a­tions. And, again, it’s not like Pono­marev’s move­ment is nec­es­sar­i­ly inter­est­ed in the kind of indis­crim­i­nate civil­ian attacks like what just tran­spired. The attack on the con­cert hall and the assas­si­na­tion of Daria Dug­i­na are both forms of polit­i­cal ter­ror­ism but very dif­fer­ent in terms of mes­sage sent to the Russ­ian soci­ety. Was Pono­marev pos­si­bly aware of the loom­ing attack and hop­ing to put some dis­tance between his group and ISIS with this pub­lished retrac­tion? At the same time, whether or not the Russ­ian resis­tance forces do have active ties to groups like ISIS today, there’s noth­ing stop­ping them from devel­op­ing those ties and it’s not hard to imag­ine the temp­ta­tion to do so grow­ing giv­en the suc­cess in exe­cut­ing the attack and seem­ing­ly get­ting away with it. That’s all part of what it’s going to be grim­ly inter­est­ing to see how the inves­ti­ga­tion into this attack plays out and who Moscow even­tu­al­ly fin­gers as being the orga­niz­ing cul­prit. Will Rus­sia ulti­mate­ly blame ISIS? The US? Ukraine? Or, per­haps most like­ly, some sort of ‘All of the Above’ con­clu­sion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 22, 2024, 5:57 pm
  2. @Pterrafractyl–

    Excel­lent work!

    Some infor­ma­tion about the RDK, one of the forces involved in this concatenation–it is a spin-off of the Azov Bat­tal­ion and, fur­ther­more, is the direct suc­ces­sor to the Vlassov forces that were part of the Gehlen Orga­ni­za­tion, as was/is the OUN/B.

    https://consortiumnews.com/2024/03/18/scott-ritter-the-cia-the-russian-fascists-who-fight-russia/

    ” . . . . After the SMO began, eth­nic Rus­sians who had served since 2014 with­in the ranks of the neo-Nazi, Ukrain­ian nation­al­ist, para­mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion known as the Azov Reg­i­ment orga­nized them­selves into a sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tion known as the Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps, or RDK.

    The RDK mod­eled itself after the Russ­ian Lib­er­a­tion Army, an enti­ty orga­nized, trained, and equipped by the Nazi Ger­mans dur­ing World War Two which was com­prised of Russ­ian pris­on­ers of war.
    Rus­sians today often refer to the RDK mem­bers as “Vlasso­vites,” after Russ­ian Gen­er­al Andrei Vlasov, who was cap­tured by the Ger­mans and lat­er defect­ed to their cause.

    Vlasov recruit­ed Russ­ian pris­on­ers of war into what was known as the Russ­ian Lib­er­a­tion Army, which even­tu­al­ly con­sist­ed of two divi­sions com­pris­ing some 30,000 troops. Most of Vlasov’s “army” were either killed in com­bat, or tak­en pris­on­er by the Sovi­et Union, where they were treat­ed as trai­tors and pun­ished accord­ing­ly (the enlist­ed sen­tenced to lengthy terms in the Gulag, and the lead­ers hung.) The RDK was able to attract sev­er­al hun­dred for­mer Azov fight­ers and new recruits into its ranks. . . .”

    https://spitfirelist.com/news/the-secret-treaty-of-fort-hunt/

    ” . . . . Gehlen became chief of the Third Reich’s For­eign Armies East (FHO), on April 1, 1942. He was thus respon­si­ble for Ger­many’s mil­i­tary intel­li­gence oper­a­tions through­out East­ern Europe and the Sovi­et Union. His FHO was con­nect­ed in this role with a num­ber of secret fas­cist orga­ni­za­tions in the coun­tries to Ger­many’s east. These includ­ed Stepan Ban­der­a’s “B Fac­tion” of the Orga­ni­za­tion of Ukrain­ian Nation­al­ists (OUN/B),15 Roma­ni­a’s Iron Guard,16 the Ustachis of Yugoslavia,17 the Vanagis of Latvia18 and, after the sum­mer of 1942, “Vlassov’s Army,“19 the band of defec­tors from Sovi­et Com­mu­nism march­ing behind for­mer Red hero Gen­er­al Andrey Vlassov. Lat­er on in the war, Gehlen placed one of his top men in con­trol of For­eign Armies West, which broad­ened his pow­er; and then after Admi­ral Wil­helm Canaris was purged and his Abwehr intel­li­gence ser­vice can­ni­bal­ized by the SS, Gehlen became in effect Nazi Ger­many’s over-all top intel­li­gence chief. . . .”

    This on top of numer­ous indi­ca­tions that ISIS is actu­al­ly manip­u­lat­ed by the CIA.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | March 22, 2024, 6:35 pm
  3. @Dave: We’ve received quite a few updates over the past 24 hours and let’s just say sus­pi­cions of Ukrain­ian involve­ment in the attack haven’t exact­ly sub­sided. For starters, Rus­sia appears to have arrest­ed the four gun­men, along with a num­ber of oth­er fig­ures pre­sum­ably sus­pect­ed of their involve­ment. The arrests came after we got reports that Russ­ian police were issu­ing descrip­tions of the gun­men as “young men, Slavs, above aver­age height, and pos­si­bly used fake beards and mus­tach­es.” Vladimir Putin held a press con­fer­ence where he stat­ed that the gun­men were not only appre­hend­ed while try­ing to escape to Ukraine through a “win­dow” pre­pared for them on the Ukrain­ian side of the bor­der. Russ­ian media has also released an inter­ro­ga­tion video of one of the alleged gun­men, who appears to be from Tajik­istan. The man claimed he was approached by an uniden­ti­fied assis­tant to an Islam­ic preach­er via a mes­sag­ing app and paid to take part in the raid. A jihadist mer­ce­nary?

    Inter­est­ing­ly, the US is insist­ing that ISIS‑K was sole­ly respon­si­ble and that Ukraine played no role at all in the attack. It’s not clear how the US would know this but giv­en that the US warned about an ISIS attack on con­cert halls two weeks ago it’s pret­ty clear that the US would have, at a min­i­mum, been aware of the unfold­ing plot. And yet, it’s hard not to notice how these alleged ISIS gun­man weren’t sport­ing sui­cide vests and clear­ly did­n’t engage in a planned sui­cide attack. They planned on get­ting away. Not even a sin­gle sym­bol­ic sui­cide bomber. Has ISIS ever oper­at­ed like that before?

    But then there’s the remark­able coin­ci­dences around the anti-Putin Russ­ian forces oper­at­ing out of Ukraine. As we saw, Ilya Pono­marev, the leader of the Free­dom for Rus­sia group, had an inter­view pub­lished in the Wash­ing­ton Post on Fri­day morn­ing, hours before the attack, where he seem­ing­ly retract­ed his group’s pri­or claims of respon­si­bil­i­ty for the August 2022 Moscow car bomb­ing assas­si­na­tion of Darya Dug­i­na. As we’re going to see, that inter­view was­n’t the only press inter­ac­tion Pono­marev’s Free­dom for Rus­sia group had in the day before the con­cert hall attack. Alex­ei Bara­novsky, the spokesper­son for the Free­dom of Rus­sia legion, was one of the lead­ers of three anti-Putin Russ­ian groups that held a joint press con­fer­ence in Kyiv on March 21 to dis­cuss their ongo­ing mil­i­tary oper­a­tions inside Rus­sia. Join­ing Bara­novksy was Denys Kapustin, the head of neo-Nazi Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corp (RVC/RDK), along with the head of the Siberia Bat­tal­ion. The three shared how their mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Kursk and Bel­go­rod was con­tin­u­ing. This was one day before the attacks, so when we hear asser­tions from the Krem­lin about the gun­men uti­liz­ing a “win­dow” being orga­nized from Ukraine to escape, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind all three of these groups were con­duct­ing mil­i­tary oper­a­tions inside Rus­sia at the time. Oper­a­tions that had pre­vi­ous­ly reached as far as Moscow in the case of the Dug­i­na car bomb­ing.

    Final­ly, it’s worth tak­ing a look back in the Novem­ber 7, 2023, Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed where Ilya Pono­marev made his ini­tial claims his group hav­ing worked close­ly with Ukrain­ian intel­li­gence in the assas­si­na­tion of Dug­i­na. Because he claims a lot more than just that in the piece. Pono­marev describes how he views a coup over­throw­ing Putin as the only pos­si­ble option for end­ing the con­flict in Ukraine and how he is lead­ing a group that is already work­ing on a new post-Putin Russ­ian con­sti­tu­tion. Keep in mind that Pono­marev’s Free­dom for Rus­sia has a goal of break­ing Rus­sia up into a large num­ber of eth­nic statelets, so when we’re talk­ing about a post-Putin con­sti­tu­tion for Rus­sia, it’s even­tu­al­ly going to be many sep­a­rate con­sti­tu­tions. Ponomoarev claims in the inter­view that, while the US is very opposed to his coup plans, Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary intel­li­gence is sup­port­ive. As Ignatius warns in the piece, the worse the sit­u­a­tion gets for Ukraine on the bat­tle­field, the more trac­tion ideas like coup plots are going to get. Keep in mind this was all months before Putin was an over­whelm­ing reelec­tion at the same time con­di­tions on the group grew even worse for Ukraine.

    So with Russ­ian author­i­ties hav­ing seem­ing­ly appre­hend­ed the gun­men, it’s pos­si­ble we’re going to see this plot unrav­el soon­er rather than lat­er. It’s going to be grim­ly inter­est­ing to see what sort of evi­dence Rus­sia has of a broad­er inter­na­tion­al plot. Will the sus­pect list grow longer than Ukraine? We’ll see, but a plot to desta­bi­lize Rus­sia through mass casu­al­ty ter­ror attacks is the kind of plot that can cre­ate a lot of unin­tend­ed fall­out, fig­u­ra­tive and lit­er­al:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Putin says gun­men who raid­ed Moscow con­cert hall tried to escape to Ukraine. Kyiv denies involve­ment

    Russia’s Fed­er­al Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice says at least 60 peo­ple were killed and more than 100 were wound­ed in an attack at a Moscow con­cert hall. The Islam­ic State group has claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the attack.

    Updat­ed 5:08 PM CDT, March 23, 2024

    MOSCOW (AP) — The sub­ur­ban Moscow music hall where gun­men opened fire on con­cert­go­ers was a black­ened, smol­der­ing ruin Sat­ur­day as the death toll in the attack sur­passed 130 and Russ­ian author­i­ties arrest­ed four sus­pects. Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin claimed they were cap­tured while flee­ing to Ukraine.

    Kyiv strong­ly denied any involve­ment in Friday’s assault on the Cro­cus City Hall music venue in Krasno­gorsk, and the Islam­ic State group’s Afghanistan affil­i­ate claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty.

    Putin did not men­tion IS in his speech to the nation, and Kyiv accused him and oth­er Russ­ian politi­cians of false­ly link­ing Ukraine to the assault to stoke fer­vor for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which recent­ly entered its third year.

    U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials con­firmed the claim by the IS affil­i­ate.

    “ISIS bears sole respon­si­bil­i­ty for this attack. There was no Ukrain­ian involve­ment what­so­ev­er,” Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil spokes­woman Adri­enne Wat­son said in a state­ment.

    The U.S. shared infor­ma­tion with Rus­sia in ear­ly March about a planned ter­ror­ist attack in Moscow and issued a pub­lic warn­ing to Amer­i­cans in Rus­sia, Wat­son said.

    Putin said author­i­ties detained a total of 11 peo­ple in the attack, which also wound­ed more than 100. He called it “a bloody, bar­bar­ic ter­ror­ist act” and said Russ­ian author­i­ties cap­tured the four sus­pects as they were try­ing to escape to Ukraine through a “win­dow” pre­pared for them on the Ukrain­ian side of the bor­der.

    Russ­ian media broad­cast videos that appar­ent­ly showed the deten­tion and inter­ro­ga­tion of the sus­pects, includ­ing one who told the cam­eras he was approached by an uniden­ti­fied assis­tant to an Islam­ic preach­er via a mes­sag­ing app and paid to take part in the raid.

    Russ­ian news reports iden­ti­fied the gun­men as cit­i­zens of Tajik­istan, a for­mer Sovi­et repub­lic in Cen­tral Asia that is pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim and bor­ders Afghanistan. Up to 1.5 mil­lion Tajiks have worked in Rus­sia and many have Russ­ian cit­i­zen­ship.

    ...

    Many Russ­ian hard-lin­ers called for a crack­down on Tajik migrants, but Putin appeared to reject the idea, say­ing “no force will be able to sow the poi­so­nous seeds of dis­cord, pan­ic or dis­uni­ty in our mul­ti-eth­nic soci­ety.”

    He declared Sun­day a day of mourn­ing and said addi­tion­al secu­ri­ty mea­sures were imposed through­out Rus­sia.

    The num­ber of dead stood at 133, mak­ing the attack the dead­liest in Rus­sia in years. Author­i­ties said the toll could still rise.

    The raid was a major embar­rass­ment for the Russ­ian leader and hap­pened just days after he cement­ed his grip on the coun­try for anoth­er six years in a vote that fol­lowed the harsh­est crack­down on dis­sent since the Sovi­et times.

    Some com­men­ta­tors on Russ­ian social media ques­tioned how author­i­ties, who have relent­less­ly sup­pressed any oppo­si­tion activ­i­ties and muz­zled inde­pen­dent media, failed to pre­vent the attack despite the U.S. warn­ings.

    The assault came two weeks after the U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a notice urg­ing Amer­i­cans to avoid crowd­ed places in view of “immi­nent” plans by extrem­ists to tar­get large Moscow gath­er­ings, includ­ing con­certs. Sev­er­al oth­er West­ern embassies repeat­ed the warn­ing. Ear­li­er this week, Putin denounced the warn­ing as an attempt to intim­i­date Rus­sians.

    ...

    IS, which lost much of its ground after Russia’s mil­i­tary action in Syr­ia, has long tar­get­ed Rus­sia. In a state­ment post­ed by the group’s Aamaq news agency, IS’s Afghanistan affil­i­ate said it had attacked a large gath­er­ing of “Chris­tians” in Krasno­gorsk.

    The group issued a new state­ment Sat­ur­day on Aamaq say­ing the attack was car­ried out by four men who used auto­mat­ic rifles, a pis­tol, knives and fire­bombs. It said the assailants fired at the crowd and used knives to kill some con­cert­go­ers, cast­ing the raid as part of IS’s ongo­ing war with coun­tries that it says are fight­ing Islam.

    In Octo­ber 2015, a bomb plant­ed by IS downed a Russ­ian pas­sen­ger plane over Sinai, killing all 224 peo­ple on board, most of them Russ­ian vaca­tion-goers return­ing from Egypt.

    ...

    ISIS‑K was behind the August 2021 sui­cide bomb­ing at Kab­ul air­port that left 13 Amer­i­can troops and about 170 Afghans dead dur­ing the chaot­ic U.S. with­draw­al. They also claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for a bomb attack in Ker­man, Iran, in Jan­u­ary that killed 95 peo­ple at a memo­r­i­al pro­ces­sion.

    On March 7, just hours before the U.S. Embassy warned about immi­nent attacks, Russia’s top secu­ri­ty agency said it had thwart­ed an attack on a syn­a­gogue in Moscow by an IS cell and killed sev­er­al of its mem­bers in the Kalu­ga region near the Russ­ian cap­i­tal. A few days before that, Russ­ian author­i­ties said six alleged IS mem­bers were killed in a shootout in Ingushetia, in Russia’s Cau­ca­sus region.

    ————

    “Putin says gun­men who raid­ed Moscow con­cert hall tried to escape to Ukraine. Kyiv denies involve­ment”; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 03/23/2024

    “Putin said author­i­ties detained a total of 11 peo­ple in the attack, which also wound­ed more than 100. He called it “a bloody, bar­bar­ic ter­ror­ist act” and said Russ­ian author­i­ties cap­tured the four sus­pects as they were try­ing to escape to Ukraine through a “win­dow” pre­pared for them on the Ukrain­ian side of the bor­der.

    The gun­men appear to have been apprehended...trying to escape to Ukraine. And they had Ukrain­ian help, accord­ing to Russ­ian author­i­ties. Gun­men who appear to be of Tajik ori­gin, with an inter­ro­ga­tion video of one of the gun­men indi­cat­ing that he had been approached by an Islam­ic preach­er on a mes­sag­ing app and paid to take part in the raid. Does ISIS pay its ter­ror­ists? This seems like an odd­ly arranged ter­ror attack:

    ...
    Russ­ian media broad­cast videos that appar­ent­ly showed the deten­tion and inter­ro­ga­tion of the sus­pects, includ­ing one who told the cam­eras he was approached by an uniden­ti­fied assis­tant to an Islam­ic preach­er via a mes­sag­ing app and paid to take part in the raid.

    Russ­ian news reports iden­ti­fied the gun­men as cit­i­zens of Tajik­istan, a for­mer Sovi­et repub­lic in Cen­tral Asia that is pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim and bor­ders Afghanistan. Up to 1.5 mil­lion Tajiks have worked in Rus­sia and many have Russ­ian cit­i­zen­ship.

    ...

    Many Russ­ian hard-lin­ers called for a crack­down on Tajik migrants, but Putin appeared to reject the idea, say­ing “no force will be able to sow the poi­so­nous seeds of dis­cord, pan­ic or dis­uni­ty in our mul­ti-eth­nic soci­ety.”
    ...

    And yet, we have US intel­li­gence offi­cials insist­ing that, yet, this is an attack exclu­sive­ly by ISIS. “There was no Ukrain­ian involve­ment what­so­ev­er,” accord­ing to US offi­cials. Which sug­gests the US already has pret­ty good intel­li­gence on the ISIS plot. But, again, don’t for­get that these gun­men were demon­stra­bly NOT on a sui­cide mis­sion as we would expect with ISIS mil­i­tants. They were try­ing to get away. Whether or not there is indeed ISIS involve­ment in the attack, this does­n’t seem like a typ­i­cal ISIS plot:

    ...
    U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials con­firmed the claim by the IS affil­i­ate.

    “ISIS bears sole respon­si­bil­i­ty for this attack. There was no Ukrain­ian involve­ment what­so­ev­er,” Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil spokes­woman Adri­enne Wat­son said in a state­ment.

    The U.S. shared infor­ma­tion with Rus­sia in ear­ly March about a planned ter­ror­ist attack in Moscow and issued a pub­lic warn­ing to Amer­i­cans in Rus­sia, Wat­son said.
    ...

    So what more do we know about the gun­men? Well, as Meduza.io report­ed, the police bul­letin that was cir­cu­lat­ed imme­di­ate­ly after the attack describ­ing the gun­men as they were get­ting away described them as “young men, Slavs, above aver­age height, and pos­si­bly used fake beards and mus­tach­es.” Could a group of Tajiks pass as Slav­ic? It seems pos­si­ble. Either way, they def­i­nite­ly don’t appear to be Mid­dle East­ern based on the avail­able evi­dence:

    Meduza.io

    Police search bul­letin report­ed­ly describes gun­men as tall Slavs who pos­si­bly wore fake beards, fuel­ing spec­u­la­tion about Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps involve­ment

    03/22/2024

    Sev­er­al sources who spoke to the news­pa­per Kom­m­er­sant say they still sus­pect Friday’s ter­ror­ist attack in Moscow is the work of the Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps, a far-right para­mil­i­tary unit based in Ukraine. The sources told the paper that police offi­cers tonight start­ed receiv­ing search bul­letins stat­ing that the ter­ror­ists are “young men, Slavs, above aver­age height, and pos­si­bly used fake beards and mus­tach­es.” The same sources told Kom­m­er­sant that FSB agents report­ed­ly arrest­ed a group of men who want­ed to join the Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps not long before Friday’s attack.

    Mean­while, spokes­peo­ple for the Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps have denied any involve­ment in the killings.

    ———-

    “Police search bul­letin report­ed­ly describes gun­men as tall Slavs who pos­si­bly wore fake beards, fuel­ing spec­u­la­tion about Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps involve­ment”; Meduza.io; 03/22/2024

    “The sources told the paper that police offi­cers tonight start­ed receiv­ing search bul­letins stat­ing that the ter­ror­ists are “young men, Slavs, above aver­age height, and pos­si­bly used fake beards and mus­tach­es.””

    Keep in mind that a Slav­ic descrip­tion could eas­i­ly cov­er eth­nic Russ­ian, Chechen, or Ukrain­ian fight­ers, and addi­tion to Tajik. Which is espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing giv­en that groups like the Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps (RVC), the Siberia Bat­tal­ion, and Ilya Pono­marev’s Free­dom of Rus­sia legion were talk­ing to the press on March 21, one day before the con­cert hall attack, about how their mil­i­tary oper­a­tions inside Rus­sia the Kursk and Bel­go­rod were ongo­ing. And while they insist­ed their oper­a­tions were being con­duct­ed inde­pen­dent­ly from Ukraine, they also point­ed out that they had Ukrain­ian assis­tance:

    Reuters

    Ukraine-backed anti-Krem­lin fight­ers say they are still oper­at­ing inside Rus­sia

    Report­ing by Max Hun­der; Edit­ing by Alex Richard­son
    March 21, 2024 10:53 AM CDT
    Updat­ed

    KYIV, March 21 (Reuters) — Three Ukrain­ian-backed para­mil­i­tary groups that pur­port to be made up of Rus­sians opposed to the Krem­lin said on Thurs­day their forces were con­tin­u­ing their cross-bor­der attacks fol­low­ing a week of raids.

    The groups launched incur­sions from north­ern Ukraine last week into the Russ­ian regions of Kursk and Bel­go­rod, claim­ing to have entered sev­er­al vil­lages on the Russ­ian side of the bor­der.

    “The oper­a­tion, even right now, is con­tin­u­ing. We will talk about our loss­es after it’s con­clu­sion,” Denis Kapustin, leader of one of the groups, the right-wing Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps (RVC), told a press con­fer­ence in response to a ques­tion about the unit’s loss­es.

    ...

    Russ­ian offi­cials have made vague ref­er­ence to “Ukrain­ian ter­ror­ists” in their com­ments about the groups’ recent attacks. They have pre­vi­ous­ly cast the groups as pup­pets of Ukraine’s mil­i­tary and the U.S. Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency.

    The cur­rent raid fol­lows pre­vi­ous actions by two of the groups in Russ­ian bor­der regions in May 2023.

    The oth­er two groups at the press con­fer­ence in cen­tral Kyiv were the Free­dom of Rus­sia legion and the Siberia Bat­tal­ion, which says it is com­prised of indige­nous groups from Russ­ian ter­ri­to­ry.

    They said they received intel­li­gence and logis­tics sup­port from the Ukrain­ian armed forces, but repeat­ed their asser­tion that they were act­ing inde­pen­dent­ly of Kyiv when fight­ing on Russ­ian ter­ri­to­ry.

    Kapustin said Ukraine pro­vid­ed ammu­ni­tion and med­ical evac­u­a­tion for his fight­ers.

    How­ev­er, asked about the prove­nance of the unit’s weapons, Kapustin smiled and said that one could buy tanks and rock­et launch­er sys­tems in a mil­i­tary sur­plus shop.

    He appeared to be ref­er­enc­ing sim­i­lar com­ments by Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in 2014 when he dis­missed a ques­tion about the Russ­ian mil­i­tary’s involve­ment in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

    Alex­ei Bara­novsky, the spokesper­son for the Free­dom of Rus­sia legion, said that in its raids out­side Ukraine his unit used tro­phy weapons cap­tured from Rus­sia.

    Kapustin said his unit had tak­en a total of 37 pris­on­ers of war (POWs) dur­ing its lat­est oper­a­tion, but that a pris­on­er swap was not yet on the cards, assert­ing that some of the pris­on­ers had expressed will­ing­ness to join the rebel unit.

    Kapustin’s far-right polit­i­cal back­ground has been the sub­ject of media atten­tion in the past.

    The Anti-Defama­tion League, a U.S. extrem­ism watch­dog group, has said he was a neo-Nazi, although Kapustin denies this and says he and his unit instead hold con­ser­v­a­tive and tra­di­tion­al­ist views.

    ...

    ———-

    “Ukraine-backed anti-Krem­lin fight­ers say they are still oper­at­ing inside Rus­sia” by Max Hun­der; Reuters; 03/21/2024

    ““The oper­a­tion, even right now, is con­tin­u­ing. We will talk about our loss­es after it’s con­clu­sion,” Denis Kapustin, leader of one of the groups, the right-wing Russ­ian Vol­un­teer Corps (RVC), told a press con­fer­ence in response to a ques­tion about the unit’s loss­es.”

    Yes, Denis Kapustin, the neo-Nazi leader of the RVC, held a press con­fer­ence in Kyiv to dis­cuss their con­tin­u­ing oper­a­tions inside Rus­sia. But Kapustin was­n’t alone address­ing reporters. He was joined by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ilya Pono­marev’s Free­dom of Rus­sia legion and the Siberia Bat­tal­ion. It was a joint press con­fer­ence where all three groups described how they were get­ting assis­tance from Ukraine in their cross-bor­der oper­a­tions while still act­ing inde­pen­dent­ly:

    ...
    The oth­er two groups at the press con­fer­ence in cen­tral Kyiv were the Free­dom of Rus­sia legion and the Siberia Bat­tal­ion, which says it is com­prised of indige­nous groups from Russ­ian ter­ri­to­ry.

    They said they received intel­li­gence and logis­tics sup­port from the Ukrain­ian armed forces, but repeat­ed their asser­tion that they were act­ing inde­pen­dent­ly of Kyiv when fight­ing on Russ­ian ter­ri­to­ry.

    Kapustin said Ukraine pro­vid­ed ammu­ni­tion and med­ical evac­u­a­tion for his fight­ers.

    ...

    Alex­ei Bara­novsky, the spokesper­son for the Free­dom of Rus­sia legion, said that in its raids out­side Ukraine his unit used tro­phy weapons cap­tured from Rus­sia.
    ...

    And note the white­wash­ing of Kapustin’s neo-Nazi sta­tus. The ADL calls him a neo-Nazi but he calls him­self a con­ser­v­a­tive tra­di­tion­al­ist. Who is to say what he real­ly is? That’s how it’s deliv­ered to the read­er:

    ...
    Kapustin’s far-right polit­i­cal back­ground has been the sub­ject of media atten­tion in the past.

    The Anti-Defama­tion League, a U.S. extrem­ism watch­dog group, has said he was a neo-Nazi, although Kapustin denies this and says he and his unit instead hold con­ser­v­a­tive and tra­di­tion­al­ist views.
    ...

    And that press con­fer­ence was held one day before the con­cert hall attack. And hours before the pub­li­ca­tion of that inter­view of Ilya Pono­marev in the Wash­ing­ton Post where he retracts his claims of Free­dom of Rus­si­a’s role in the assas­si­na­tion of Daria Dug­i­na. So it’s worth tak­ing a look at the orig­i­nal Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed piece by David Ignatius from back in Novem­ber where Pono­marev made those attri­bu­tion claims in the first place. Because as we’re going to see, Pono­marev was­n’t minc­ing words about his plans to over­throw Putin in a coup. The way he described it, over­throw­ing Putin is the only viable option and he’s already help­ing to a lead a group, a Con­gress of People’s Deputies, based on out Poland that’s work­ing on a post-Putin Russ­ian con­sti­tu­tion. Inter­est­ing­ly, while Pono­marev insists the US is very opposed to his coup plans, Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary intel­li­gence is sup­port­ive. And as Ignatius warns, the more Ukraine gets bogged down in a war of attri­tion it can’t pos­si­bly win, the more atten­tion these ‘uncon­ven­tion­al’ ideas are going to get:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post
    Opin­ion

    Could this man bring down Putin?

    By David Ignatius
    Colum­nist|
    Novem­ber 7, 2023 at 6:22 p.m. EST

    Ilya Pono­marev, a rene­gade for­mer mem­ber of Russia’s par­lia­ment, has a provoca­tive idea: He argues that the only way to end the Ukraine war on accept­able terms is through a coup that top­ples Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

    Per­son­al­ly, I think Ponomarev’s plan is poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous for both the Unit­ed States and Ukraine. A cen­tral pre­cept of Ukraine’s resis­tance to Russia’s inva­sion, after all, is that coun­tries shouldn’t send mil­i­tary forces across their bor­ders to foment vio­lence. And while his ideas are intrigu­ing, there’s no way to inde­pen­dent­ly con­firm some of the claims and asser­tions he makes.

    But giv­en the stale­mate that has devel­oped in Ukraine — blunt­ly described last week by Gen. Valery Zaluzh­ny, Kyiv’s com­man­der in chief, in an essay in the Econ­o­mistuncon­ven­tion­al ideas such as Ponomarev’s will get atten­tion. Ukraine and its allies are search­ing for ways to break out of the bloody dead­lock with­out a nego­ti­at­ed deal that would con­cede ter­ri­to­ry to Rus­sia.

    Pono­marev is dead­ly seri­ous about his mil­i­tary plot: He described him­self in an inter­view as the polit­i­cal head of a group called the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion, which he claims has an army of four exile bat­tal­ions — usu­al­ly num­ber­ing about 1,600 peo­ple — based in Ukraine, as well as between 5,000 and 10,000 fol­low­ers in Rus­sia.

    He helps run a Con­gress of People’s Deputies, a shad­ow par­lia­ment based in Poland with about 100 mem­bers, 40 of them in Rus­sia, he says, that over­sees the legion. That group is devel­op­ing new laws and a new con­sti­tu­tion for a post-Putin Rus­sia. It plans a large gath­er­ing in War­saw this month to devel­op a tran­si­tion to free elec­tions in Rus­sia.

    Pono­marev described oper­a­tions inside Rus­sia: a drone attack on the Krem­lin in May by an urban guer­ril­la group loose­ly affil­i­at­ed with Pono­marev and the Con­gress of People’s Deputies; the legion’s raids on Bel­o­grad and She­bekino just inside the Russ­ian bor­der in June; and what he claims are dai­ly sab­o­tage attacks on rail­way lines inside Rus­sia. He said the group is build­ing toward a deci­sive march on Moscow.

    The Russ­ian exile leader also linked his group to the August 2022 assas­si­na­tion of Darya Dug­i­na, the daugh­ter of a promi­nent Russ­ian nation­al­ist writer. U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials had blamed that attack on Ukrain­ian intel­li­gence and said they opposed it, accord­ing to an Octo­ber 2022 account in the New York Times. Pono­marev said his group works close­ly with Ukrain­ian intel­li­gence.

    Pono­marev also claimed unspec­i­fied roles in two attacks this year on pro-Krem­lin fig­ures: the April assas­si­na­tion of a pro-war blog­ger named Vladlen Tatarsky and the May attempt­ed killing of pro-Krem­lin writer Zakhar Prilepin.

    “The ratio­nale for these per­son­al attacks is sim­ple,” explained Pono­marev. “We want to send a mes­sage to all sup­port­ers of the gov­ern­ment. If you have a rela­tion­ship to the war, you are not safe.”

    As Pono­marev calm­ly laid out his coup plans in a Wash­ing­ton liv­ing room, he didn’t sound like a fanat­ic rev­o­lu­tion­ary, but like the par­lia­men­tar­i­an and busi­ness exec­u­tive he was before he embraced émi­gré pol­i­tics. He said that after vot­ing in the Duma against Russ­ian annex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014, he start­ed an oil and gas busi­ness in Kyiv called Tri­dent Acqui­si­tions that’s now list­ed on Nas­daq. He likened him­self to Charles de Gaulle, who orga­nized a tiny French force to fight against the Nazi-backed French gov­ern­ment in World War II.

    ...

    He argues that top­pling Putin is the only way to stop the grind­ing war of attri­tion in Ukraine. “What’s the light at the end of the tun­nel? Regime change. It’s the cheap­er alter­na­tive,” he insist­ed.

    Pono­marev said he has sup­port for his coup-plot­ting from Ukraine’s mil­i­tary intel­li­gence ser­vice — and strong oppo­si­tion from the Unit­ed States. The mes­sage he has received from U.S. offi­cials, he says, is: “We don’t want to be part of it.”

    ...

    Russ­ian his­to­ry is a long sto­ry of coup plots and con­spir­a­cies, real and imag­ined. Regime change, he told me, requires three ele­ments: a cred­i­ble mil­i­tary force; domes­tic elites who are los­ing hope in the sta­tus quo; and an alter­na­tive gov­ern­ment. Pono­marev said he is work­ing on all three.

    ———-

    “Could this man bring down Putin?” By David Ignatius; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 11/07/2023

    “But giv­en the stale­mate that has devel­oped in Ukraine — blunt­ly described last week by Gen. Valery Zaluzh­ny, Kyiv’s com­man­der in chief, in an essay in the Econ­o­mistuncon­ven­tion­al ideas such as Ponomarev’s will get atten­tion. Ukraine and its allies are search­ing for ways to break out of the bloody dead­lock with­out a nego­ti­at­ed deal that would con­cede ter­ri­to­ry to Rus­sia.

    Uncon­ven­tion­al ideas such as a Ilya Pono­marev’s coup plot scheme are going to get more and more atten­tion the more it looks like Ukraine can’t win on the bat­tle­field. That was the mes­sage David Ignatius was deliv­er­ing in this Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed piece back in Novem­ber, where Pono­marev was open­ly describ­ing his coup ambi­tions. He’s even helps run the Con­gress Peo­ple’s Deputies, a Russ­ian shad­ow par­lia­ment run out of Poland that is work­ing on devel­op­ing a whole new Russ­ian con­sti­tu­tion. As Pono­marev argues, top­pling Putin is the only real­is­tic option. And once again, he hints at Ukrain­ian back­ing for his goals. The US is appar­ent­ly not so keen on the coup plot plans. But with Ukraine behind it, and the US behind Ukraine’s actions, it’s not hard to see how the US could eas­i­ly end up assist­ing in this plot too, even if only indi­rect­ly. But, of course, direct involve­ment would be met with com­plete denials. Plot­ting a coup against a nuclear pow­er is a pret­ty big deal, after all:

    ...
    Pono­marev is dead­ly seri­ous about his mil­i­tary plot: He described him­self in an inter­view as the polit­i­cal head of a group called the Free­dom of Rus­sia Legion, which he claims has an army of four exile bat­tal­ions — usu­al­ly num­ber­ing about 1,600 peo­ple — based in Ukraine, as well as between 5,000 and 10,000 fol­low­ers in Rus­sia.

    He helps run a Con­gress of People’s Deputies, a shad­ow par­lia­ment based in Poland with about 100 mem­bers, 40 of them in Rus­sia, he says, that over­sees the legion. That group is devel­op­ing new laws and a new con­sti­tu­tion for a post-Putin Rus­sia. It plans a large gath­er­ing in War­saw this month to devel­op a tran­si­tion to free elec­tions in Rus­sia.

    ...

    He argues that top­pling Putin is the only way to stop the grind­ing war of attri­tion in Ukraine. “What’s the light at the end of the tun­nel? Regime change. It’s the cheap­er alter­na­tive,” he insist­ed.

    Pono­marev said he has sup­port for his coup-plot­ting from Ukraine’s mil­i­tary intel­li­gence ser­vice — and strong oppo­si­tion from the Unit­ed States. The mes­sage he has received from U.S. offi­cials, he says, is: “We don’t want to be part of it.”
    ...

    s
    And then we get to the claims that were mys­te­ri­ous­ly revoked hours before the con­cert hall attack. Claims that his group was work­ing close­ly with Ukrain­ian intel­li­gence on the Moscow assas­si­na­tion of Darya Dug­i­na:

    ...
    The Russ­ian exile leader also linked his group to the August 2022 assas­si­na­tion of Darya Dug­i­na, the daugh­ter of a promi­nent Russ­ian nation­al­ist writer. U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials had blamed that attack on Ukrain­ian intel­li­gence and said they opposed it, accord­ing to an Octo­ber 2022 account in the New York Times. Pono­marev said his group works close­ly with Ukrain­ian intel­li­gence.
    ...

    Bold claims about an attack that reached all the way to Moscow that were mys­te­ri­ous retract­ed the morn­ing of the Moscow con­cert hall attack. And retract­ed at around the same time Pono­marev’s group was engaged in pub­lic rela­tions with the West­ern press about their con­tin­u­ing mil­i­tary oper­a­tions inside Rus­sia. Did any of those oper­a­tions extend all the way to Moscow? Some sort of jihadist extrac­tion oper­a­tion, by chance? Or rather, a jihadist-for-hire mer­ce­nary extrac­tion oper­a­tion, as the case may be.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 23, 2024, 5:07 pm
  4. Was it an ISIS attack? Or some sort of Ukrain­ian state-backed provo­ca­tion? With Rus­sia gripped by both mourn­ing and spec­u­la­tion over what hap­pened and who was behind it, the inves­ti­ga­tion into the Moscow con­cert hall attack is still in its ear­ly stages. But core facts are emerg­ing. It does appear to be an attack car­ried out by ISIS, which has not only post­ed pho­tos of the four attack­ers but even post­ed body­cam footage of the attacks on ISIS-affil­i­at­ed Telegram chan­nels. And the gun­men do appear to have been attempt­ing to flee to Ukraine, hav­ing been appre­hend­ed near the Ukrain­ian bor­der. This was an ISIS attack with a Ukrain­ian escape plan.

    Now, as we’ve seen, the US has been sur­pris­ing­ly adamant about this being an ISIS-only attack with no Ukrain­ian ele­ment. It’s an asser­tion that is all the more eye­brow-rais­ing giv­en the US’s warn­ings about immi­nent ISIS con­cert hall attacks in Rus­sia two weeks ago. So it appears we are in store for a series of fin­ger-point­ing and, poten­tial­ly, an esca­la­tion of the con­flict in Ukraine and a fur­ther degra­da­tion in Russ­ian-West­ern rela­tions. From a ter­ror­ism per­spec­tive — shift­ing polit­i­cal dynam­ics through mass mur­der — this oper­a­tion is already turn­ing into a wild suc­cess for any­one who may have want­ed to see an esca­la­tion of the con­flict between Rus­sia and the West. Because, for what­ev­er rea­son, ISIS craft­ed a plot with a major Ukrain­ian angle. A plot West­ern intel­li­gence knew about well in advance. Instead of the nor­mal ISIS sui­cide bombers, these gun­men fled to Ukraine, turn­ing a major ter­ror attack into a poten­tial inter­na­tion­al cri­sis. What are we look­ing at here?

    So to help explore the ques­tion of whether or not we’re look­ing at an ISIS plot based out of Ukraine, it’s worth tak­ing a look back at a fas­ci­nat­ing 2019 piece in the Tele­graph about a piece of his­to­ry that could be very rel­e­vant for the unfold­ing ter­ror inves­ti­ga­tion. Because it turns out Ukraine has been trans­formed into a kind of ISIS safe­house in recent years, seem­ing­ly with the knowl­edge of the Ukrain­ian state. For exam­ple, in Novem­ber 2019, Al Bara Shis­hani, then ISIS’s deputy min­is­ter of war, seem­ing­ly returned from the dead when he appeared in a Kyiv court room. It turns out he had been liv­ing in Kyiv for years and had even been coor­di­nat­ing ter­ror attacks from there. And he was­n’t the only ISIS leader to do so, accord­ing to experts. Instead, Ukrain­ian author­i­ties seemed to have a kind of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rela­tion­ship with ISIS’s lead­ers, who were in need of a new safe­haven fol­low­ing the fall of the ISIS caliphate.

    It also turns out Shis­hani has an inter­est­ing per­son­al his­to­ry with ter­ror groups that could play a role in his infor­mal rela­tion­ship with the Ukrain­ian state: he hails from the Pankisi gorge area of Geor­gia, which is pop­u­lat­ed by clans with deep ties to Chech­nya. So the ISIS deputy min­is­ter of war who was liv­ing in secret in Kyiv for years was from Geor­gia. This is a good time to recall the deep ties between the Geor­gian Legion, the Ukrain­ian far right, and the poten­tial piv­otal role the Geor­gian Legion may have played in orches­trat­ing the Maid­an sniper attacks. In oth­er words, we already know there’s a spe­cial rela­tion­ship between the post-Maid­an Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment and the Geor­gian Legion.

    Did that spe­cial rela­tion­ship play a role in Shis­hani’s spe­cial treat­ment? Per­haps, although it’s not like such his­to­ry is nec­es­sary to poten­tial­ly explain Kyiv’s ties to jihadists. Ukraine has been open­ing its arms to jihadists will­ing to fight Rus­sia for years now.

    And as experts also warned back in 2019, while the jihadists liv­ing com­fort­ably in Ukraine have no incen­tive to stage attacks against their hosts, that may change should that host begin a crack­down. That’s also poten­tial­ly part of this sto­ry. Because at this point, it appears there maybe be a much larg­er ISIS pres­ence oper­at­ing inside Ukraine. A friend­ly oper­a­tion for now. But that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly going to remain the case.

    Ok, first, here’s a report that lays out one of core facts of the inves­ti­ga­tion to emerge so far: despite the lack of any sui­cide bomb­ings, it real­ly does appear to be an ISIS oper­a­tion, with ISIS post­ing pho­tos of the gun­men as proof:

    Reuters

    Islam­ic State releas­es pho­to of alleged attack­ers in Rus­sia shoot­ing

    March 23, 2024 8:35 AM CDT
    Updat­ed

    CAIRO, March 23 (Reuters) — Islam­ic State released on Sat­ur­day a pho­to of what it said were the four attack­ers behind a shoot­ing ram­page that killed at least 143 peo­ple in a con­cert hall near Moscow on Fri­day, the mil­i­tant group’s Amaq news agency said on Telegram.

    “The attack comes with­in the con­text of a rag­ing war between the Islam­ic State and coun­tries fight­ing Islam,” Amaq added in a state­ment cit­ing secu­ri­ty sources.

    Islam­ic State claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the attack but there were indi­ca­tions that Rus­sia was pur­su­ing a Ukrain­ian link, despite emphat­ic denials from Ukrain­ian offi­cials that Kyiv had any­thing to do with it.

    ...

    ———–

    “Islam­ic State releas­es pho­to of alleged attack­ers in Rus­sia shoot­ing”; Reuters; 03/23/2024

    This was indeed an ISIS attack. That much is clear after not just the release of this pho­to of the four gun­men but also the release of body­cam footage on ISIS-affil­i­at­ed Telegram chan­nels. But that does­n’t pre­clude the sce­nario the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment is alleg­ing about assis­tance by the Ukrain­ian state. After all, they do appear to have been appre­hend­ed along the bor­der with Ukraine and this attack coin­cid­ed with Ukrain­ian-backed cross-bor­der mil­i­tary oper­a­tions by three Russ­ian resis­tance groups. And that’s why we should prob­a­bly expect Rus­sian’s accu­sa­tions against Ukraine to include accu­sa­tions of coor­di­na­tion with ISIS:

    CNN

    Rus­sia says sus­pects in Cro­cus con­cert hall attack detained as death toll ris­es to 133

    By Darya Taraso­va, Anna Cher­no­va, Tim Lis­ter and Lau­ren Said-Moor­house, CNN
    Updat­ed 3:23 PM EDT, Sat March 23, 2024

    CNN — Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has vowed to pun­ish those behind a dead­ly attack on a Moscow con­cert hall that has claimed 133 lives, after author­i­ties said the four main sus­pects were caught near the bor­der with Ukraine.

    Friday’s assault on the Cro­cus City Hall was the dead­liest ter­ror attack on Russia’s cap­i­tal in decades and comes less than a week after Putin secured vic­to­ry in a stage-man­aged elec­tion, tight­en­ing his grip on the coun­try he has ruled since the turn of the cen­tu­ry.

    The ter­ror group ISIS claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the dead­ly inci­dent. A US offi­cial said Fri­day that Wash­ing­ton had no rea­son to doubt ISIS’ claim.

    The devel­op­ment prompt­ed UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Anto­nio Guter­res on Sat­ur­day to call for glob­al coop­er­a­tion against ISIS.

    “ISIS is a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion that is oper­at­ing in sev­er­al parts of the world, and it is a very seri­ous threat to us all … and we encour­age all coun­tries to work with each oth­er in order to make sure that ISIS will not have the capac­i­ty to strike again any­where else in the world,” Guter­res said at a news con­fer­ence.

    Putin linked what he called a “bar­bar­ic ter­ror­ist attack” to Ukraine in a video state­ment released Sat­ur­day, as he expressed deep con­do­lences and declared Sun­day a nation­al day of mourn­ing.

    The per­pe­tra­tors, he said, had “tried to hide and move towards Ukraine, where, accord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data, a win­dow was pre­pared for them on the Ukrain­ian side to cross the bor­der.”

    Ukraine has denied any con­nec­tion with the attack, and warned that Rus­sia could use it as an excuse to ramp up its inva­sion.

    On Sat­ur­day, the Russ­ian Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee said the death toll in the Cro­cus City attack had risen to 133, adding that search work con­tin­ues.

    Also on Sat­ur­day, the Com­mit­tee said that four men sus­pect­ed of car­ry­ing out the attack had been tak­en into cus­tody on Fri­day night near Russia’s bor­der with Ukraine.

    “Spe­cial ser­vices and law enforce­ment agen­cies in the Bryan­sk region, near the bor­der with Ukraine, detained four sus­pects from among those who com­mit­ted a ter­ror­ist attack in the Cro­cus City Hall con­cert hall,” the Com­mit­tee said.

    This was also report­ed by Russ­ian state media agency RIA Novosti, which said that after the attack the crim­i­nals “intend­ed to cross the bor­der of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion and Ukraine and had rel­e­vant con­tacts on the Ukrain­ian side, the FSB said.” The FSB — Russia’s secu­ri­ty agency — did not spec­i­fy the nature of the alleged con­tacts.

    The Belarus ambas­sador to Rus­sia, mean­while, said that Belaru­sian spe­cial ser­vices helped Rus­sia pre­vent “ter­ror­ists” from escap­ing across the bor­der Fri­day night.

    In his video address, Putin said that a total of 11 peo­ple had been detained and that the FSB and oth­er agen­cies were work­ing to estab­lish “who pro­vid­ed them with trans­port, escape planned routes from the crime scene, pre­pared caches, caches of weapons and ammu­ni­tion.”

    “All per­pe­tra­tors, orga­niz­ers and insti­ga­tors of this crime will suf­fer fair and inevitable pun­ish­ment,” he added. “Who­ev­er they are, who­ev­er guides them. I repeat: we will iden­ti­fy and pun­ish every­one who stands behind the ter­ror­ists, who pre­pared this atroc­i­ty, this attack on Rus­sia, on our peo­ple.”

    Russ­ian state media has said all of those detained are for­eign cit­i­zens.

    RIA Novosti post­ed the pur­port­ed con­fes­sion of one of the men appre­hend­ed in con­nec­tion with the attack. One of the alleged attack­ers had men­tioned return­ing to Rus­sia from Turkey ear­li­er this month, accord­ing to RIA, and one said he’d been promised half-a-mil­lion rubles (about $5,000) to car­ry out the attack.

    CNN can­not inde­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fy the verac­i­ty of the report or the state­ments made by the alleged attack­er, which may have been made under duress.

    Andrii Yusov, a spokesper­son for Ukraine’s mil­i­tary intel­li­gence, called Putin’s com­ments “com­plete­ly false and absurd.”

    “A full-scale war has been going on for more than two years. The bor­der areas are sat­u­rat­ed with ene­my troops, spe­cial agents, and secu­ri­ty forces,” he added. “Every­one in the world under­stands this, except per­haps the zomb­i­fied Russ­ian pop­u­la­tion.”

    ...

    US had warned of poten­tial attack

    Ear­li­er this month, the US embassy in Rus­sia said it was “mon­i­tor­ing reports that extrem­ists have immi­nent plans to tar­get large gath­er­ings in Moscow,” includ­ing con­certs. The embassy warned US cit­i­zens to avoid large gath­er­ings. On Fri­day, fol­low­ing reports of the Cro­cus City Hall attack, it advised US cit­i­zens not to trav­el to Rus­sia.

    Start­ing in Novem­ber, there has been a steady stream of intel­li­gence that ISIS‑K was deter­mined to attack in Rus­sia, accord­ing to two sources famil­iar with the infor­ma­tion.

    ...

    US Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil spokesper­son Adri­enne Wat­son said the US gov­ern­ment had had infor­ma­tion about a planned ter­ror­ist attack in Moscow — poten­tial­ly tar­get­ing large gath­er­ings, to include con­certs — and that this is what prompt­ed the State Depart­ment to issue the pub­lic advi­so­ry.

    In a speech Tues­day, Putin blast­ed the Amer­i­can warn­ings as “provoca­tive,” say­ing “these actions resem­ble out­right black­mail and the inten­tion to intim­i­date and desta­bi­lize our soci­ety.”

    There has been wide­spread inter­na­tion­al con­dem­na­tion of the attack, with the Unit­ed States, Chi­na, Britain and Ger­many among those express­ing con­do­lences.

    ———-

    “Rus­sia says sus­pects in Cro­cus con­cert hall attack detained as death toll ris­es to 133” By Darya Taraso­va, Anna Cher­no­va, Tim Lis­ter and Lau­ren Said-Moor­house; CNN; 03/23/2024

    ““Spe­cial ser­vices and law enforce­ment agen­cies in the Bryan­sk region, near the bor­der with Ukraine, detained four sus­pects from among those who com­mit­ted a ter­ror­ist attack in the Cro­cus City Hall con­cert hall,” the Com­mit­tee said.”

    The gun­men were report­ed­ly cap­tured in the Bryan­sk region near the bor­der with Ukraine. That would, the min­i­mum, sug­gest they were plan­ning on escap­ing into Ukraine and had a plan for what to do once they were inside Ukraine. We don’t what exact­ly the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment meant by a “win­dow” being pre­pared for them to escape across the Ukrain­ian bor­der, but keep in mind that such a win­dow could be an active or pas­sive effort. In oth­er words, remov­ing a Ukrain­ian troop pres­ence would be one exam­ple, but then there’s also the ques­tions of what those three Ukrain­ian-backed Russ­ian groups engaged in cross-bor­der mil­i­tary oper­a­tions may have been doing with respect to this ter­ror oper­a­tion. But also note that it’s not just the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment that was involved the cap­ture of the gun­men. Belaru­sian forces took part in the oper­a­tion too:

    ...
    The per­pe­tra­tors, he said, had “tried to hide and move towards Ukraine, where, accord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data, a win­dow was pre­pared for them on the Ukrain­ian side to cross the bor­der.”

    Ukraine has denied any con­nec­tion with the attack, and warned that Rus­sia could use it as an excuse to ramp up its inva­sion.

    ...

    Also on Sat­ur­day, the Com­mit­tee said that four men sus­pect­ed of car­ry­ing out the attack had been tak­en into cus­tody on Fri­day night near Russia’s bor­der with Ukraine.

    ...

    This was also report­ed by Russ­ian state media agency RIA Novosti, which said that after the attack the crim­i­nals “intend­ed to cross the bor­der of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion and Ukraine and had rel­e­vant con­tacts on the Ukrain­ian side, the FSB said.” The FSB — Russia’s secu­ri­ty agency — did not spec­i­fy the nature of the alleged con­tacts.

    The Belarus ambas­sador to Rus­sia, mean­while, said that Belaru­sian spe­cial ser­vices helped Rus­sia pre­vent “ter­ror­ists” from escap­ing across the bor­der Fri­day night.
    ...

    We also got more infor­ma­tion on the appar­ent admis­sions by the gun­men. One claims they returned to Rus­sia from Turkey ear­li­er this month. Anoth­er claims he was offered $5,000. So we have this jux­ta­po­si­tion of this seem­ing­ly being an ISIS attack but the appar­ent the attack­ers did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have ISIS-league lev­els of com­mit­ment to the jihadist cause. Again, it was­n’t an ISIS sui­cide attack. They planned on escap­ing to Ukraine. And appar­ent­ly they were paid. It’s an odd ISIS attack in that respect and yet ISIS appears to have evi­dence of its involve­ment:

    ...
    Russ­ian state media has said all of those detained are for­eign cit­i­zens.

    RIA Novosti post­ed the pur­port­ed con­fes­sion of one of the men appre­hend­ed in con­nec­tion with the attack. One of the alleged attack­ers had men­tioned return­ing to Rus­sia from Turkey ear­li­er this month, accord­ing to RIA, and one said he’d been promised half-a-mil­lion rubles (about $5,000) to car­ry out the attack.

    CNN can­not inde­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fy the verac­i­ty of the report or the state­ments made by the alleged attack­er, which may have been made under duress.
    ...

    So what are we look­ing at here? Is this is a ‘nor­mal’ ISIS attack or some­thing messier? To get a bet­ter idea of the Ukrain­ian ter­ror nexus that we appear to be look­ing at, here’s an arti­cle from Novem­ber 2019 about how Ukraine became the unlike­ly home for ISIS’s then-flee­ing lead­er­ship. And as we’re going to see, while the pres­ence of ISIS lead­ers — like Geor­gian Chechen Al Bara Shis­hani — in Ukraine was a com­plete secret to many who knew them and thought they were dead, it does­n’t appear to have been a secret to Ukraine’s secu­ri­ty ser­vices. Instead, what remains a secret is why these ter­ror lead­ers have been receiv­ing such qui­et­ly hos­pitable treat­ment. This was the state of affairs in 2019. What are the odds the sit­u­a­tion has­n’t got­ten worse:

    The Inde­pen­dent

    How Ukraine became the unlike­ly home for Isis lead­ers escap­ing the caliphate

    Ukrain­ian author­i­ties announced last week they had arrest­ed a top Isis com­man­der in Kiev in a joint oper­a­tion with the CIA. He appears to be one of many to have made Ukraine their home, writes Oliv­er Car­roll in Kiev

    Thurs­day 21 Novem­ber 2019 14:51 GMT

    As far as extreme ter­ror went, Al Bara Shis­hani had a rep­u­ta­tion.

    Under­stood to have held the post of Isis’ deputy min­is­ter of war, head of a unit respon­si­ble for “spe­cial oper­a­tions” and sur­veil­lance, the Geor­gian-born com­man­der report­ed­ly had a hand in it all: exe­cu­tions of “non-believ­ers”; pub­lic behead­ings; ter­ror oper­a­tions abroad.

    He also had a rep­u­ta­tion for being dead – that is, until last Fri­day.

    Al Bara Shishani’s dra­mat­ic reap­pear­ance in the dock of a court room in cen­tral Kiev was shock­ing not only for the fact of how alive he was.

    As details emerged about his mirac­u­lous res­ur­rec­tion – how he dodged what had been report­ed as a fatal air strike in Syr­ia, then used a fake pass­port to trav­el to Turkey and Ukraine, where he would live untrou­bled for two years – a num­ber of ques­tions came beg­ging about Kiev’s capac­i­ty and will­ing­ness to deal with ter­ror­ists tak­ing shel­ter with­in.

    Accord­ing to the SBU, Ukraine’s admit­ted­ly unre­li­able secu­ri­ty agency, Al Bara Shis­hani even con­tin­ued to coor­di­nate Isis ter­ror oper­a­tions from Kiev.

    Born Cezar Tokhosashvili, Al Bara Shis­hani is one of sev­er­al Isis com­man­ders to hail from the Pankisi gorge region in north­ern Geor­gia.

    The his­to­ry of the moun­tain­ous ter­ri­to­ry has close ties to Chech­nya, locat­ed across the bor­der with Rus­sia, 40 miles to the north. Most of Pankisi’s 10,000 res­i­dents belong to a few eth­nic Chechen clans; sev­er­al hun­dred refugees moved here fol­low­ing the con­flicts there. “Shis­hani” is the Ara­bic ren­der­ing of “Chechen”.

    More recent­ly, the gorge has been asso­ci­at­ed with the fight­ing in Iraq and Syr­ia. Accord­ing to var­i­ous esti­mates, between 50 and 200 of its young men left to fight between 2012–15. Most joined units fight­ing Bashar al-Assad in the Free Syr­i­an Army. Some end­ed up with Isis.

    Mul­ti­ple links to Syr­ia meant every­body in the gorge knew every­thing about Al Bara Shishani’s ter­ror career, says Sulkhan Bor­dzikashvili, a local jour­nal­ist in Pankisi.

    They fol­lowed him as he decamped to Latakia, west­ern Syr­ia, in 2012; then in 2015, when he joined Isis. Some approved. Oth­ers did not.

    It was also an open secret that anoth­er local boy, the one-legged and one-armed Akhmed Chatayev – aka “Akhmed the One-armed” – played a key role in con­vert­ing Al Bara Shis­hani to Isis.

    Chatayev was lat­er accused of coor­di­nat­ing sui­cide bombers in the June 2016 attack on Istanbul’s air­port. His involve­ment was nev­er con­firmed con­clu­sive­ly, how­ev­er, and in 2017, he blew him­self up dur­ing a police raid in the Geor­gian cap­i­tal Tbil­isi.

    Accord­ing to Bor­dzikashvili, the gorge was col­lec­tive­ly shocked to dis­cov­er Al Bara Shis­hani was not equal­ly dead.

    “Maybe his close friends knew he was in Ukraine, but my under­stand­ing is the fam­i­ly did not,” the jour­nal­ist told The Inde­pen­dent. “These types of peo­ple are hid­ing from every­one and it is now very dif­fi­cult to return home with­out end­ing up in jail.”

    It is cer­tain­ly true that mil­i­tants used to enjoy a much eas­i­er pas­sage home.

    In 2013, for exam­ple, Chatayev was able to return to Pankisi despite being sub­ject to an Inter­pol want­ed notice.

    And Ukraine, once again, is key to under­stand­ing how he did it.

    The future Isis com­man­der sur­faced there three years ear­li­er when he was arrest­ed and put before a judge in the bucol­ic town of Uzh­gorod, west­ern Ukraine. Kate­ri­na Ser­gatsko­va, a Kiev-based jour­nal­ist who inves­ti­gat­ed his case, says it is unclear what exact­ly he was doing in the Carpathi­an moun­tains – most of his com­rades from that time are now dead, so it’s hard to get any answers.

    The per­son respon­si­ble for the case was Yuriy Lut­senko, Kiev’s then min­is­ter of the inte­ri­or. He would lat­er become famous as the “self-serv­ing and cor­rupt” pros­e­cu­tor at the cen­tre of the House impeach­ment scan­dal into Don­ald Trump’s deal­ings with cur­rent Ukrain­ian pres­i­dent Volodymyr Zelen­sky.

    Accord­ing to Lut­senko, Chatayev was detained via Inter­pol at Moscow’s request. In his account, police also found bomb instruc­tions and pho­tographs of dead bod­ies on his mobile phone. Despite that, Chatayev was nev­er extra­dit­ed to Rus­sia. A bribe is one alleged rea­son why he was instead allowed to trav­el home to Geor­gia.

    ...

    Ukrain­ian author­i­ties have long fos­tered holes in their legal and law enforce­ment sys­tems. The usu­al ben­e­fi­cia­ry is organ­ised crime, which sus­tains itself on the flow of fake IDs and con­tra­band, says Philip Ingram, a for­mer British intel­li­gence offi­cer. But the lax regime has also cre­at­ed an obvi­ous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism.

    “It is a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that Kiev does not seem entire­ly inter­est­ed in address­ing,” Ingram said.

    The US has been par­tic­u­lar­ly frus­trat­ed at Kiev’s inabil­i­ty to stop the fake pass­port trade. In remarks made dur­ing the Trump impeach­ment inquiry, State Depart­ment offi­cial George Kent revealed how a major con­flict erupt­ed between the US embassy and Ukrain­ian author­i­ties in 2017. Mr Kent had been deputy ambas­sador at the time.

    Once again, Lut­senko, by that point already chief pros­e­cu­tor, was the man in the cen­tre of the storm. Kent accused Lut­senko of unmask­ing an under­cov­er anti-cor­rup­tion bureau agent who had infil­trat­ed the fake pass­port busi­ness. He had done so, Kent alleged, to avenge the US embassy for sup­port­ing the anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies that worked against his own cor­rupt inter­ests.

    Obtain­ing fake pass­ports was at one point an extreme­ly easy and cheap affair. That changed with the intro­duc­tion of bio­met­ric pass­ports in 2015, which has nar­rowed the num­ber of ille­gal schemes. But sev­er­al com­pa­nies still con­tin­ue to oper­ate out of the dark­net – with clean pass­ports cost­ing around $5,000.

    The Inde­pen­dent has learnt of at least one exam­ple of a for­mer mil­i­tant obtain­ing a bio­met­ric pass­port this way.

    This is obvi­ous sig­nif­i­cance for Euro­pean secu­ri­ty, giv­en that Ukraine now enjoys visa-free trav­el with most EU coun­tries. While fake pass­ports can be iden­ti­fied eas­i­ly enough, gen­uine pass­ports for fake iden­ti­ties can’t. “If doc­u­ments are being issued by a recog­nised pass­port author­i­ty that should be of con­cern,” said Ingram.

    And none of this is lost on the thou­sands of post-Sovi­et Islam­ic mil­i­tants look­ing for des­ti­na­tions to lie low, says Vera Mirono­va, a jihad expert and vis­it­ing fel­low at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty.

    Ukraine offers sev­er­al advan­tages over the com­pe­ti­tion too: the com­mon Russ­ian lan­guage, chaos of war, unpro­fes­sion­al­ism of local secu­ri­ty ser­vices, and the low risk of extra­di­tion to coun­tries such as Rus­sia.

    Mirono­va esti­mates “hun­dreds” of for­mer Isis fight­ers have decamped to Ukraine. But it is not the num­bers that should be of pri­ma­ry con­cern, she said. The clus­ter of ter­ror­ists in Ukraine were by their nature a “self-select­ing” elite: “This isn’t a ran­dom selec­tion. The slow­er guys stop as soon as they get to Turkey. After all, it is a mul­ti­ple-step oper­a­tion to get to Ukraine. The ones who get there are the dan­ger­ous ones.”

    Once mil­i­tants get to Ukraine, they rarely encounter prob­lems with author­i­ties, said Mirono­va.

    This appears to have been the case for at least some of the two years that Al Bara Shis­hani spent in and around Kiev. Ukrain­ian author­i­ties have not dis­closed when they found out about him. Accord­ing to an SBU press release, the CIA and Geor­gian Inte­ri­or Min­istry joined the oper­a­tion two months before his 15 Novem­ber arrest. It is unclear why they chose not to arrest him ear­li­er.

    Ser­gatsko­va, who has almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly cov­ered the sub­ject in Ukrain­ian press over the past year, says author­i­ties remain strange­ly relaxed about the issue.

    “When­ev­er I wrote on the sub­ject, gov­ern­ment offi­cials have accused me of invent­ing the prob­lem,” she said. “But the arrest of one of Islam­ic State’s top com­man­ders here in Kiev, right under our noses, would sure­ly sug­gest many of the world’s most dan­ger­ous men do think of Ukraine as a safe­house. Cor­rup­tion in all state bod­ies – the police, courts, pros­e­cu­tors – opens doors to abuse.”

    ...

    Both Ser­gatsko­va and Mirono­va agreed that the mil­i­tants they had inter­viewed posed no sig­nif­i­cant ter­ror threat to Ukraine, at least in the short term. It was not in their inter­est to cre­ate prob­lems at home, they argued.

    That may change if Kiev decid­ed to fol­low up with more arrests.

    “I know many who are liv­ing nor­mal lives, like dri­ving Ubers,” said Mirono­va.

    “They aren’t going to s**t in their own home. But if they are cor­nered, if they become ter­ri­fied that they will be arrest­ed, then we have a big prob­lem on our hands.”

    ————–

    “How Ukraine became the unlike­ly home for Isis lead­ers escap­ing the caliphate” by Oliv­er Car­roll; The Inde­pen­dent; 11/21/2019

    As details emerged about his mirac­u­lous res­ur­rec­tion – how he dodged what had been report­ed as a fatal air strike in Syr­ia, then used a fake pass­port to trav­el to Turkey and Ukraine, where he would live untrou­bled for two years – a num­ber of ques­tions came beg­ging about Kiev’s capac­i­ty and will­ing­ness to deal with ter­ror­ists tak­ing shel­ter with­in.”

    Two years of liv­ing in Ukraine when seem­ing­ly every­one thought he was dead. Until he turned up in a Kiev court­room. It was quite a mag­ic trick for ISIS com­man­der Al Bara Shis­hani. He even man­aged to coor­di­nate ISIS oper­a­tions from Kiev, accord­ing to the SBU:

    ...
    He also had a rep­u­ta­tion for being dead – that is, until last Fri­day.

    Al Bara Shishani’s dra­mat­ic reap­pear­ance in the dock of a court room in cen­tral Kiev was shock­ing not only for the fact of how alive he was.

    ...

    Accord­ing to the SBU, Ukraine’s admit­ted­ly unre­li­able secu­ri­ty agency, Al Bara Shis­hani even con­tin­ued to coor­di­nate Isis ter­ror oper­a­tions from Kiev.
    ...

    And note how the part of Geor­gia Shis­hani hails from, the Panikis gorge region, has deep ties to Chechen clans. It’s worth keep­ing in mind the long-stand­ing ties between the Geor­gian Legion, the Ukrain­ian far right, and the poten­tial piv­otal role the Geor­gian Legion may have played in orches­trat­ing the Maid­an sniper attacks. The point being that there is rea­son to believe there exists a spe­cial rela­tion­ship between the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment and the Geor­gian Legion. Might that spe­cial rela­tion­ship extend to these Geor­gian jihadists?

    ...
    Born Cezar Tokhosashvili, Al Bara Shis­hani is one of sev­er­al Isis com­man­ders to hail from the Pankisi gorge region in north­ern Geor­gia.

    The his­to­ry of the moun­tain­ous ter­ri­to­ry has close ties to Chech­nya, locat­ed across the bor­der with Rus­sia, 40 miles to the north. Most of Pankisi’s 10,000 res­i­dents belong to a few eth­nic Chechen clans; sev­er­al hun­dred refugees moved here fol­low­ing the con­flicts there. “Shis­hani” is the Ara­bic ren­der­ing of “Chechen”.

    More recent­ly, the gorge has been asso­ci­at­ed with the fight­ing in Iraq and Syr­ia. Accord­ing to var­i­ous esti­mates, between 50 and 200 of its young men left to fight between 2012–15. Most joined units fight­ing Bashar al-Assad in the Free Syr­i­an Army. Some end­ed up with Isis.

    Mul­ti­ple links to Syr­ia meant every­body in the gorge knew every­thing about Al Bara Shishani’s ter­ror career, says Sulkhan Bor­dzikashvili, a local jour­nal­ist in Pankisi.

    They fol­lowed him as he decamped to Latakia, west­ern Syr­ia, in 2012; then in 2015, when he joined Isis. Some approved. Oth­ers did not.

    ...

    Accord­ing to Bor­dzikashvili, the gorge was col­lec­tive­ly shocked to dis­cov­er Al Bara Shis­hani was not equal­ly dead.

    “Maybe his close friends knew he was in Ukraine, but my under­stand­ing is the fam­i­ly did not,” the jour­nal­ist told The Inde­pen­dent. “These types of peo­ple are hid­ing from every­one and it is now very dif­fi­cult to return home with­out end­ing up in jail.”

    ...

    So what do we know about how Shis­hani man­aged to elude cap­ture in Ukraine for years? Well, to help explain that, we have the relat­ed sto­ry of the escape of Akhmed Chatayev, a one-armed and one-legged boy from the Pankisi gorge who report­ed­ly played a key role in con­vert­ing Shis­hani to ISIS. Chatayev was lat­er accused of roles in coor­di­nat­ing sui­cide attacks and even­tu­al­ly blew him­self up in 2017 in Tbil­isi dur­ing a police raid. And it turns out Chatayev was only in Geor­gia in the first place thanks to the fact that he was allowed to return to Geor­gia from Ukraine in 2013 despite an Inter­pol want­ed notice. Moscow want­ed Chatayev detained but that nev­er hap­pened. Keep in mind that the Pres­i­dent of Ukraine in 2013 was Vik­tor Yanukovych, the sup­posed Putin stooge who also hap­pened to be run­ning the secret “Haps­burg Group” lob­by­ing cam­paign in 2013 to get Ukraine allowed into a trade asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union. Also keep in mind that Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al was opposed to Chatayev’s extra­di­tion. So when we see the blame for Chatayev’s return to Georgjia in 2013 blamed on Kiev’s then min­is­ter of the inte­ri­or Yuriy Lut­senko, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that Ukraine was in mid­dle of a secret cam­paign to woo the West dur­ing this peri­od:

    ...
    It was also an open secret that anoth­er local boy, the one-legged and one-armed Akhmed Chatayev – aka “Akhmed the One-armed” – played a key role in con­vert­ing Al Bara Shis­hani to Isis.

    Chatayev was lat­er accused of coor­di­nat­ing sui­cide bombers in the June 2016 attack on Istanbul’s air­port. His involve­ment was nev­er con­firmed con­clu­sive­ly, how­ev­er, and in 2017, he blew him­self up dur­ing a police raid in the Geor­gian cap­i­tal Tbil­isi.

    ...

    It is cer­tain­ly true that mil­i­tants used to enjoy a much eas­i­er pas­sage home.

    In 2013, for exam­ple, Chatayev was able to return to Pankisi despite being sub­ject to an Inter­pol want­ed notice.

    And Ukraine, once again, is key to under­stand­ing how he did it.

    The future Isis com­man­der sur­faced there three years ear­li­er when he was arrest­ed and put before a judge in the bucol­ic town of Uzh­gorod, west­ern Ukraine. Kate­ri­na Ser­gatsko­va, a Kiev-based jour­nal­ist who inves­ti­gat­ed his case, says it is unclear what exact­ly he was doing in the Carpathi­an moun­tains – most of his com­rades from that time are now dead, so it’s hard to get any answers.

    The per­son respon­si­ble for the case was Yuriy Lut­senko, Kiev’s then min­is­ter of the inte­ri­or. He would lat­er become famous as the “self-serv­ing and cor­rupt” pros­e­cu­tor at the cen­tre of the House impeach­ment scan­dal into Don­ald Trump’s deal­ings with cur­rent Ukrain­ian pres­i­dent Volodymyr Zelen­sky.

    Accord­ing to Lut­senko, Chatayev was detained via Inter­pol at Moscow’s request. In his account, police also found bomb instruc­tions and pho­tographs of dead bod­ies on his mobile phone. Despite that, Chatayev was nev­er extra­dit­ed to Rus­sia. A bribe is one alleged rea­son why he was instead allowed to trav­el home to Geor­gia.
    ...

    And then we get to the oth­er anect­dote that was seem­ing­ly pin the blame for Ukraine’s lack of enforce­ment against the ter­ror­ists liv­ing in its midst on then-Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­ate Yuriy Lut­senko: then US-ambas­sador George Kent accus­es Lut­senko of unmask­ing an under­cov­er anti-cor­rup­tion agent in 2017 who was inves­ti­gat­ing the fake pass­port busi­ness. Keep in mind Lut­senko was appoint­ed to that post by Ukraine’s pres­i­dent, who was at that point Petro Poroshenko. But accord­ing to the US amabas­sador’s nar­ra­tive, we should just assume the cul­pa­bil­i­ty for the dis­rup­tion of anti-cor­rup­tion oper­a­tions ends at Lut­senko:

    ...
    Ukrain­ian author­i­ties have long fos­tered holes in their legal and law enforce­ment sys­tems. The usu­al ben­e­fi­cia­ry is organ­ised crime, which sus­tains itself on the flow of fake IDs and con­tra­band, says Philip Ingram, a for­mer British intel­li­gence offi­cer. But the lax regime has also cre­at­ed an obvi­ous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism.

    “It is a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that Kiev does not seem entire­ly inter­est­ed in address­ing,” Ingram said.

    The US has been par­tic­u­lar­ly frus­trat­ed at Kiev’s inabil­i­ty to stop the fake pass­port trade. In remarks made dur­ing the Trump impeach­ment inquiry, State Depart­ment offi­cial George Kent revealed how a major con­flict erupt­ed between the US embassy and Ukrain­ian author­i­ties in 2017. Mr Kent had been deputy ambas­sador at the time.

    Once again, Lut­senko, by that point already chief pros­e­cu­tor, was the man in the cen­tre of the storm. Kent accused Lut­senko of unmask­ing an under­cov­er anti-cor­rup­tion bureau agent who had infil­trat­ed the fake pass­port busi­ness. He had done so, Kent alleged, to avenge the US embassy for sup­port­ing the anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies that worked against his own cor­rupt inter­ests.

    Obtain­ing fake pass­ports was at one point an extreme­ly easy and cheap affair. That changed with the intro­duc­tion of bio­met­ric pass­ports in 2015, which has nar­rowed the num­ber of ille­gal schemes. But sev­er­al com­pa­nies still con­tin­ue to oper­ate out of the dark­net – with clean pass­ports cost­ing around $5,000.

    The Inde­pen­dent has learnt of at least one exam­ple of a for­mer mil­i­tant obtain­ing a bio­met­ric pass­port this way.

    This is obvi­ous sig­nif­i­cance for Euro­pean secu­ri­ty, giv­en that Ukraine now enjoys visa-free trav­el with most EU coun­tries. While fake pass­ports can be iden­ti­fied eas­i­ly enough, gen­uine pass­ports for fake iden­ti­ties can’t. “If doc­u­ments are being issued by a recog­nised pass­port author­i­ty that should be of con­cern,” said Ingram.
    ...

    And as experts warned at the time, Shis­hani isn’t the only ter­ror leader oper­at­ing out of Ukraine. And Ukrain­ian author­i­ties don’t seem to have a prob­lem with this arrange­ment. Ukraine has become a kind of ter­ror lead­er­ship safe­house:

    ...
    And none of this is lost on the thou­sands of post-Sovi­et Islam­ic mil­i­tants look­ing for des­ti­na­tions to lie low, says Vera Mirono­va, a jihad expert and vis­it­ing fel­low at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty.

    Ukraine offers sev­er­al advan­tages over the com­pe­ti­tion too: the com­mon Russ­ian lan­guage, chaos of war, unpro­fes­sion­al­ism of local secu­ri­ty ser­vices, and the low risk of extra­di­tion to coun­tries such as Rus­sia.

    Mirono­va esti­mates “hun­dreds” of for­mer Isis fight­ers have decamped to Ukraine. But it is not the num­bers that should be of pri­ma­ry con­cern, she said. The clus­ter of ter­ror­ists in Ukraine were by their nature a “self-select­ing” elite: “This isn’t a ran­dom selec­tion. The slow­er guys stop as soon as they get to Turkey. After all, it is a mul­ti­ple-step oper­a­tion to get to Ukraine. The ones who get there are the dan­ger­ous ones.”

    Once mil­i­tants get to Ukraine, they rarely encounter prob­lems with author­i­ties, said Mirono­va.

    This appears to have been the case for at least some of the two years that Al Bara Shis­hani spent in and around Kiev. Ukrain­ian author­i­ties have not dis­closed when they found out about him. Accord­ing to an SBU press release, the CIA and Geor­gian Inte­ri­or Min­istry joined the oper­a­tion two months before his 15 Novem­ber arrest. It is unclear why they chose not to arrest him ear­li­er.

    Ser­gatsko­va, who has almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly cov­ered the sub­ject in Ukrain­ian press over the past year, says author­i­ties remain strange­ly relaxed about the issue.

    “When­ev­er I wrote on the sub­ject, gov­ern­ment offi­cials have accused me of invent­ing the prob­lem,” she said. “But the arrest of one of Islam­ic State’s top com­man­ders here in Kiev, right under our noses, would sure­ly sug­gest many of the world’s most dan­ger­ous men do think of Ukraine as a safe­house. Cor­rup­tion in all state bod­ies – the police, courts, pros­e­cu­tors – opens doors to abuse.
    ...

    Final­ly, note this omi­nous warn­ing that could become very rel­e­vant for the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion: while Ukraine does­n’t have any­thing to wor­ry about from these ter­ror­ists as long as Ukraine remains a safe­house for them, that could change should Ukraine begin crack­ing down on its noto­ri­ous guests. Which is all the more rea­son was should­n’t expect a seri­ous change to the sta­tus quo:

    ...
    Both Ser­gatsko­va and Mirono­va agreed that the mil­i­tants they had inter­viewed posed no sig­nif­i­cant ter­ror threat to Ukraine, at least in the short term. It was not in their inter­est to cre­ate prob­lems at home, they argued.

    That may change if Kiev decid­ed to fol­low up with more arrests.

    “I know many who are liv­ing nor­mal lives, like dri­ving Ubers,” said Mirono­va.

    “They aren’t going to s**t in their own home. But if they are cor­nered, if they become ter­ri­fied that they will be arrest­ed, then we have a big prob­lem on our hands.”
    ...

    And that omi­nous warn­ing brings us to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. Evi­dence is point­ing towards ISIS oper­at­ing against Rus­sia out of Ukraine. So far, Ukraine and the West are vehe­ment­ly deny­ing this is the case. But time will tell how this inves­ti­ga­tion unfolds. It’s not hard to imag­ine Russ­ian post­ing evi­dence of ongo­ing ISIS net­works inside Ukraine. If that hap­pens, what then? Will Ukraine actu­al­ly arrest and extra­dite its noto­ri­ous guests and risk reprisals? We’ll see, but keep in mind that if Ukraine ends up attempt­ing to arrest the rest of the ISIS net­works oper­at­ing inside the coun­try, there’s an obvi­ous escape plan: escape into Rus­sia for more attacks. Escape into the EU to plot future attacks, per­haps with a forged pass­port. And just attack in Ukrain­ian state in defi­ance. It’s going to be grim­ly inter­est­ing to see which path these incon­ve­nient secret guests ulti­mate­ly fol­low.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 25, 2024, 5:21 pm
  5. With the inves­ti­ga­tion into the Moscow con­cert hall attack still under­way, and the Krem­lin con­tin­u­ing to lev­el accu­sa­tions of West­ern involve­ment in the attack, it’s worth tak­ing a look back at some remark­able his­to­ry involv­ing ISIS oper­a­tives in Ukraine. As we saw, by 2019, Ukraine was found to be oper­at­ing as a kind of safe­house for ISIS lead­ers forced to flee from their col­lapsed caliphate. But the pres­ence of ISIS affil­i­ates in Ukraine appears to have start­ed well before that.

    As the fol­low­ing July 2015 NY Times arti­cle describes, there were at least three Islam­ic bat­tal­ions oper­at­ing in Ukraine at that time. Two of them, the Dzhokhar Dudayev and Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ions, are pri­mar­i­ly com­prised of Chechen fight­ers. The third was most­ly Crimean Tar­tars.

    Both of these Chechen units have ISIS ties. For exam­ple, French author­i­ties arrest­ed two mem­bers of the Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion in ear­ly 2015 over accu­sa­tions of being ISIS mem­bers. And as we’re going to see, a reporter for the Inter­cept was grant­ed an inter­view with the founder of the Dzhokhar Dudyev bat­tal­ion, Isa Munayev, after the reporter got in con­tact with one of Munayev’s “broth­ers” in Turkey. This “broth­er” was an ISIS mem­ber. Keep in mind that the Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion is an off­shoot of the Dzhokhar Dudyev bat­tal­ion.

    And as we should expect, the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment was well aware of these bat­tal­ions oper­at­ing inside the coun­try. Munayev report­ed­ly had an agree­ment at the high­est lev­els of Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, although noth­ing was ever writ­ten down. But some sort of agree­ment must have been in place. That’s clear from the way Munayev man­aged to recruit his deputy com­man­der, Adam Osmayev, in the spring of 2014, when Osmayev was bro­ken out of a Ukrain­ian prison by Munayev and a group of men. When the group was inter­dict­ed by Ukrain­ian spe­cial forces they were some­how allowed to go free after a dra­mat­ic stand­off. Months lat­er, Osmayev’s sen­tence was deemed ade­quate­ly served by an Odessa court. And, of course, we know there had to be some sort of infor­mal Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment agree­ment to host these bat­tal­ions since the Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion was allowed to oper­ate under the sub­or­di­na­tion of Right Sec­tor. Isa Munayev was killed in ear­ly 2015, with Osmayev tak­ing over. That’s the sta­tus as of 2015.

    Ihor Kolo­moisky, the oli­garch patron of Azov, made dona­tion to the bat­tal­ion that includ­ed an armored car. That’s at least what we know about.

    So what hap­pened to these bat­tal­ions since? Well, both appear to be still active. At least that’s what we can infer based on reports from the fall of 2022 and ear­ly 2023 that describe both the Sheikh Mansur and Dzhokhar Dudyev bat­tal­ions as still active. In fact, Osmayev is still lead­ing the Dzhokhar Dudyev bat­tal­ion. Giv­en that Right Sec­tor is now for­mal­ly incor­po­rat­ed into the Ukraine mil­i­tary, it’s unclear where Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion fits in the new for­mal­ized mil­i­tary hier­ar­chy.

    So that’s all key con­text to keep in mind as the inves­ti­ga­tion into the Moscow con­cert hall attacks con­tin­ue to play out. Ukraine’s qui­et rela­tion­ship with ISIS affil­i­ates did­n’t start in 2019. It’s been fes­ter­ing for over a decade:

    The New York Times

    Islam­ic Bat­tal­ions, Stocked With Chechens, Aid Ukraine in War With Rebels

    By Andrew E. Kramer
    July 7, 2015

    MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Wear­ing cam­ou­flage, with a bushy salt-and-pep­per beard flow­ing over his chest and a bowie knife sheathed promi­nent­ly in his belt, the man cut a fear­some fig­ure in the near­ly emp­ty restau­rant. Wait­ers hov­ered appre­hen­sive­ly near the kitchen, and try as he might, the man who calls him­self “Mus­lim,” a for­mer Chechen war­lord, could not wave them over for more tea.

    Even for Ukraini­ans hard­ened by more than a year of war here against Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists, the appear­ance of Islam­ic com­bat­ants, most­ly Chechens, in towns near the front lines comes as some­thing of a sur­prise — and for many of the Ukraini­ans, a wel­come one.

    “We like to fight the Rus­sians,” said the Chechen, who refused to give his real name. “We always fight the Rus­sians.”

    He com­mands one of three vol­un­teer Islam­ic bat­tal­ions out of about 30 vol­un­teer units in total fight­ing now in east­ern Ukraine. The Islam­ic bat­tal­ions are deployed to the hottest zones, which is why the Chechen was here.

    Fight­ing is inten­si­fy­ing around Mar­i­upol, a strate­gic sea­port and indus­tri­al hub that the sep­a­ratists have long cov­et­ed. Mon­i­tors for the Orga­ni­za­tion for Secu­ri­ty and Coop­er­a­tion in Europe say they have seen steady night­time ship­ments of Russ­ian mil­i­tary equip­ment on a rail line north of here.

    Recent­ly, the Ukrain­ian author­i­ties released pho­tos — which they said were tak­en by a drone fly­ing north of the city — that showed a mass­ing of heavy weapons, includ­ing tanks and how­itzers, on the rebel side.

    Antic­i­pat­ing an attack in the com­ing months, the Ukraini­ans are hap­py for all the help they can get.

    As the Ukraini­ans see it, they are at a lop­sided dis­ad­van­tage against the sep­a­ratists because West­ern gov­ern­ments have refused to pro­vide the gov­ern­ment forces with any­thing like the mil­i­tary sup­port that the rebels have received from Rus­sia. The army, cor­rupt and under­fund­ed, has been large­ly inef­fec­tive. So the Ukraini­ans wel­come back­ing even from Islam­ic mil­i­tants from Chech­nya.

    “I am on this path for 24 years now,” since the demise of the Sovi­et Union, the Chechen said in an inter­view. “The war for us nev­er end­ed. We nev­er ran from our war with Rus­sia, and we nev­er will.”

    Ukrain­ian com­man­ders wor­ry that sep­a­ratist groups plan to cap­ture access roads to Mar­i­upol and lay siege to the city, which had a pre­war pop­u­la­tion of about half a mil­lion. To counter that, the city has come to rely on an assort­ment of right-wing and Islam­ic mili­tias for its defense.

    The Chechen com­mands the Sheikh Mansur group, named for an 18th-cen­tu­ry Chechen resis­tance fig­ure. It is sub­or­di­nate to the nation­al­ist Right Sec­tor, a Ukrain­ian mili­tia.

    Nei­ther the Sheikh Mansur group nor Right Sec­tor is incor­po­rat­ed into the for­mal police or mil­i­tary, and the Ukrain­ian author­i­ties decline to say how many Chechens are fight­ing in east­ern Ukraine. They are all unpaid.

    ...

    Right Sec­tor, for exam­ple, formed dur­ing last year’s street protests in Kiev from a half-dozen fringe Ukrain­ian nation­al­ist groups like White Ham­mer and the Tri­dent of Stepan Ban­dera. Anoth­er, the Azov group, is open­ly neo-Nazi, using the “Wolf’s Hook” sym­bol asso­ci­at­ed with the SS. With­out address­ing the issue of the Nazi sym­bol, the Chechen said he got along well with the nation­al­ists because, like him, they love their home­land and hate the Rus­sians.

    To try to bol­ster the abil­i­ties of the Ukrain­ian reg­u­lar forces and reduce Kiev’s reliance on these qua­si­le­gal para­mil­i­taries, the Unit­ed States Army is train­ing the Ukrain­ian nation­al guard. The Amer­i­cans are specif­i­cal­ly pro­hib­it­ed from giv­ing instruc­tion to mem­bers of the Azov group.

    Since the Afghan war of the 1980s, Moscow has accused the Unit­ed States of encour­ag­ing Islam­ic mil­i­tants to fight Rus­sia along its vul­ner­a­ble south­ern rim, a pol­i­cy that could deft­ly solve two prob­lems — con­tain­ing Rus­sia and dis­tract­ing mil­i­tants from the Unit­ed States. The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kady­rov, has accused the West­ern-backed Geor­gian gov­ern­ment of infil­trat­ing Islam­ic rad­i­cals into the North Cau­ca­sus, though he has not offered proof.

    In Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev and Sheikh Mansur units are most­ly Chechen, but they include Mus­lims from oth­er for­mer Sovi­et areas, such as Uzbeks and Balkars. The third unit, Crimea, is pre­dom­i­nant­ly Crimean Tatar. There is no indi­ca­tion of any Unit­ed States involve­ment with the groups.

    Along the front about sev­en miles to the east, the bat­tal­ions career about in civil­ian cars, AK-47 rifles pok­ing from the win­dows, while the reg­u­lar army holds back in a sec­ondary line of defen­sive trench­es.

    The Chechens, by all accounts, are valu­able sol­diers. Ukrain­ian com­man­ders lion­ize their skills as scouts and snipers, say­ing they slip into no-man’s land to patrol and skir­mish.

    ...

    In the inter­view, the Chechen com­man­der said his men liked to fight with lit­tle pro­tec­tive gear. “This is the way we look at it,” he said. “We believe in God, so we don’t need armored vests.”

    In the inter­view at the restau­rant, a steak­house and favorite haunt of Right Sec­tor, the Chechen said he was about 45, had fought against Rus­sia in both Chechen wars and had seen a good deal of vio­lence. When he talks about com­bat, his eyes grow dark and inscrutable.

    For the Ukraini­ans, the deci­sion to qui­et­ly open the front to fig­ures like the Chechen — who are mak­ing their way here from Europe and Cen­tral Asia — has brought some bat­tle-hard­ened men to their side. The Chechen had been liv­ing in France, and he found­ed the Chechen bat­tal­ions last fall along with Isa Munayev, an émi­gré from Chech­nya who had been liv­ing in Den­mark.

    Mr. Munayev, the Chechen said, had received approval from senior mem­bers of the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, but “there were no doc­u­ments, noth­ing was writ­ten,” he said, adding that Mr. Munayev was killed in fight­ing in Feb­ru­ary.

    Though reli­gious, the Chechen groups in east­ern Ukraine are believed to adhere to a more nation­al­ist strain of the Chechen sep­a­ratist move­ment, accord­ing to Eka­te­ri­na Siko­ri­an­ska­ia, an expert on Chech­nya with the Inter­na­tion­al Cri­sis Group.

    Not every­one is con­vinced. The French author­i­ties, on edge over Islam­ic extrem­ism in immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, detained two mem­bers of the Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion this year on accu­sa­tions of belong­ing to the extrem­ist group Islam­ic State, the Chechen said. He denied that the two were mem­bers of the group.

    ...

    ————

    “Islam­ic Bat­tal­ions, Stocked With Chechens, Aid Ukraine in War With Rebels” By Andrew E. Kramer; The New York Times; 07/07/2015

    In Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev and Sheikh Mansur units are most­ly Chechen, but they include Mus­lims from oth­er for­mer Sovi­et areas, such as Uzbeks and Balkars. The third unit, Crimea, is pre­dom­i­nant­ly Crimean Tatar. There is no indi­ca­tion of any Unit­ed States involve­ment with the groups.

    There were at least Islamist bat­tal­ions oper­at­ing in Ukrain­ian in 2015: the Dzokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion, the Sheik Mansur Bat­tal­ion, and the Crimea Bat­tal­ion. And as we can see with the Sheikh Mansur group, it sub­or­di­nate to Right Sec­tor, which was at that point not net for­mal­ly incor­po­rat­ed into the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary. And as we saw back in Sep­tem­ber of 2015, two months after the pub­li­ca­tion of this arti­cle, Right Sec­tor actu­al­ly engaged in a gun and grenade bat­tle with Kiev police in July of that year. So the same month the NY Times was report­ing on the incor­po­ra­tion of these Islamist bat­tal­ions, includ­ing one sub­or­di­nate to Right Sec­tor, Right Sec­tor was itself engage in street bat­tles with the police:

    ...
    “We like to fight the Rus­sians,” said the Chechen, who refused to give his real name. “We always fight the Rus­sians.”

    He com­mands one of three vol­un­teer Islam­ic bat­tal­ions out of about 30 vol­un­teer units in total fight­ing now in east­ern Ukraine. The Islam­ic bat­tal­ions are deployed to the hottest zones, which is why the Chechen was here.

    Fight­ing is inten­si­fy­ing around Mar­i­upol, a strate­gic sea­port and indus­tri­al hub that the sep­a­ratists have long cov­et­ed. Mon­i­tors for the Orga­ni­za­tion for Secu­ri­ty and Coop­er­a­tion in Europe say they have seen steady night­time ship­ments of Russ­ian mil­i­tary equip­ment on a rail line north of here.

    ...

    Ukrain­ian com­man­ders wor­ry that sep­a­ratist groups plan to cap­ture access roads to Mar­i­upol and lay siege to the city, which had a pre­war pop­u­la­tion of about half a mil­lion. To counter that, the city has come to rely on an assort­ment of right-wing and Islam­ic mili­tias for its defense.

    The Chechen com­mands the Sheikh Mansur group, named for an 18th-cen­tu­ry Chechen resis­tance fig­ure. It is sub­or­di­nate to the nation­al­ist Right Sec­tor, a Ukrain­ian mili­tia.

    Nei­ther the Sheikh Mansur group nor Right Sec­tor is incor­po­rat­ed into the for­mal police or mil­i­tary, and the Ukrain­ian author­i­ties decline to say how many Chechens are fight­ing in east­ern Ukraine. They are all unpaid.
    ...

    It’s also rather notable that this 2015 piece did­n’t attempt to white­wash the Nazi nature of Right Sec­tor and Azov. At the same time, when we see the asser­tion that groups like Azov were explic­it­ly not being trained the US mil­i­tary, keep in mind that we got reports indi­cat­ing the exact oppo­site sit­u­a­tion just months before this arti­cle. In oth­er words, there was still some white­wash­ing in this piece:

    ...
    Right Sec­tor, for exam­ple, formed dur­ing last year’s street protests in Kiev from a half-dozen fringe Ukrain­ian nation­al­ist groups like White Ham­mer and the Tri­dent of Stepan Ban­dera. Anoth­er, the Azov group, is open­ly neo-Nazi, using the “Wolf’s Hook” sym­bol asso­ci­at­ed with the SS. With­out address­ing the issue of the Nazi sym­bol, the Chechen said he got along well with the nation­al­ists because, like him, they love their home­land and hate the Rus­sians.

    To try to bol­ster the abil­i­ties of the Ukrain­ian reg­u­lar forces and reduce Kiev’s reliance on these qua­si­le­gal para­mil­i­taries, the Unit­ed States Army is train­ing the Ukrain­ian nation­al guard. The Amer­i­cans are specif­i­cal­ly pro­hib­it­ed from giv­ing instruc­tion to mem­bers of the Azov group.
    ...

    Now, regard­ing the con­tacts between these Chechen bat­tal­ions and the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, note how one of the lead­ers of these bat­tal­ions, Isa Munayev, appar­ent­ly received infor­mal approval of senior mem­bers of the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, although with noth­ing writ­ten down. So when it comes to the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­men­t’s poten­tial inter­ac­tions with Chechen Islamists, it appears to have been a infor­mal arrange­ment orches­trat­ed at the high­est lev­els:

    ...
    In the inter­view, the Chechen com­man­der said his men liked to fight with lit­tle pro­tec­tive gear. “This is the way we look at it,” he said. “We believe in God, so we don’t need armored vests.”

    ...

    For the Ukraini­ans, the deci­sion to qui­et­ly open the front to fig­ures like the Chechen — who are mak­ing their way here from Europe and Cen­tral Asia — has brought some bat­tle-hard­ened men to their side. The Chechen had been liv­ing in France, and he found­ed the Chechen bat­tal­ions last fall along with Isa Munayev, an émi­gré from Chech­nya who had been liv­ing in Den­mark.

    Mr. Munayev, the Chechen said, had received approval from senior mem­bers of the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, but “there were no doc­u­ments, noth­ing was writ­ten,” he said, adding that Mr. Munayev was killed in fight­ing in Feb­ru­ary.
    ...

    And that brings us to the fol­low­ing mas­sive red flag about this infor­mal arrange­ment between the Ukrain­ian state and Chechen jihadists: French author­i­ties detained two mem­bers of the Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion ear­li­er in 2015 on accu­sa­tions of belong­ing to ISIS:

    ...
    Though reli­gious, the Chechen groups in east­ern Ukraine are believed to adhere to a more nation­al­ist strain of the Chechen sep­a­ratist move­ment, accord­ing to Eka­te­ri­na Siko­ri­an­ska­ia, an expert on Chech­nya with the Inter­na­tion­al Cri­sis Group.

    Not every­one is con­vinced. The French author­i­ties, on edge over Islam­ic extrem­ism in immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, detained two mem­bers of the Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion this year on accu­sa­tions of belong­ing to the extrem­ist group Islam­ic State, the Chechen said. He denied that the two were mem­bers of the group. He com­mands one of three vol­un­teer Islam­ic bat­tal­ions out of about 30 vol­un­teer units in total fight­ing now in east­ern Ukraine. The Islam­ic bat­tal­ions are deployed to the hottest zones, which is why the Chechen was here.
    ...

    And as the fol­low­ing Feb­ru­ary 2015 piece in The Inter­cept warned at the time, the con­cerns about ISIS ties to these bat­tal­ions should­n’t be lim­it­ed to the Sheikh Mansur bat­tal­ion, itself an off­shoot of the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion. It turns out the reporter man­aged to secure an inter­view with the leader of the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion, Isa Munayev, after first get­ting in con­tact with one of Munayev’s “broth­ers” who assured the report­ed that Munayev could be trust­ed. This “broth­er” was an Islam­ic State con­tact liv­ing in Turkey.

    As the report also makes clear, Munayev’s bat­tal­ion has­n’t exact­ly been oper­at­ing qui­et­ly in Ukraine. In fact, Munayev’s deputy com­man­der, Adam Osmayev, was bro­ken out of a Ukrain­ian prison in the spring of 2014 by Munayev and a group of men. When the group was inter­dict­ed by Ukrain­ian spe­cial forces they were some­how allowed to go free after a dra­mat­ic stand­off. Months lat­er, Osmayev’s sen­tence was deemed ade­quate­ly served by an Odessa court. Also, it appears that Ihor Kolo­moisky, the oli­garch patron of Azov, made dona­tion to the bat­tal­ion that includ­ed an armored car.

    So when we read in the about NY Times piece about how Munayev had received infor­mal approval from senior mem­bers of the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, it’s worth keep­ing in mind that this infor­mal approval includ­ed approv­ing of Munayev’s armed jail break of his deputy com­man­der. It’s that kind of a infor­mal rela­tion­ship:

    The Inter­cept

    Isa Munayev’s War

    Marcin Mamon
    Feb­ru­ary 27 2015, 2:43 p.m.

    IN SEPTEMBER OF 2014, I found myself stand­ing on a nar­row, pot­holed street in Kiev, east of the Dnieper Riv­er, in an area known as the Left Bank. I didn’t even know, at that point, whom I was meet­ing. I knew only that Khalid, my con­tact in Turkey with the Islam­ic State, had told me his “broth­ers” were in Ukraine, and I could trust them.

    When one of them called me, I was giv­en the address of a small street in the Ukrain­ian cap­i­tal where I should go, and no oth­er infor­ma­tion. When I arrived, I found myself in a maze of Sovi­et apart­ment blocks. I imme­di­ate­ly noticed two well-built men walk­ing by; they were beard­ed, with black sun­glass­es and black leather jack­ets. When I looked close­ly, I could see stick­ing out of their jack­ets the bar­rels of small machine guns.

    “Kan­da­har, Kan­da­har,” one of them said into his radio, after approach­ing me.

    Could we go in? “No,” was the answer. The “com­man­der” was still busy.

    The armed men guid­ed me past rows of Sovi­et-era apart­ment build­ings, and then we wait­ed in a wide, open square among the tall, con­crete build­ings. After half an hour of wait­ing, we wove through the hous­ing com­plex until we approached a 10-sto­ry build­ing, then took the ele­va­tor up to a mid-lev­el floor and entered a small apart­ment. The sin­gle room was fur­nished with a bed, a kitchen table and two chairs.

    Sit­ting inside the small apart­ment was Isa Munayev. I rec­og­nized him imme­di­ate­ly, because he was one of the few Chechens serv­ing in Ukraine who was pho­tographed fre­quent­ly with­out a mask. He was upset, and shout­ing into the phone: “We came to die for you, and you don’t even want to do what you promised.”

    Even before he arrived in Ukraine, Munayev was well-known. He fought against Russ­ian forces in both Chechen wars; in the sec­ond, he was the com­man­der of the war in Grozny. After the Chechen cap­i­tal was cap­tured by Russ­ian forces between 1999 and 2000, Munayev and his men took refuge in the moun­tains. He fought from there until 2005, when he was seri­ous­ly injured and went to Europe for treat­ment. Munayev lived in Den­mark until 2014. Then war broke out in Ukraine, and he decid­ed it was time to fight the Rus­sians again.

    As Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratist forces began bat­tling Ukrain­ian forces, Munayev came to Ukraine and estab­lished one of what would become sev­er­al dozen pri­vate bat­tal­ions that sprang up to fight on the side of the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, oper­at­ing sep­a­rate­ly from the mil­i­tary. Munayev’s group was called the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion, named after the first pres­i­dent of inde­pen­dent Chech­nya, who was killed by Russ­ian forces in 1996. Munayev was the head of the bat­tal­ion.

    ...

    Munayev had rea­son for all the secu­ri­ty pre­cau­tions. Vladimir Putin regard­ed him as a per­son­al ene­my, and so did Ramzan Kady­rov, the Krem­lin-friend­ly leader of Chech­nya. Yet once I was inside the apart­ment, Munayev greet­ed me like an old friend, and we chat­ted casu­al­ly about friends and col­leagues we both knew from Chech­nya; some were dead, a few still alive.

    For those look­ing for an easy nar­ra­tive in today’s wars, whether in the Mid­dle East or in east­ern Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion is not the place to find it. The bat­tal­ion is not strict­ly Mus­lim, though it includes a num­ber of Mus­lims from for­mer Sovi­et republics, includ­ing Chechens who have fought on the side of the Islam­ic State in Syr­ia. It also includes many Ukraini­ans. But all are fight­ing against what they per­ceive to be a com­mon ene­my: Russ­ian aggres­sion.

    Munayev was full of ner­vous ener­gy, ges­tur­ing and talk­ing loud­ly. He rarely stood still; even in the small apart­ment, he got up fre­quent­ly, walked around and sat down again. When I asked whether I could vis­it him once he moved to the front lines, he told me to call him next time I was in Kiev.

    A few months lat­er when I returned to Ukraine, in ear­ly 2015, Munayev was no longer in Kiev. He was fight­ing in the east, in the so-called Debalt­seve “caul­dron,” which had become the cen­ter of an intense bat­tle between Ukrain­ian forces and Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists. But Munayev gave per­mis­sion for Rus­lan, a mem­ber of his bat­tal­ion, to take me to his secret base.

    ...

    We ren­dezvoused with Munayev’s men at the cross­roads of a small vil­lage, near a Sovi­et-era mon­u­ment to “work­ing women” paint­ed bright white. An armored van, sim­i­lar to one designed to car­ry cash to the bank, pulled up next to us. Ihor Kolo­moisky, a Ukrain­ian oli­garch from Dnipropetro­vsk, had giv­en the car to Munayev’s fight­ers. From there we drove togeth­er to the base.

    The Dudayev bat­tal­ion base was sit­u­at­ed in an old, dilap­i­dat­ed com­plex of build­ings, a for­mer psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal that once treat­ed drug addicts, among oth­ers. The con­di­tions were tough, but at least the main build­ing was warm, heat­ed by a wood-burn­ing oven. Fight­ers cut down the trees from around the hos­pi­tal to feed the oven.

    About 50 to 60 fight­ers were in the build­ing, at least half of them Ukraini­ans, many from the city of Cherkasy. Oth­ers came from Chech­nya, and the repub­lic of Kabardi­no-Balka­ria in the North Cau­ca­sus. There were also Crimean Tatars, Azeris and one Geor­gian from Batu­mi. All were there to defend Ukraine against Rus­sia. “I know how much this great nation needs help, and we real­ly want to help them,” Munayev said.

    Munayev also admit­ted, how­ev­er, that he hoped the weapons he got in Ukraine would end up in the hands of mil­i­tants in the Cau­ca­sus. He had a clear goal. “I defend Ukraine and Chech­nya,” he told me. “If we suc­ceed in Ukraine, then we can suc­ceed in Chech­nya.”

    In Ukraine, Munayev was seek­ing revenge for the wrongs that he and his peo­ple had suf­fered. Rus­sians had killed his father, his wife and his chil­dren. “These are the ene­mies who mur­dered my peo­ple, who took my coun­try from me,” he said. “They killed all those who were dear to us. There is no one in Chech­nya who hasn’t suf­fered at the hands of the Russ­ian army.”

    Adam Osmayev, the deputy com­man­der of the bat­tal­ion, is famous in his own right. Two years before the out­break of war in east­ern Ukraine, the British-edu­cat­ed Chechen was arrest­ed in Odessa, a port city in the south of Ukraine, on sus­pi­cion of con­spir­ing to assas­si­nate Vladimir Putin. Osmayev ini­tial­ly plead­ed guilty, but then with­drew the plea, writ­ing in a state­ment he sub­mit­ted before the court that the admis­sion was “obtained through phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal coer­cion.” Osmayev claimed that after his arrest in 2012, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ukraine’s secu­ri­ty ser­vice beat him on the head with fists, gun han­dles and rifle butts. He said they kicked him, par­tial­ly suf­fo­cat­ed him with a plas­tic bag over his head, and inject­ed him with drugs.

    In the spring of 2014, after a new Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment came to pow­er, Isa Munayev and three of his men broke Osmayev out of prison, accord­ing to Rus­lan, who was one of the fight­ers involved. On the way back to Kiev, spe­cial forces sur­round­ed them at one of the mili­tia check­points, Rus­lan said, and after a dra­mat­ic stand­off, the Ukraini­ans allowed the Chechens to go free. (There is no way to con­firm Ruslan’s account, but in the fall of 2014, the Odessa court sud­den­ly declared that Osmayev had ful­filled enough of his sen­tence and had been set free). Osmayev and Munayev came back to Kiev, and the Dudayev bat­tal­ion was cre­at­ed.

    At the time I vis­it­ed, most of the fight­ers were at the front in the vicin­i­ty of Luhan­sk. But the exact num­ber serv­ing in the bat­tal­ion is a mys­tery. Accord­ing to one source, there are 500 vol­un­teers. Assum­ing that num­ber is cor­rect, it’s a sig­nif­i­cant force, which is why it’s increas­ing­ly feared in Kiev. The bat­tal­ion is not sub­ject to any polit­i­cal leader in Kiev, or sub­or­di­nate to any polit­i­cal struc­ture there.

    The Ukrain­ian oli­garch Ihor Kolo­moisky helped cre­ate the first vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions — the Dnipro and Dnipro‑1 — each with about 500 peo­ple. For sev­er­al months, he also finan­cial­ly sup­port­ed sev­er­al oth­er bat­tal­ions, includ­ing Azov, Aidar, Don­bass, and Right Sec­tor bat­tal­ion. In the end, Kolo­moisky also invit­ed the Chechens, hop­ing they would pro­tect his busi­ness­es and fac­to­ries, if need­ed.

    Since the 1990s, Kolo­moisky has been one of the most pow­er­ful men in Ukraine. His influ­ence extends across almost the entire Ukrain­ian econ­o­my. Among oth­er com­pa­nies, he con­trols Pri­vat­Bank, the country’s largest bank, and exer­cis­es sig­nif­i­cant author­i­ty over Ukr­naf­ta, its largest oil and gas pro­duc­er. His influ­ence extends over the media through sev­er­al tele­vi­sion sta­tions, includ­ing the pop­u­lar chan­nel 1+1. The oli­garch also owns the foot­ball club Dnipro Dnipropetro­vsk.

    ...

    When Kolo­moisky saw that the Rus­sians might cap­ture Dnipropetro­vsk — where his busi­ness was cen­tered — he decid­ed to coop­er­ate with the new pres­i­dent of Ukraine, who, like him, was a busi­ness­man. Kolo­moisky also want­ed to help bail out the government’s army, which had been hob­bled by years of cor­rup­tion. After Rus­sia annexed Crimea and sep­a­ratists began fight­ing in east­ern Ukraine, Kolo­moisky announced his can­di­da­cy for the post of gov­er­nor of Dnipropetro­vsk. He was imme­di­ate­ly appoint­ed to the posi­tion.

    When the Rus­sians stopped approx­i­mate­ly 120 miles short of Dnipropetro­vsk, Kolo­moisky sud­den­ly lost inter­est and stopped pay­ing the vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions. The Right Sec­tor bat­tal­ion respond­ed by seiz­ing his prop­er­ty, but Munayev couldn’t do that. He was a for­eign­er, and feared the Ukrain­ian author­i­ties would regard his bat­tal­ion as an ille­gal armed group, then dis­band it. Munayev was bit­ter, but would not open­ly speak ill of the author­i­ties in Kiev. The Ukrain­ian peo­ple were still help­ing his fight­ers.

    There are three vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Mus­lim fight­ers oper­at­ing in Ukraine today (it would be wrong to describe any of the bat­tal­ions as “Mus­lim,” since they also include Ukraini­ans and oth­er nation­al­i­ties). The Dudayev bat­tal­ion oper­ates between Donet­sk and Luhan­sk, the Sheikh Man­sour bat­tal­ion, which broke off from the Dudayev bat­tal­ion, is based close to Mar­i­upol, in the south­east of Ukraine, and in the north­east is the Crimea bat­tal­ion, based in Kre­ma­torsk, which con­sists most­ly of Crimean Tatars. (There is also a sep­a­rate com­pa­ny of Crimean Tatar fight­ers that oper­ate as part of a sot­nya, a Slav­ic term for “hun­dred.”)

    From time to time, Munayev met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Ukrain­ian Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice, known as the SBU. The Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment and Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko fear that Chechens — along with oth­er branch­es of vol­un­tary bat­tal­ions dis­sat­is­fied with the devel­op­ments in Ukraine — could one day threat­en the gov­ern­ment in Kiev.

    That con­cern isn’t total­ly with­out mer­it. “It doesn’t mat­ter whether the Ukrain­ian author­i­ties help us or not,” a com­man­der from the Tatar bat­tal­ion told me. “Now we have weapons and we will nev­er giv­en them up.”

    That com­man­der recent­ly arrived in Ukraine from Syr­ia. He wants to fight to free Crimea, which he does not believe Ukraine will ever recov­er through nego­ti­a­tions. “It can be done only by force, with weapons in hand,” he said.

    IN THE END, I spent three days at the base with Munayev. As a vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion, the rela­tion­ship between com­man­der and fight­ers relies on mutu­al trust, rather than tra­di­tion­al mil­i­tary struc­tures. The vol­un­teers weren’t there because they were paid sol­diers or con­scripts; they were there because they believed in Munayev’s instincts and abil­i­ties as a com­man­der. And Munayev believed in them. “These are my fight­ers,” he said at one point. “These won­der­ful, beau­ti­ful young men.”

    ...

    Munayev went to bat­tle for the last time on Jan. 26. He went to Debalt­seve, which the sep­a­ratists took in Feb­ru­ary fol­low­ing an intense bat­tle that left much of the city in ruins. Before get­ting into the white armored van that last day, he told me the same thing he told his fight­ers — that he didn’t know when he would return. “We are going deep behind ene­my lines,” he said. “I hope every­thing will be fine. If we die, at least we die as sol­diers, and not as slaves.”

    Munayev didn’t return. What hap­pened next depends on whom you believe. There are sus­pi­cions that his loca­tion was betrayed to the Rus­sians. But one of the fight­ers I spoke with, a Chechen who came to Ukraine with a Turk­ish pass­port, does not believe that. Accord­ing to his account, on Feb. 1 Munayev’s group went to help the vol­un­teer Don­bass bat­tal­ion fight­ing near Debalt­seve. Most of the fight­ers stayed at the Ukrain­ian posi­tions, but Munayev took four fight­ers and went on a scout­ing mis­sion. He want­ed to get to the rear of the ene­my. They walked a lit­tle over 2 miles into “no man’s land,” between the two sides.

    They came to a small vil­lage called Cher­nukhi­no, where they stum­bled upon Russ­ian sol­diers. There was shoot­ing, and the Chechens killed a few Rus­sians — the rest of the Rus­sians with­drew. The Rus­sians, how­ev­er, man­aged to give the village’s coor­di­nates to their artillery, and soon all hell broke loose. At the same time, the assault began on Debalt­seve, which was defend­ed by the Ukrain­ian army, as well as vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions includ­ing Don­bass and Dudayev.

    The five light­ly armed Dudayev fight­ers were attacked by infantry and tanks, and so they fled. They came upon a court­yard, where they saw a build­ing with a shop. Munayev emp­tied some rounds into the front door and ordered his men to take refuge inside. When the last one entered, there was an explo­sion. The room filled with clouds of black smoke. When the dust set­tled, the com­man­der of the mil­i­tants was lying at the entrance to the build­ing. Munayev had been hit by shrap­nel from a tank shell, and had a large gap­ing wound. Munayev, who had sur­vived two bru­tal wars in Chech­nya, died instant­ly. He was 49 years old.

    What hap­pened next is even more con­tro­ver­sial. The commander’s body was left on the bat­tle­field, some­thing strict­ly pro­hib­it­ed by the Chechen hon­or code. I spoke with a fight­er from the Chechen bat­tal­ion of Sheikh Man­sour, which broke away from Munayev’s branch a few months ago. Rela­tions between the two bat­tal­ions are not good.

    He didn’t want to talk about the death of Munayev, or why the com­man­der was left on the bat­tle­field. Ask the peo­ple “who were with Isa in his last moments,” the fight­er said when I asked him about it. “Of course we know what hap­pened, but it is not our busi­ness.”

    Munayev’s fight­ers said they didn’t take him from the bat­tle­field because they were too far from the Ukrain­ian posi­tions, and wouldn’t have been able to car­ry the body. They were con­vinced that no one would escape alive. Flee­ing, they had to jump over fences, walls and some­times on top of the roofs of hous­es. In the evening, they came to the trench­es of the Don­bass Bat­tal­ion.

    Before Munayev left the base for the last time, I had asked him what he thought of the Chechens fight­ing in Syr­ia along­side ISIS and oth­er Islam­ic orga­ni­za­tions. What were they fight­ing for there?

    “I don’t know what they’re fight­ing for, but I know what I’m fight­ing for,” he answered. “I fight for free­dom.”

    ...

    ———–

    “Isa Munayev’s War” by Marcin Mamon; The Inter­cept; 02/27/2015

    ” IN SEPTEMBER OF 2014, I found myself stand­ing on a nar­row, pot­holed street in Kiev, east of the Dnieper Riv­er, in an area known as the Left Bank. I didn’t even know, at that point, whom I was meet­ing. I knew only that Khalid, my con­tact in Turkey with the Islam­ic State, had told me his “broth­ers” were in Ukraine, and I could trust them.

    This piece, writ­ten in Feb­ru­ary 2015, three months before the about NY Times piece, starts off with the reporter get­ting an invi­ta­tion from an Islam­ic State con­tact in Turkey to meet with one of the con­tac­t’s “broth­ers” in Ukraine. They then trav­el to Ukraine to meet Isa Munayev, founder of the Dzokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion. And the same fig­ure who, accord­ing to the NY Times piece, has an infor­mal agree­ment with the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment at the high­est lev­els. So, as we saw above, the French author­i­ties accused two mem­bers of the Sheik Mansur bat­tal­ion — which broke off from the Dhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion — of ISIS ties in ear­ly 2015. And here we have anoth­er jour­nal­ist get­ting put in con­tact with the founder of the Dhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion via one of his Islam­ic State “broth­ers”:

    ...
    When one of them called me, I was giv­en the address of a small street in the Ukrain­ian cap­i­tal where I should go, and no oth­er infor­ma­tion. When I arrived, I found myself in a maze of Sovi­et apart­ment blocks. I imme­di­ate­ly noticed two well-built men walk­ing by; they were beard­ed, with black sun­glass­es and black leather jack­ets. When I looked close­ly, I could see stick­ing out of their jack­ets the bar­rels of small machine guns.

    ...

    Sit­ting inside the small apart­ment was Isa Munayev. I rec­og­nized him imme­di­ate­ly, because he was one of the few Chechens serv­ing in Ukraine who was pho­tographed fre­quent­ly with­out a mask. He was upset, and shout­ing into the phone: “We came to die for you, and you don’t even want to do what you promised.”

    ...

    As Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratist forces began bat­tling Ukrain­ian forces, Munayev came to Ukraine and estab­lished one of what would become sev­er­al dozen pri­vate bat­tal­ions that sprang up to fight on the side of the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, oper­at­ing sep­a­rate­ly from the mil­i­tary. Munayev’s group was called the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion, named after the first pres­i­dent of inde­pen­dent Chech­nya, who was killed by Russ­ian forces in 1996. Munayev was the head of the bat­tal­ion.
    ...

    So when did the Chechens reach their infor­mal arrange­ment with the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment? Well, it appears to have been in place by the spring of 2014. At least that’s how it appeared based on the recount­ing of how Adam Osmayev, the deputy com­man­der of the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion, was bro­ken out of prison by Munayev and some­one allowed to go free after a dra­mat­ic stand­off with spe­cial forces at a mili­tia check­point. And in the fall of 2014, an Odessa court ruled that Osamyev had ful­filled enough of his sen­tence to be set free. Osmayev and Munayev then returned to Kiev to start the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion:

    ...
    Adam Osmayev, the deputy com­man­der of the bat­tal­ion, is famous in his own right. Two years before the out­break of war in east­ern Ukraine, the British-edu­cat­ed Chechen was arrest­ed in Odessa, a port city in the south of Ukraine, on sus­pi­cion of con­spir­ing to assas­si­nate Vladimir Putin. Osmayev ini­tial­ly plead­ed guilty, but then with­drew the plea, writ­ing in a state­ment he sub­mit­ted before the court that the admis­sion was “obtained through phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal coer­cion.” Osmayev claimed that after his arrest in 2012, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ukraine’s secu­ri­ty ser­vice beat him on the head with fists, gun han­dles and rifle butts. He said they kicked him, par­tial­ly suf­fo­cat­ed him with a plas­tic bag over his head, and inject­ed him with drugs.

    In the spring of 2014, after a new Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment came to pow­er, Isa Munayev and three of his men broke Osmayev out of prison, accord­ing to Rus­lan, who was one of the fight­ers involved. On the way back to Kiev, spe­cial forces sur­round­ed them at one of the mili­tia check­points, Rus­lan said, and after a dra­mat­ic stand­off, the Ukraini­ans allowed the Chechens to go free. (There is no way to con­firm Ruslan’s account, but in the fall of 2014, the Odessa court sud­den­ly declared that Osmayev had ful­filled enough of his sen­tence and had been set free). Osmayev and Munayev came back to Kiev, and the Dudayev bat­tal­ion was cre­at­ed.
    ...

    We’re also told that Munayev had met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the SBU from time to time. Which is pre­sum­ably how the infor­mal arrange­ment with the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment is man­aged. So we have SBU con­tacts with the ISIS affil­i­at­ed lead­ers of Chechen bat­tal­ions. This was 2015. What do those con­tacts look like in 2024?

    ...
    From time to time, Munayev met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Ukrain­ian Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice, known as the SBU. The Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment and Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko fear that Chechens — along with oth­er branch­es of vol­un­tary bat­tal­ions dis­sat­is­fied with the devel­op­ments in Ukraine — could one day threat­en the gov­ern­ment in Kiev.

    That con­cern isn’t total­ly with­out mer­it. “It doesn’t mat­ter whether the Ukrain­ian author­i­ties help us or not,” a com­man­der from the Tatar bat­tal­ion told me. “Now we have weapons and we will nev­er giv­en them up.”
    ...

    And it appears these bat­tal­ions have had infor­mal arrange­ments with more than just senior Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cials. Ihor Kolo­moisky, a key patron of mul­ti­ple vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions, includ­ing the Azov bat­tal­ion. Munayev’s fight­ers were receiv­ing gifts from Kolo­moisky too. Like an armored car:

    ...
    A few months lat­er when I returned to Ukraine, in ear­ly 2015, Munayev was no longer in Kiev. He was fight­ing in the east, in the so-called Debalt­seve “caul­dron,” which had become the cen­ter of an intense bat­tle between Ukrain­ian forces and Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists. But Munayev gave per­mis­sion for Rus­lan, a mem­ber of his bat­tal­ion, to take me to his secret base.

    ...

    We ren­dezvoused with Munayev’s men at the cross­roads of a small vil­lage, near a Sovi­et-era mon­u­ment to “work­ing women” paint­ed bright white. An armored van, sim­i­lar to one designed to car­ry cash to the bank, pulled up next to us. Ihor Kolo­moisky, a Ukrain­ian oli­garch from Dnipropetro­vsk, had giv­en the car to Munayev’s fight­ers. From there we drove togeth­er to the base.

    The Dudayev bat­tal­ion base was sit­u­at­ed in an old, dilap­i­dat­ed com­plex of build­ings, a for­mer psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal that once treat­ed drug addicts, among oth­ers. The con­di­tions were tough, but at least the main build­ing was warm, heat­ed by a wood-burn­ing oven. Fight­ers cut down the trees from around the hos­pi­tal to feed the oven.

    About 50 to 60 fight­ers were in the build­ing, at least half of them Ukraini­ans, many from the city of Cherkasy. Oth­ers came from Chech­nya, and the repub­lic of Kabardi­no-Balka­ria in the North Cau­ca­sus. There were also Crimean Tatars, Azeris and one Geor­gian from Batu­mi. All were there to defend Ukraine against Rus­sia. “I know how much this great nation needs help, and we real­ly want to help them,” Munayev said.

    ...

    At the time I vis­it­ed, most of the fight­ers were at the front in the vicin­i­ty of Luhan­sk. But the exact num­ber serv­ing in the bat­tal­ion is a mys­tery. Accord­ing to one source, there are 500 vol­un­teers. Assum­ing that num­ber is cor­rect, it’s a sig­nif­i­cant force, which is why it’s increas­ing­ly feared in Kiev. The bat­tal­ion is not sub­ject to any polit­i­cal leader in Kiev, or sub­or­di­nate to any polit­i­cal struc­ture there.

    The Ukrain­ian oli­garch Ihor Kolo­moisky helped cre­ate the first vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions — the Dnipro and Dnipro‑1 — each with about 500 peo­ple. For sev­er­al months, he also finan­cial­ly sup­port­ed sev­er­al oth­er bat­tal­ions, includ­ing Azov, Aidar, Don­bass, and Right Sec­tor bat­tal­ion. In the end, Kolo­moisky also invit­ed the Chechens, hop­ing they would pro­tect his busi­ness­es and fac­to­ries, if need­ed.
    ...

    Also note how the Sheikh Man­sour bat­tal­ion, which broke off from the Dudayev bat­tal­ion, is based close to Mar­i­upol, the long­time head­quar­ters of Azov. So while the Sheik Man­sour bat­tal­ion was tech­ni­cal­ly sub­or­di­nate to Right Sec­tor, it undoubt­ed­ly had exten­sive Azov con­tacts from that area:

    ...
    There are three vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Mus­lim fight­ers oper­at­ing in Ukraine today (it would be wrong to describe any of the bat­tal­ions as “Mus­lim,” since they also include Ukraini­ans and oth­er nation­al­i­ties). The Dudayev bat­tal­ion oper­ates between Donet­sk and Luhan­sk, the Sheikh Man­sour bat­tal­ion, which broke off from the Dudayev bat­tal­ion, is based close to Mar­i­upol, in the south­east of Ukraine, and in the north­east is the Crimea bat­tal­ion, based in Kre­ma­torsk, which con­sists most­ly of Crimean Tatars. (There is also a sep­a­rate com­pa­ny of Crimean Tatar fight­ers that oper­ate as part of a sot­nya, a Slav­ic term for “hun­dred.”)
    ...

    Also note that while the Dzokhar Dudayev and Sheik Man­sour bat­tal­ion are pri­ma­ry com­prised of Chechen fight­ers, they weren’t exclu­sive­ly Chechen. A num­ber of Ukraini­ans serve in the bat­tal­ion:

    ...
    For those look­ing for an easy nar­ra­tive in today’s wars, whether in the Mid­dle East or in east­ern Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion is not the place to find it. The bat­tal­ion is not strict­ly Mus­lim, though it includes a num­ber of Mus­lims from for­mer Sovi­et republics, includ­ing Chechens who have fought on the side of the Islam­ic State in Syr­ia. It also includes many Ukraini­ans. But all are fight­ing against what they per­ceive to be a com­mon ene­my: Russ­ian aggres­sion.
    ...

    And that was the state of affair in 2015. What about now? Are the units still in oper­a­tion? And what about the fact that groups like Right Sec­tor have now been for­mal­ly incor­po­rat­ed into the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary? And how many Ukraini­ans are there serv­ing in these units today? These are some of the ques­tions that now linger over the inves­ti­ga­tion into the Moscow con­cert hall attack by a group of ISIS-recruit­ed gun­men who man­aged to almost escape into Ukraine. So it’s worth not­ing that we can at least answer the very basic ques­tion as to whether or not these bat­tal­ions are still in oper­a­tion. The answer is yes. For exam­ple, here’s a Sep­tem­ber 2022 NPR report describ­ing the Sheikh Mansur Bat­tal­ion as one of at least two Chechen bat­tal­ions oper­at­ing in Ukraine:

    Nation­al Pub­lic Radio

    Meet the Chechen bat­tal­ion join­ing Ukraine to fight Rus­sia — and fel­low Chechens

    Sep­tem­ber 5, 2022 7:00 AM ET

    By Emi­ly Feng, Katery­na Mal­ofieie­va

    ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Mansur was 13 when Russ­ian sol­diers destroyed his vil­lage of Samash­ki dur­ing Chech­nya’s first war for inde­pen­dence against Rus­sia.

    Wield­ing flamethrow­ers, the Rus­sians burned Mansur’s neigh­bors alive in their homes, threw grenades into base­ments and exe­cut­ed men. Four years lat­er, a truce dis­in­te­grat­ed, and Mansur was back at war. He says he was nev­er the same after.

    “Rus­sia ruined every­thing I had. I grew up with war, and the war shaped me in all respects,” Mansur, 40, says mat­ter-of-fact­ly.

    Mansur is one of more than 200,000 Chechens who fled to Turkey and Europe through­out the 2000s dur­ing a sec­ond war between Russ­ian fed­er­al forces and fight­ers in Chech­nya, a repub­lic in far south­ern Rus­sia.

    Leav­ing his home did­n’t mean giv­ing up on his fight against Rus­sia. “If I had been born in Amer­i­ca or Cana­da, I would­n’t come here to Ukraine. But because Rus­sia took every­thing from me, I have to resist. Noth­ing else mat­ters,” Mansur says.

    Today, Mansur is the deputy com­man­der of the Sheikh Mansur Bat­tal­ion (no rela­tion), one of at least two all-Chechen bat­tal­ions fight­ing in Ukraine against Rus­sia. These Chechens are among the 20,000 for­eign fight­ers that the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment esti­mat­ed to have joined its forces as of ear­ly March, near the start of Rus­si­a’s inva­sion of Ukraine.

    The Chechens say they are ready to fight Russ­ian forces as well as against the oth­er eth­nic Chechen sol­diers who have been sent to fight on behalf of Rus­sia.

    The pro-Kyiv Chechen fight­ers who spoke with NPR refused to dis­close their num­bers in Ukraine, cit­ing secu­ri­ty con­cerns, espe­cial­ly from Krem­lin-backed Chechens. That is also why they gave only their first names or no name at all. But they do say their bat­tal­ion num­bers at least in the hun­dreds of men — all shaped by trau­ma and dri­ven by hatred of Rus­sia.

    ...

    ————

    “Meet the Chechen bat­tal­ion join­ing Ukraine to fight Rus­sia — and fel­low Chechens” By Emi­ly Feng, Katery­na Mal­ofieie­va; Nation­al Pub­lic Radio; 09/05/2022

    Today, Mansur is the deputy com­man­der of the Sheikh Mansur Bat­tal­ion (no rela­tion), one of at least two all-Chechen bat­tal­ions fight­ing in Ukraine against Rus­sia. These Chechens are among the 20,000 for­eign fight­ers that the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment esti­mat­ed to have joined its forces as of ear­ly March, near the start of Rus­si­a’s inva­sion of Ukraine.”

    So the Sheikh Mansur Bat­tal­ion was oper­at­ing as of Sep­tem­ber of 2022, and is pre­sum­ably still active to this day. How about the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion? Yep, it’s still active. And as the fol­low­ing Jan 2023 piece notes, it’s still being led by Adam Osmaev, the same per­son bro­ken out of a Ukrain­ian prison in the spring of 2014 by Isa Munayev:

    The Guardian

    ‘We’re fight­ing for a free future’: the Chechen bat­tal­ions sid­ing with Kyiv

    Fight­ers of Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion oppose Putin and his strong­man Ramzan Kady­rov as they bat­tle with Ukrain­ian prej­u­dice

    Daniel Bof­fey in Kyiv
    Mon 30 Jan 2023 00.00 EST

    For all their efforts fight­ing for Ukraine in the east­ern city of Bakhmut, if the Chechen vol­un­teers’ Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion was a foot­ball club it would be Mill­wall. Nobody likes us, their fans sing, and “we don’t care”, says Tor, 38, with a laugh.

    “Once I heard from one Ukrain­ian: ‘You can do what do you want here in Ukraine, but you will still in our opin­ion be ter­ror­ists and gang­sters,’” says the Chechen pri­vate, who asked to be iden­ti­fied only by his call sign. “And I said: ‘You know what [is] the dif­fer­ence between me and you, or my nation and yours? We don’t care what Ukraini­ans think about us, we don’t care what Amer­i­cans, Rus­sians or British think of us. In truth, we do not care what the Chechens think of us.’ Yeah. We have to do what we have to do, you know.”

    The Krem­lin-backed Ramzan Kadyrov’s infa­mous Chechen mili­tia is a well-known enti­ty. Dis­parag­ing­ly known as the Tik­Tok army for their ten­den­cy to per­form mil­i­tary the­atrics on cam­era for the pur­pose of social media shares, their main claim to fame is a record of ter­ror­is­ing civil­ians abroad and at home, where Kady­rov rules through cru­el­ty and fear.

    Less well known, per­haps, are the three Chechen bat­tal­ions on the Ukrain­ian side, fight­ing on the most gru­elling and bloody front­lines, unlike Kadyrov’s troops, who appear to have been dropped to the rear.

    The Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion is one of those fight­ing with Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Ukrain­ian forces, as they have since Rus­sia first invad­ed east­ern Ukraine and ille­gal­ly annexed Crimea in 2014. Named after the first post-Sovi­et pres­i­dent of inde­pen­dent Chech­nya, known as the Repub­lic of Ichk­e­ria, it was cre­at­ed as a “peace­keep­ing bat­tal­ion – so rest in peace, Rus­sians,” says Tor.

    Many of their fight­ers are first- or sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Chechen émi­grés who fled Kadyrov’s tyran­ni­cal rule when he emerged as Putin’s strong­man out of the post-Sovi­et Chechen wars waged by Moscow as it sought to kill off inde­pen­dence.

    The Chechens say they are fight­ing for Ukraine as it has come to rep­re­sent the best chance to free those nations under what they describe as “the Russ­ian yoke”. Those of them who have lived in Ukraine for a while add that the coun­try also offers them the free­dom to prac­tise their Mus­lim faith.

    The per­cep­tion of Chechens inside Ukraine is “very bad”, says Tor, poi­soned by the rep­u­ta­tion of Kadyrov’s regime and the pro­pa­gan­da pumped out by Moscow, includ­ing over the sup­posed threat of “rad­i­cal Islamism” that they are said to pose. “For more than 30 years, non­stop pro­pa­gan­da against us. [They say] we are bar­bar­ians, we are ani­mals, we are preda­tors, we can­not speak nor­mal­ly.”

    The bat­tal­ion oper­ates under the com­mand of the Ukrain­ian army but they are not recip­i­ents of any of the defence bud­get. Its club­house, in a base­ment in a build­ing in Kyiv, is lit­tered with pick­led veg­eta­bles, flak jack­ets, a machine gun and even a Star­link satel­lite dish. They are con­stant­ly seek­ing fur­ther dona­tions. A som­brero hang­ing on a coat hook cuts an anom­alous sight. “We have a Mex­i­can donor,” says Tor. “He has been here a cou­ple of times, he donat­ed two cars.”

    There is a fur­ther pecu­liar­i­ty. The bat­tal­ion com­man­der is Adam Osmaev, 41, a for­mer pupil of Wycliffe Col­lege, a pres­ti­gious pub­lic school in the Cotswolds, and a one-time stu­dent of eco­nom­ics at Buck­ing­ham Uni­ver­si­ty.

    Born in the Chechen cap­i­tal, Grozny, Osmaev is the son of a high-rank­ing offi­cial in Chechnya’s Sovi­et-era oil indus­try. Osmaev was sent to Eng­land at the age of 13. He pulled out of uni­ver­si­ty to join the fight against Rus­sia when the Chechen war broke out in 1999.

    He keeps an under­stand­ably low pro­file today. In Octo­ber 2017, Osmaev was wound­ed and his wife, a sniper in the bat­tal­ion, was killed when sus­pect­ed Russ­ian secret ser­vice agents opened fire on them with a Kalash­nikov rifle as they returned by car to their house out­side Kyiv.

    “He’s very good per­son and he’s pro­fes­sion­al,” says Tor. “He’s real­ly pro­fes­sion­al. A very moti­vat­ed guy who is fight­ing for inde­pen­dence of Ukraine, who still has a strong belief that soon­er or lat­er Chech­nya will be inde­pen­dent. We know he’s a very just man, calm and qui­et. A real offi­cer.”

    ...

    ———–

    “‘We’re fight­ing for a free future’: the Chechen bat­tal­ions sid­ing with Kyiv” by Daniel Bof­fey; The Guardian; 01/30/2023

    The Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion is one of those fight­ing with Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Ukrain­ian forces, as they have since Rus­sia first invad­ed east­ern Ukraine and ille­gal­ly annexed Crimea in 2014. Named after the first post-Sovi­et pres­i­dent of inde­pen­dent Chech­nya, known as the Repub­lic of Ichk­e­ria, it was cre­at­ed as a “peace­keep­ing bat­tal­ion – so rest in peace, Rus­sians,” says Tor.”

    The death of Isa Munayev did­n’t mark the end of the Dzhokhar Dudayev bat­tal­ion. It’s still in oper­a­tion and still under the com­mand of Munayev’s deputy Adam Asmaev, who was bro­ken out of a Ukrain­ian prison in 2014 and allowed to get away:

    ...
    The bat­tal­ion oper­ates under the com­mand of the Ukrain­ian army but they are not recip­i­ents of any of the defence bud­get. Its club­house, in a base­ment in a build­ing in Kyiv, is lit­tered with pick­led veg­eta­bles, flak jack­ets, a machine gun and even a Star­link satel­lite dish. They are con­stant­ly seek­ing fur­ther dona­tions. A som­brero hang­ing on a coat hook cuts an anom­alous sight. “We have a Mex­i­can donor,” says Tor. “He has been here a cou­ple of times, he donat­ed two cars.”

    There is a fur­ther pecu­liar­i­ty. The bat­tal­ion com­man­der is Adam Osmaev, 41, a for­mer pupil of Wycliffe Col­lege, a pres­ti­gious pub­lic school in the Cotswolds, and a one-time stu­dent of eco­nom­ics at Buck­ing­ham Uni­ver­si­ty.
    ...

    Does Adam Osmayev have the same ISIS “broth­ers” as Isa Munayev? We don’t know but it’s hard to imag­ine he does­n’t. Again, don’t for­get that Ukraine’s ISIS pres­ence appears to have increased since the fall of the caliphate. That’s how the coun­try became a kind of ISIS safe­house by 2019. There were a lot of red flags about ISIS ties already by 2015, almost a decade ago. Red flags that are pre­sum­ably a lot big­ger and blood­i­er today.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 28, 2024, 4:56 pm
  6. Fol­low­ing up on the remark­able sto­ry of Omar Al-Shis­hani, the Geor­gian-Chechen ISIS leader who sur­prised the world back in 2019 when he appeared in a Kiev court­room fol­low­ing an arrest by Ukraine’s SBU in a joint oper­a­tion with the CIA after hav­ing been thought to have died in 2016, here’s a set of arti­cles that take a clos­er look at Shis­hani’s alleged death.

    Or, alleged deaths, as the case may be. Yes, it turns out Al-Shis­hani was first declared dead in March of 2016 fol­low­ing a tar­get­ed US airstrike as part of a cam­paign tar­get­ing ISIS lead­ers. It was the Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights that informed the world that Al-Shis­hani died in a Raqqa hos­pi­tal. The claims were backed by the US-led coali­tion forces and an anony­mous Iraqi intel­li­gence offi­cer. The one group deny­ing Shis­hani was killed, or even wound­ed, was the ISIS-affil­i­at­ed Aamaq news agency cit­ing an unnamed source.

    Then, in July of 2016, the US announced an update: Shis­hani did indeed surive the March attack, but he had just been struck again in a new tar­get­ed US attack. Inter­est­ing­ly, while the US did not con­firm his death this time, it was ISIS doing the con­firm­ing. That’s all part of the amaze­ment around his sud­den appear­ance in Ukraine three years lat­er and learn­ing that he had been liv­ing in Kyiv, and even coor­di­nat­ing ISIS attacks, dur­ing his time there.

    But that’s not the only remark­able part of Shis­hani’s back­ground. It also turns out he was trained by US spe­cial forces from 2006–2010 while he was a mem­ber of Geor­gian mil­i­tary. In fact, he was con­sid­ered a star pupil and when the 2008 con­flict with Rus­sia broke out he became a star sol­dier. But, in 2010, Shis­hani was arrest­ed for ille­gal­ly pos­sess­ing weapons and sen­tenced to 15 months in prison.

    Upon his release from prison in 2012 at the end of his sen­tence, Shis­hani fled to Syr­ia through Turkey. Of course, 2012 also hap­pens to be the year the now infa­mous declas­si­fied August 2012 DIA doc­u­ment pre­dict­ing, and wel­com­ing, the rise of a “Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty” in east­ern Syr­ia as part of the West­ern-backed regime change oper­a­tion. In oth­er words, Shis­hani’s deci­sion to trav­el to Syr­ia — and take large num­bers of fight­ers with him — was pre­sum­ably also wel­comed by the West. Very qui­et­ly wel­comed.

    It’s a remark­able per­son­al arc: he get’s elite train­ing by US spe­cial forces. Then he spends 15 months in a Geor­gian prison over ille­gal weapons, only to trav­el to Syr­ia in 2012 upon his release and join the jihadist rebel groups. He man­ages to become one of the lead­ing ISIS mil­i­tary com­man­ders, only to be fake killed twice in 2016. He then man­ages to set up shop in Kyiv, where he report­ed­ly coor­di­nat­ed ISIS attacks, only to be revealed to the world in 2019 when he shows up in Kyiv court­room after being arrest­ed in a joint SBU/CIA oper­a­tion. What role he may have played in the Ukrain­ian civ­il war before his arrest remains unclear, but giv­en the pres­ence of mul­ti­ple Chechen bat­tal­ions with ISIS ties fight­ing on behalf of Ukraine, it’s not hard to imag­ine he may have been assist­ing the Ukrain­ian war effort in one way or anoth­er as the price of his res­i­den­cy. At this point so lit­tle is know about what exact­ly brought about his arrest that we can only spec­u­late. But boy is there a lot to spec­u­late about.

    Oh, and get this: his wikipedia page, as of today, list him as hav­ing died in July 2016. Some­one did­n’t get the memo.

    Ok, first, here’s a look at a 2015 Busi­ness Insid­er piece cov­er­ing how, before Omar al-Shis­hani was an ISIS com­man­der, he was the star pupil of a US spe­cial forces Geor­gian train­ing pro­gram. And then the star sol­dier dur­ing the 2008 Geor­gian con­flict:

    Busi­ness Insid­er

    One of ISIS’ top com­man­ders was a ‘star pupil’ of US-spe­cial forces train­ing in the coun­try of Geor­gia

    Jere­my Ben­der
    Sep 17, 2015, 11:57 AM CDT

    Aside from ISIS’ ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di, the Geor­gian ex-com­man­do Omar al-Shis­hani might be the most rec­og­niz­able and pop­u­lar of the pow­er­ful mil­i­tant group’s lead­ers.

    Sport­ing a rec­og­niz­able red beard and hap­py to pose for pho­tos, Shis­hani has act­ed as a very pub­lic face for some of ISIS’ most noto­ri­ous suc­cess­es.

    It was Shis­hani who posed with the stolen US Humvees that ISIS had seized from Mosul and brought back into Syr­ia.

    And it was Shis­hani who had led suc­cess­ful ISIS mil­i­tary cam­paigns through­out Syr­ia as well as a blitz through west­ern Iraq that put the group with­in 100 miles of Bagh­dad.

    These mil­i­tary suc­cess­es are not sim­ply the result of any innate mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties. Instead, Shis­hani spent years con­duct­ing mil­i­tary cam­paigns against the Rus­sians, first as a Chechen rebel and then as a sol­dier in the Geor­gian mil­i­tary. Dur­ing Shis­hani’s four years in the mil­i­tary, from 2006 to 2010, his unit received some degree of train­ing from Amer­i­can spe­cial forces units.

    “He was a per­fect sol­dier from his first days, and every­one knew he was a star,” an unnamed for­mer com­rade who is still active in the Geor­gian mil­i­tary told McClatchy DC. “We were well trained by Amer­i­can spe­cial forces units, and he was the star pupil.”

    “We trained him well, and we had lots of help from Amer­i­ca,” anoth­er anony­mous Geor­gian defense offi­cial told McClatchy about Shis­hani. “In fact, the only rea­son he didn’t go to Iraq to fight along­side Amer­i­ca was that we need­ed his skills here in Geor­gia.

    In 2008, when Rus­sia and Geor­gia briefly went to war over the Geor­gian break­away province of South Osse­tia, Shis­hani report­ed­ly was a star sol­dier. Although Rus­sia quick­ly won the war, Shis­hani and his spe­cial forces unit caused asym­met­ri­cal dam­age to the invad­ing Russ­ian forces, includ­ing the wound­ing of the Russ­ian com­man­der of the 58th Army.

    Shis­hani ulti­mate­ly fell out of favor with the Geor­gian mil­i­tary and was arrest­ed for 15 months for ille­gal­ly har­bor­ing weapons. In 2012, after serv­ing his sen­tence, Shis­hani fled Geor­gia and went to Syr­ia via Turkey.

    ...

    “Shis­hani is some­what unique among ISIS’s com­man­ders. Shis­hani is fight­ing like an insur­gent,” Dav­eed Garten­stein-Ross, a senior fel­low at the Foun­da­tion for Defense of Democ­ra­cies, told Mus­ings on Iraq. “He’s using a com­plex style in Anbar [province in west­ern Iraq], rely­ing on a very small force ... Shishani’s forces empha­size speed and agili­ty.”

    “They’ll hit mul­ti­ple tar­gets on the same day, and engage in harass­ing attacks to try to draw out the ene­my, the Iraqi Secu­ri­ty Forces or the Sah­wa [Sun­ni tribes aligned against ISIS in Iraq]. Then he loves trap­ping the peo­ple he’s able to draw out that are in pur­suit of him.”

    ...

    And more con­cern­ing is that even if ISIS were to lose ground, there is no clear indi­ca­tion that it would make Shis­hani any less dan­ger­ous. Hav­ing trained and spe­cial­ized in insur­gent-like, asym­met­ri­cal war­fare, Shis­hani would be just as much of a dan­ger to Iraq even should ISIS begin to lose ter­ri­to­ry.

    ———

    “One of ISIS’ top com­man­ders was a ‘star pupil’ of US-spe­cial forces train­ing in the coun­try of Geor­gia” by Jere­my Ben­der; Busi­ness Insid­er; 09/17/2015

    “These mil­i­tary suc­cess­es are not sim­ply the result of any innate mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties. Instead, Shis­hani spent years con­duct­ing mil­i­tary cam­paigns against the Rus­sians, first as a Chechen rebel and then as a sol­dier in the Geor­gian mil­i­tary. Dur­ing Shis­hani’s four years in the mil­i­tary, from 2006 to 2010, his unit received some degree of train­ing from Amer­i­can spe­cial forces units.

    It’s quite a back­ground for a lead­ing ISIS com­man­der: Omar al-Shis­hani received US spe­cial forces train­ing from 2006 to 2010. Train­ing deployed dur­ing the brief war between Rus­sia and George in 2008. Shis­hani’s skills were so val­ued by his US instruc­tors that, accord­ing on one anony­mous Geor­gian defense offi­cial, “the only rea­son he didn’t go to Iraq to fight along­side Amer­i­ca was that we need­ed his skills here in Geor­gia”:

    ...
    “He was a per­fect sol­dier from his first days, and every­one knew he was a star,” an unnamed for­mer com­rade who is still active in the Geor­gian mil­i­tary told McClatchy DC. “We were well trained by Amer­i­can spe­cial forces units, and he was the star pupil.”

    “We trained him well, and we had lots of help from Amer­i­ca,” anoth­er anony­mous Geor­gian defense offi­cial told McClatchy about Shis­hani. “In fact, the only rea­son he didn’t go to Iraq to fight along­side Amer­i­ca was that we need­ed his skills here in Geor­gia.

    In 2008, when Rus­sia and Geor­gia briefly went to war over the Geor­gian break­away province of South Osse­tia, Shis­hani report­ed­ly was a star sol­dier. Although Rus­sia quick­ly won the war, Shis­hani and his spe­cial forces unit caused asym­met­ri­cal dam­age to the invad­ing Russ­ian forces, includ­ing the wound­ing of the Russ­ian com­man­der of the 58th Army.

    ...

    “Shis­hani is some­what unique among ISIS’s com­man­ders. Shis­hani is fight­ing like an insur­gent,” Dav­eed Garten­stein-Ross, a senior fel­low at the Foun­da­tion for Defense of Democ­ra­cies, told Mus­ings on Iraq. “He’s using a com­plex style in Anbar [province in west­ern Iraq], rely­ing on a very small force ... Shishani’s forces empha­size speed and agili­ty.”

    “They’ll hit mul­ti­ple tar­gets on the same day, and engage in harass­ing attacks to try to draw out the ene­my, the Iraqi Secu­ri­ty Forces or the Sah­wa [Sun­ni tribes aligned against ISIS in Iraq]. Then he loves trap­ping the peo­ple he’s able to draw out that are in pur­suit of him.”
    ...

    And note where Shis­hani fled to imme­di­ate­ly after his release from prison in 2012: Syr­ia, where he would basi­cal­ly be work­ing in con­cert with West­ern regime change goals:

    ...
    Shis­hani ulti­mate­ly fell out of favor with the Geor­gian mil­i­tary and was arrest­ed for 15 months for ille­gal­ly har­bor­ing weapons. In 2012, after serv­ing his sen­tence, Shis­hani fled Geor­gia and went to Syr­ia via Turkey.

    ...

    And more con­cern­ing is that even if ISIS were to lose ground, there is no clear indi­ca­tion that it would make Shis­hani any less dan­ger­ous. Hav­ing trained and spe­cial­ized in insur­gent-like, asym­met­ri­cal war­fare, Shis­hani would be just as much of a dan­ger to Iraq even should ISIS begin to lose ter­ri­to­ry.
    ...

    And as we’ve seen, there’s no ques­tions as to whether or not the US was wel­com­ing the grow­ing jihadist pres­ence in Syr­ia in 2012 and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of some­thing like the ISIS caliphate emerg­ing there. That was the expressed wish­es revealed in a declas­si­fied August 2012 DIA doc­u­ment that wel­comed the prospect of a “Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty” emerg­ing jin East­ern Syr­ia and tak­ing down the Assad regime:

    The Guardian

    Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syr­ia and Iraq

    The sec­tar­i­an ter­ror group won’t be defeat­ed by the west­ern states that incu­bat­ed it in the first place

    Seu­mas Milne
    Wed 3 Jun 2015 15.56 EDT

    The war on ter­ror, that cam­paign with­out end launched 14 years ago by George Bush, is tying itself up in ever more grotesque con­tor­tions. On Mon­day the tri­al in Lon­don of a Swedish man, Bher­lin Gildo, accused of ter­ror­ism in Syr­ia, col­lapsed after it became clear British intel­li­gence had been arm­ing the same rebel groups the defen­dant was charged with sup­port­ing.

    The pros­e­cu­tion aban­doned the case, appar­ent­ly to avoid embar­rass­ing the intel­li­gence ser­vices. The defence argued that going ahead with the tri­al would have been an “affront to jus­tice” when there was plen­ty of evi­dence the British state was itself pro­vid­ing “exten­sive sup­port” to the armed Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion.

    That didn’t only include the “non-lethal assis­tance” boast­ed of by the gov­ern­ment (includ­ing body armour and mil­i­tary vehi­cles), but train­ing, logis­ti­cal sup­port and the secret sup­ply of “arms on a mas­sive scale”. Reports were cit­ed that MI6 had coop­er­at­ed with the CIA on a “rat line” of arms trans­fers from Libyan stock­piles to the Syr­i­an rebels in 2012 after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

    Clear­ly, the absur­di­ty of send­ing some­one to prison for doing what min­is­ters and their secu­ri­ty offi­cials were up to them­selves became too much. But it’s only the lat­est of a string of such cas­es. Less for­tu­nate was a Lon­don cab dri­ver Anis Sar­dar, who was giv­en a life sen­tence a fort­night ear­li­er for tak­ing part in 2007 in resis­tance to the occu­pa­tion of Iraq by US and British forces. Armed oppo­si­tion to ille­gal inva­sion and occu­pa­tion clear­ly doesn’t con­sti­tute ter­ror­ism or mur­der on most def­i­n­i­tions, includ­ing the Gene­va con­ven­tion.

    But ter­ror­ism is now square­ly in the eye of the behold­er. And nowhere is that more so than in the Mid­dle East, where today’s ter­ror­ists are tomorrow’s fight­ers against tyran­ny – and allies are ene­mies – often at the bewil­der­ing whim of a west­ern policymaker’s con­fer­ence call.

    For the past year, US, British and oth­er west­ern forces have been back in Iraq, sup­pos­ed­ly in the cause of destroy­ing the hyper-sec­tar­i­an ter­ror group Islam­ic State (for­mer­ly known as al-Qai­da in Iraq). This was after Isis over­ran huge chunks of Iraqi and Syr­i­an ter­ri­to­ry and pro­claimed a self-styled Islam­ic caliphate.

    The cam­paign isn’t going well. Last month, Isis rolled into the Iraqi city of Rama­di, while on the oth­er side of the now nonex­is­tent bor­der its forces con­quered the Syr­i­an town of Palmyra. Al-Qaida’s offi­cial fran­chise, the Nus­ra Front, has also been mak­ing gains in Syr­ia.

    ...

    A reveal­ing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recent­ly declas­si­fied secret US intel­li­gence report, writ­ten in August 2012, which uncan­ni­ly pre­dicts – and effec­tive­ly wel­comes – the prospect of a “Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty” in east­ern Syr­ia and an al-Qai­da-con­trolled Islam­ic state in Syr­ia and Iraq. In stark con­trast to west­ern claims at the time, the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency doc­u­ment iden­ti­fies al-Qai­da in Iraq (which became Isis) and fel­low Salafists as the “major forces dri­ving the insur­gency in Syr­ia” – and states that “west­ern coun­tries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were sup­port­ing the opposition’s efforts to take con­trol of east­ern Syr­ia.

    Rais­ing the “pos­si­bil­i­ty of estab­lish­ing a declared or unde­clared Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty”, the Pen­ta­gon report goes on, “this is exact­ly what the sup­port­ing pow­ers to the oppo­si­tion want, in order to iso­late the Syr­i­an regime, which is con­sid­ered the strate­gic depth of the Shia expan­sion (Iraq and Iran)”.

    Which is pret­ty well exact­ly what hap­pened two years lat­er. The report isn’t a pol­i­cy doc­u­ment. It’s heav­i­ly redact­ed and there are ambi­gu­i­ties in the lan­guage. But the impli­ca­tions are clear enough. A year into the Syr­i­an rebel­lion, the US and its allies weren’t only sup­port­ing and arm­ing an oppo­si­tion they knew to be dom­i­nat­ed by extreme sec­tar­i­an groups; they were pre­pared to coun­te­nance the cre­ation of some sort of “Islam­ic state” – despite the “grave dan­ger” to Iraq’s uni­ty – as a Sun­ni buffer to weak­en Syr­ia.

    That doesn’t mean the US cre­at­ed Isis, of course, though some of its Gulf allies cer­tain­ly played a role in it – as the US vice-pres­i­dent, Joe Biden, acknowl­edged last year. But there was no al-Qai­da in Iraq until the US and Britain invad­ed. And the US has cer­tain­ly exploit­ed the exis­tence of Isis against oth­er forces in the region as part of a wider dri­ve to main­tain west­ern con­trol.

    The cal­cu­lus changed when Isis start­ed behead­ing west­ern­ers and post­ing atroc­i­ties online, and the Gulf states are now back­ing oth­er groups in the Syr­i­an war, such as the Nus­ra Front. But this US and west­ern habit of play­ing with jiha­di groups, which then come back to bite them, goes back at least to the 1980s war against the Sovi­et Union in Afghanistan, which fos­tered the orig­i­nal al-Qai­da under CIA tute­lage.

    ...

    What’s clear is that Isis and its mon­strosi­ties won’t be defeat­ed by the same pow­ers that brought it to Iraq and Syr­ia in the first place, or whose open and covert war-mak­ing has fos­tered it in the years since. End­less west­ern mil­i­tary inter­ven­tions in the Mid­dle East have brought only destruc­tion and divi­sion. It’s the peo­ple of the region who can cure this dis­ease – not those who incu­bat­ed the virus.

    ———-

    “Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syr­ia and Iraq” by Seu­mas Milne; The Guardian; 06/03/2015

    “A reveal­ing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recent­ly declas­si­fied secret US intel­li­gence report, writ­ten in August 2012, which uncan­ni­ly pre­dicts – and effec­tive­ly wel­comes – the prospect of a “Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty” in east­ern Syr­ia and an al-Qai­da-con­trolled Islam­ic state in Syr­ia and Iraq. In stark con­trast to west­ern claims at the time, the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency doc­u­ment iden­ti­fies al-Qai­da in Iraq (which became Isis) and fel­low Salafists as the “major forces dri­ving the insur­gency in Syr­ia” – and states that “west­ern coun­tries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were sup­port­ing the opposition’s efforts to take con­trol of east­ern Syr­ia.

    Yes, it’s quite an uncan­ny pre­dic­tion. The kind of uncan­ny pre­dic­tion that serves as reminder that the cyn­i­cal uti­liza­tion of Islam­ic rad­i­cal move­ments to achieve West­ern-backed goals is, at this point, his­tor­i­cal­ly unde­ni­able. It’s how the world oper­a­tions. If a ter­ror­ist “Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty” will help take down a tar­get­ed regime, that’s fine. At least fine for now:

    ...
    Rais­ing the “pos­si­bil­i­ty of estab­lish­ing a declared or unde­clared Salafist prin­ci­pal­i­ty”, the Pen­ta­gon report goes on, “this is exact­ly what the sup­port­ing pow­ers to the oppo­si­tion want, in order to iso­late the Syr­i­an regime, which is con­sid­ered the strate­gic depth of the Shia expan­sion (Iraq and Iran)”.
    ...

    So, at least as of 2012, Shis­hani was more or less oper­at­ing in con­cert with US for­eign pol­i­cy goals in Syr­ia. Until he seem­ing­ly was­n’t, which brings us to his alleged death. Or rather, deaths. The first claims arrived in March of 2016 after a US airstrike tar­get­ing Shis­hani was declared a suc­cess. Shis­hani had been wound­ed and lat­er died in a Raqqa hos­pi­tal, accord­ing to reports from the Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights. These claims were fur­ther cor­rob­o­rat­ed by the US-led coali­tion forces and an anony­mous Iraqi intel­li­gence offi­cer. The one group deny­ing Shis­hani was killed, or even wound­ed, was the ISIS-affil­i­at­ed Aamaq news agency cit­ing an unnamed source:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Senior IS com­man­der dies of wounds from US strike in Syr­ia

    By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and BASSEM MROUE
    Updat­ed 6:00 PM CDT, March 15, 2016

    BAGHDAD (AP) — Omar al-Shis­hani, a top Islam­ic State com­man­der who was a mag­net for fight­ers from the for­mer Sovi­et Union, has died of wounds suf­fered in a U.S. airstrike in Syr­ia, a senior Iraqi intel­li­gence offi­cial and the head of a Syr­i­an activist group said Tues­day.

    Al-Shis­hani, who was wound­ed in a U.S. airstrike ear­li­er this month, died on Mon­day evening out­side the Islam­ic State group’s main strong­hold of Raqqa in Syr­ia, the two told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press. A U.S. mil­i­tary spokesman con­firmed the reports.

    The IS-affil­i­at­ed Aamaq news agency cit­ed an unnamed source as deny­ing that al-Shis­hani was wound­ed or killed, with­out pro­vid­ing any evi­dence that he was still alive.

    The red-beard­ed al-Shis­hani, who was in his 30s, was one of the most promi­nent IS com­man­ders, appear­ing in sev­er­al online videos lead­ing fight­ers into bat­tle. He served as the top com­man­der in Syr­ia before being appoint­ed to lead three elite units that car­ried out spe­cial mis­sions in Syr­ia and Iraq, accord­ing to Hisham al-Hashi­mi, an Iraqi schol­ar who close­ly fol­lows the group.

    Al-Shis­hani, whose real name was Tarkhan Bati­rashvili, was born in the Pankisi Val­ley, a pre­dom­i­nant­ly eth­nic Chechen region with­in the for­mer Sovi­et repub­lic of Geor­gia.

    He did mil­i­tary ser­vice in the Geor­gian army but was dis­charged after an unspec­i­fied ill­ness, a for­mer neigh­bor told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press in 2014. Geor­gian police lat­er arrest­ed him for ille­gal pos­ses­sion of arms, the neigh­bor said. Upon his release in 2010, Bati­rashvili left for Turkey.

    He first sur­faced in Syr­ia in 2013 with his nom de guerre, which means “Omar the Chechen” in Ara­bic, lead­ing an al-Qai­da-inspired group called “The Army of Emi­grants and Par­ti­sans,” which includ­ed a large num­ber of fight­ers from the for­mer Sovi­et Union.

    Some 1,500 bat­tle-hard­ened fight­ers from the Cau­ca­sus region joined IS because of al-Shis­hani, al-Hashi­mi said.

    He first showed his bat­tle­field prowess in August 2013, when his fight­ers proved piv­otal in tak­ing the Syr­i­an military’s Man­agh air base in the north of the coun­try. Rebels had been try­ing for months to take the base, but it fell soon after al-Shis­hani joined the bat­tle, said an activist from the region, Abu al-Has­san Maraee.

    In a video released in the sum­mer of 2014, after IS swept across north­ern and west­ern Iraq and declared an Islam­ic caliphate, al-Shis­hani stood next to the group’s spokesman and oth­er fight­ers as they declared the elim­i­na­tion of the bor­der between Iraq and Syr­ia.

    A U.S. airstrike tar­get­ed al-Shis­hani on March 4 near Syria’s east­ern town of Shad­dadeh, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Peter Cook said last week. Al-Shis­hani had been sent there to bol­ster IS fight­ers “fol­low­ing a series of strate­gic defeats,” Cook said in the state­ment.

    Rami Abdur­rah­man, head of the Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, said that after al-Shis­hani was wound­ed, IS “brought a num­ber of doc­tors to treat him, but they were not able to.”

    Abdur­rah­man, whose group mon­i­tors the con­flict through a net­work of activists inside Syr­ia, said al-Shis­hani died in a hos­pi­tal in the sub­urbs of Raqqa. The Iraqi intel­li­gence offi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty as he was not autho­rized to brief media, said the IS com­man­der was buried in the east­ern Syr­i­an province of Deir el-Zour on Tues­day.

    The Iraqi offi­cial said IS named an Iraqi to replace al-Shis­hani but did not give his name.

    The spokesman for the U.S.-led coali­tion, U.S. Army Col. Steve War­ren, said Tues­day that the coali­tion was able to “assess that he is dead” and that it “got the word Mon­day morn­ing.”

    War­ren described al-Shis­hani as a “very impor­tant fig­ure” in the Islam­ic State group, who was hit as part of a stepped-up cam­paign of U.S.-led airstrikes tar­get­ing IS lead­er­ship.

    Al-Shis­hani was in the area of Shad­dadeh “along with about a dozen oth­er fight­ers who were in one spot ... and we struck it,” War­ren said last week.

    Al-Hashi­mi said the U.S. deci­sion to tar­get top IS fig­ures could have a major impact. “Maybe the death of al-Bagh­da­di will lead to a rapid col­lapse,” he said, refer­ring to the top IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di.

    Iraqi offi­cials said in Novem­ber 2014 that al-Bagh­da­di was wound­ed in an airstrike. He has not been seen since then, but has released audio mes­sages call­ing on his fol­low­ers to step up attacks.

    ...

    ———-

    “Senior IS com­man­der dies of wounds from US strike in Syr­ia” By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and BASSEM MROUE; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 03/15/2016

    “Some 1,500 bat­tle-hard­ened fight­ers from the Cau­ca­sus region joined IS because of al-Shis­hani, al-Hashi­mi said.”

    It was­n’t just Shis­hani. He brought a small army of bat­tle hard­ened fight­ers with him. And while we’ve been told that he did­n’t join ISIS until 2015, Shis­hani and his fight­ers were clear­ly fight­ing along side ISIS well before that:

    ...
    He first showed his bat­tle­field prowess in August 2013, when his fight­ers proved piv­otal in tak­ing the Syr­i­an military’s Man­agh air base in the north of the coun­try. Rebels had been try­ing for months to take the base, but it fell soon after al-Shis­hani joined the bat­tle, said an activist from the region, Abu al-Has­san Maraee.

    In a video released in the sum­mer of 2014, after IS swept across north­ern and west­ern Iraq and declared an Islam­ic caliphate, al-Shis­hani stood next to the group’s spokesman and oth­er fight­ers as they declared the elim­i­na­tion of the bor­der between Iraq and Syr­ia.
    ...

    Flash for­ward to his appar­ent death in 2016, and we find mul­ti­ple sources seem­ing­ly con­firm­ing Al-Shis­hani’s death: the the Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, the US coali­tion, and anony­mous Iraqi intel­li­gence offi­cial all con­firmed he was dead. It was only the ISIS-affil­i­at­ed Aamaq news agency that cit­ed an anony­mous source not only deny­ing Shis­hani was killed but that he was wound­ed at all. This was appar­ent­ly a tar­get­ed US airstrike:

    ...
    The IS-affil­i­at­ed Aamaq news agency cit­ed an unnamed source as deny­ing that al-Shis­hani was wound­ed or killed, with­out pro­vid­ing any evi­dence that he was still alive.

    ...

    A U.S. airstrike tar­get­ed al-Shis­hani on March 4 near Syria’s east­ern town of Shad­dadeh, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Peter Cook said last week. Al-Shis­hani had been sent there to bol­ster IS fight­ers “fol­low­ing a series of strate­gic defeats,” Cook said in the state­ment.

    Rami Abdur­rah­man, head of the Britain-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, said that after al-Shis­hani was wound­ed, IS “brought a num­ber of doc­tors to treat him, but they were not able to.”

    Abdur­rah­man, whose group mon­i­tors the con­flict through a net­work of activists inside Syr­ia, said al-Shis­hani died in a hos­pi­tal in the sub­urbs of Raqqa. The Iraqi intel­li­gence offi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty as he was not autho­rized to brief media, said the IS com­man­der was buried in the east­ern Syr­i­an province of Deir el-Zour on Tues­day.

    The Iraqi offi­cial said IS named an Iraqi to replace al-Shis­hani but did not give his name.

    The spokesman for the U.S.-led coali­tion, U.S. Army Col. Steve War­ren, said Tues­day that the coali­tion was able to “assess that he is dead” and that it “got the word Mon­day morn­ing.”

    War­ren described al-Shis­hani as a “very impor­tant fig­ure” in the Islam­ic State group, who was hit as part of a stepped-up cam­paign of U.S.-led airstrikes tar­get­ing IS lead­er­ship.
    ...

    That was the state of affairs in March of 2016. Months lat­er, in July of 2016, we got anoth­er update: The US admit­ted Al-Shis­hani sur­vived the March attack and the tar­get of a new attack. And while the US could­n’t con­firm this time that Al-Shis­hani was killed, it was ISIS this time who made the announce­ment that, yes, Shis­hani was indeed dead:

    The Guardian

    US reveals Isis com­man­der was not killed in March airstrike

    Senior Islam­ic state oper­a­tive Abu Omar al-Shis­hani is believed to have attend­ed meet­ing of Isis offi­cials on 10 July, Pen­ta­gon says

    Spencer Ack­er­man in New York
    Thu 14 Jul 2016 15.00 EDT
    Last mod­i­fied on Tue 31 Aug 2021 10.20 EDT

    The Pen­ta­gon has admit­ted it did not kill a senior Islam­ic State oper­a­tive in a March airstrike that the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion made a talk­ing point for suc­cess in the two-year war in Iraq and Syr­ia.

    Pen­ta­gon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters on Thurs­day that Tarkhan Tayu­mu­ra­zovich Bati­rashvili, also known as Abu Omar al-Shis­hani or Omar the Chechen, is now believed to have attend­ed a 10 July meet­ing of Isis offi­cials near Mosul, the jihadist army’s Iraqi cap­i­tal, that was tar­get­ed in a US airstrike.

    Cook said he was “not able to con­firm” that Shis­hani was killed this time, although on Wednes­day Isis announced through its pro­pa­gan­da agency that Shis­hani was dead.

    “Indi­ca­tions [are] he was present” at the tar­get­ed 10 July meet­ing, Cook said, adding that ear­li­er intel­li­gence “led us to believe he had been killed” in March.

    “We believed the assess­ment in March was cor­rect, and received infor­ma­tion that he was still alive,” Cook said, char­ac­ter­iz­ing this as “very recent infor­ma­tion” and deny­ing that the Pen­ta­gon had inten­tion­al­ly avoid­ed walk­ing back its high-pro­file March assess­ment.

    On 11 July, the military’s dai­ly announce­ments of airstrikes men­tioned two strikes the pre­vi­ous day near Mosul. Nei­ther strike was said to have been aimed at an Isis meet­ing. Using the government’s pre­ferred short­hand for Isis, the offi­cial state­ment referred to the strikes near Mosul hit­ting, among oth­er tar­gets, “five Isil assem­bly areas”.

    After the Pen­ta­gon said it had tar­get­ed Shis­hani in a 4 March airstrike in Syr­ia, numer­ous admin­is­tra­tion and mil­i­tary offi­cials stat­ed unequiv­o­cal­ly the US had killed a man it described as an Isis min­is­ter of war.

    On 17 March Ash­ton Carter, the sec­re­tary of defense, tes­ti­fied to a Sen­ate pan­el that “we also recent­ly killed Isil’s min­is­ter of war, the Chechen fight­er Omar al-Shis­hani”.

    On 30 March, Brett McGurk, a senior state depart­ment offi­cial with port­fo­lio for the war against Isis, boast­ed to CNN that “it’s not a sur­prise that we were able to tar­get and kill the over­all mil­i­tary emir of Isis, Omar Shis­hani, just south of Shada­di”.

    In an April brief­ing dis­cussing a dif­fer­ent Isis mem­ber alleged­ly killed in a US airstrike, Colonel Steve War­ren, the for­mer spokesman for the war against Isis, called the man “a known asso­ciate of Omar Shis­hani, who was Isil’s min­is­ter of war, who as you know we killed on 4 March”.

    The fol­low­ing week, War­ren said Shishani’s death, along with that of oth­er Isis lead­ers, had dealt a “sig­nif­i­cant blow to the orga­ni­za­tion”.

    On Thurs­day, Cook denied that the Pen­ta­gon had inten­tion­al­ly with­held infor­ma­tion indi­cat­ing that the US had not actu­al­ly killed Shis­hani in March.

    “The intel­li­gence assess­ment made at the time was he had been killed, and that’s the under­stand­ing we had been oper­at­ing under,” Cook said, until an unspec­i­fied but “recent” time.

    ...

    ———-

    “US reveals Isis com­man­der was not killed in March airstrike” Spencer Ack­er­man; The Guardian; 07/14/2016

    “Cook said he was “not able to con­firm” that Shis­hani was killed this time, although on Wednes­day Isis announced through its pro­pa­gan­da agency that Shis­hani was dead.”

    Was Shis­hani ever wound­ed at all in either of these attacks? That’s unclear, but keep in mind one of the oth­er huge ques­tions loom­ing over his time in Kyiv: did he play any role in what was then Ukraine’s civ­il war? After all, as we saw, Ukraine has been uti­liz­ing bat­tal­ions stocked with Chechen fight­ers with ISIS ties from near­ly the start of the civ­il war. So, at a min­i­mum, it’s easy to imag­ine he was at least in con­tact with those bat­tal­ions.

    It’s going to be inter­est­ing to see if he ever ends up get­ting released from prison again. And, of course, how many more times he ends up dying.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 29, 2024, 6:08 pm
  7. Here’s a fol­lowup and a cor­rec­tion regard­ing that mys­te­ri­ous sto­ry of the Chechen ISIS leader, Al-Bara Shis­hani, who shocked the world when he showed up in a Kyiv court­room in Novem­ber of 2019 fol­low­ing a joint oper­a­tion with the CIA after hav­ing been thought to have died in 2016. As we’ve seen, part of what the dis­cov­ery that he was still alive and liv­ing in Kiev so intrigu­ing is the fact that Ukraine has allowed mul­ti­ple Chechen-based ‘vol­un­teer’ units to fight on its behalf despite clear ties to groups like ISIS.

    First, here’s the cor­rec­tion: a pre­vi­ous com­ment was mix­ing up Al-Bara Shis­hani with Omar Al-Shis­hani. Al-Bara Shis­hani was, in fact, Omar Shis­hani’s deputy. Omar Shis­hani was indeed killed in July of 2016, after pre­vi­ous­ly being declared dead in an airstrike ear­li­er that year. As we’re going to see, Al-Bara Shis­hani was thought to have been killed in an airstrike in 2017. So it appears both Omar and Al-Bara Shis­hani have a track record of ris­ing from the dead.

    And that cor­rec­tion brings us to a fas­ci­nat­ing report in the Kyiv Inde­pen­dent from Decem­ber 2021 about the dis­cov­ery of a new ISIS cell oper­at­ing in Kyiv. A cell oper­at­ing under the direc­tion of “one of the lead­ers of the Islam­ic State, who was detained by the SBU and extra­dit­ed to Geor­gia in May 2020,” accord­ing to the SBU. And while that Islam­ic State leader was­n’t named, it was pret­ty obvi­ous­ly Al-Bara Shis­hani giv­en that he was extra­dit­ed from Ukraine to Geor­gia in May of 2020.

    As we’re also going to see in that report, for­mer SBU’s Deputy Head Vik­tor Yagun told media out­let Zaborona in 2020, that hun­dreds of Islam­ic State asso­ciates may reside in Ukraine. Which is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing giv­en the obser­va­tions by Aleks Korenkov, who leads the Inter­na­tion­al Research Cen­ter for Secu­ri­ty Prob­lems. Accord­ing to Korenkov, the Islam­ic State cell was atyp­i­cal from most cells in that it lacked the IS para­pher­na­lia like IS flags or recruit­ment lit­er­a­ture, rais­ing the ques­tion as to whether or not they were oper­at­ing more like a crim­i­nal gang than a ter­ror­ist cell. But Korenkov goes on to note who hid­den IS cells could serve a par­tic­u­lar­ly valu­able pur­pose for the group in that they allow valu­able for­eign fight­ers with bat­tle­field expe­ri­ence to sur­vive and fight anoth­er day. As Korenkov put it, the “val­ue of such hid­den cen­ters of IS in Euro­pean coun­tries is not mon­ey, and not even recruit­ment. It is the preser­va­tion of human resources. The war in Syr­ia has shown that expe­ri­enced for­eign vol­un­teers are impor­tant to the suc­cess of orga­ni­za­tions such as the Islam­ic State. Their expe­ri­ence is invalu­able… (and) it is impor­tant for the orga­ni­za­tion to keep these peo­ple even after their mil­i­tary defeat.” It’s a key part of the con­text of the murky rela­tion­ship between the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment and ISIS: Ukraine’s appar­ent safe­haven sta­tus for ISIS came at an incred­i­bly oppor­tune time for keep­ing the group oper­a­tional going for­ward.

    But let’s not for­get about one of the oth­er extreme­ly remark­able details in this sto­ry: Al-Bara Shis­hani was the first deputy Omar al-Shis­hani, who had four years of US spe­cial forces train­ing from 2006–2010 before get­ting sent to prison on ille­gal weapons pos­ses­sion charges where he was rad­i­cal­ized. It was upon his release in 2012 that Omar al-Shis­hani trav­eled to Syr­ia to even­tu­al­ly become ISIS’s Min­is­ter of War. The fact that it was his deputy who showed up sur­pris­ing­ly alive in Kyiv in 2019 makes this sto­ry all the more fas­ci­nat­ing.

    But as we’re going to see in the fol­low­ing April 2019 report in Eurasianet, there’s anoth­er very inter­est­ing part of Omar al-Shis­hani’s past and con­ver­sion to jihadist rad­i­cal­ism: his 2010 jail­ing for the pos­ses­sion of ille­gal weapons appears to have been, by all accounts, wild­ly trump up charges and shock­ing giv­en that he had been a super star sol­dier in the then-failed Geor­gian war with Rus­sia. And until his jail­ing, which was seen as a deep betray­al, Omar al-Shis­hani had­n’t been been a rad­i­cal jihadist. He in fact grew up in a high­ly tol­er­ant inter­faith house­hold — a Sufi father and Chris­t­ian moth­er — and main­tained that tol­er­ance while serv­ing in the Geor­gian army and receiv­ing US spe­cial forces train­ing. The trumped up charges for this super star sol­dier and sub­se­quent 3 year prison sen­tence changed him. And then, 16 months into his sen­tence, he’s giv­en ear­ly release and goes off to Syr­ia to fight the Assad regime. That’s the sto­ry pre­sent­ed in the fol­low­ing report that includes inter­views with his first cousin, Temur Tsa­ti­ashvili, who grew up with his cousin in Geor­gia’s Pankisi gorge and wit­ness how the pre­dom­i­nant­ly tol­er­ant tra­di­tion­al Sufism of the area was sup­plant­ed by Sau­di-financed Salafist preach­ers and fights dur­ing the first Chechen war in the 90s.

    But his cousin isn’t the only one inter­viewed. There’s also a for­mer high-rank­ing intel­li­gence offi­cial in the Geor­gian Inte­ri­or Min­istry, who asked to remain anony­mous due to the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the issue. Accord­ing to this offi­cial, Omar al-Shis­hani “was dis­missed from the army for some health prob­lems, but I don’t know whether it was real­ly health prob­lems or they start­ed to dis­trust him.” Then, in Sep­tem­ber 2010, this super star arrest­ed on what many con­sid­er rigged charges and emerges from prison two years lat­er to become a super star jihadist in the West­ern/Gulf-backed jihadist fueled regime-change cam­paign. And it’s his deputy who shows up in 2019 in Kyiv court­room secret run­ning an ISIS cell, only to be deport­ed in 2020 to Geor­gia, where he appar­ent­ly con­tin­ued to direct the Kyiv cell from his Geor­gian prison? That’s quite a turn of events. The kind of turn that sug­gests these Geor­gian-Chechen jihadists have val­ue to more than just ISIS:

    Eurasianet

    The Islamist and the evan­gel­i­cal: one Geor­gian family’s sto­ry

    The for­mer ISIS com­man­der Omar al-Shishani’s cousin, an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ary, opens up about his noto­ri­ous rel­a­tive.

    William Dun­bar Apr 1, 2019

    As a born-again Chris­t­ian, says Temur Tsa­ti­ashvili, “true brav­ery and true hon­or is the abil­i­ty to for­give.”

    But for­give­ness has not been easy with his cousin, Tarkhan Bati­rashvili. For three years before his death in a U.S. airstrike in 2016, Tarkhan – under his nom-de-guerre Omar al-Shis­hani, Omar the Chechen – was a senior leader in the Islam­ic State and one of the most noto­ri­ous ter­ror­ists in the world.

    Tarkhan, instant­ly rec­og­niz­able from his enor­mous red beard, com­mand­ed the bulk of the Chechen fight­ers who had made the jour­ney from the Cau­ca­sus to Syr­ia, before becom­ing ISIS’s unof­fi­cial ‘min­is­ter of war.’ He con­trolled the ter­ror­ist group’s mil­i­tary oper­a­tions across north­ern Syr­ia, claimed a seat on its gov­ern­ing coun­cil, and was respon­si­ble for the group’s infa­mous prison out­side Raqqa, where hostages were held before being behead­ed on cam­era.

    But his fam­i­ly remem­bers him oth­er­wise.

    “We grew up togeth­er in the same fam­i­ly. He was a very warm per­son, a very lov­able per­son,” says Temur of Tarkhan. The pair, first cousins, are from the lit­tle vil­lage of Birkiani in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge. Temur is the son of Tarkhan’s mother’s broth­er, and was six years his senior.

    The Pankisi Gorge has had a tumul­tuous last 25 years, even by Geor­gian stan­dards. Pop­u­lat­ed large­ly by Chechens – known in Geor­gia as Kists – it suf­fered first from the eco­nom­ic cri­sis fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the Sovi­et Union, then the war in neigh­bor­ing Chech­nya which turned the sleepy val­ley first into a refugee camp, then a mil­i­tary tar­get, and final­ly an exporter of jihadists.

    These changes rocked the foun­da­tions of the cousins’ world and set the two men on dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent paths, both shaped by world­views from far out­side the gorge. While Tarkhan became an Islamist mil­i­tant, Temur became an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian ded­i­cat­ed to pro­mot­ing inter­faith under­stand­ing. As Temur puts it: “I chose to fight in this way. He chose to fight in that way.”

    From Sufism to Salafism

    Temur grew up a devout Mus­lim, in the Sufi tra­di­tion of his Chechen ances­tors. This was a tol­er­ant, almost ecu­meni­cal faith, and Temur’s fam­i­ly would join in the cel­e­bra­tions of their Chris­t­ian neigh­bors for Christ­mas and East­er. Tarkhan’s imme­di­ate fam­i­ly were some of those Chris­t­ian neigh­bors: Tarkhan’s father was a Geor­gian Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian, his moth­er a Mus­lim Kist. It is an irony that Temur became a Chris­t­ian while Tarkhan became an Islamist, but both end­ed up choos­ing nov­el, mis­sion­ary forms of faith at odds with the cen­turies-old reli­gious tra­di­tion of Pankisi.

    It was dur­ing the time of the first Chechen war, rag­ing across the bor­der in Rus­sia in the ear­ly and mid 1990s, that this eth­ni­cal­ly mixed world of reli­gious tol­er­a­tion began to fall apart. As for­eign fight­ers, often from the Mid­dle East and financed by Sau­di reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions, came to fight, they brought with them their inter­pre­ta­tion of Islam, gen­er­al­ly called Salafism, a puri­tan­i­cal strand with roots in Sau­di Ara­bia. “It was in 1995 or ‘96 when the, shall we say, changes began in Islam. Var­i­ous teach­ers came, and a new stage of Islamiza­tion start­ed, a new cur­rent,” Temur says.

    For many Chechens, Temur includ­ed, this new import clashed with the tra­di­tion­al cul­ture of the region. “When this Salafi Islam entered, it brought Arab cul­ture with it,” he says. “And with Arab cul­ture com­ing in, it’s very easy to sharp­en the dis­tinc­tions between the reli­gions.”

    The changes wrought by the Chechen war and the rise of Salafism affect­ed the Bati­rashvili house­hold too. It was at this time that Tarkhan’s old­er broth­er Tamaz became rad­i­cal­ized, accord­ing to both Temur and to a for­mer high-rank­ing intel­li­gence offi­cial in the Geor­gian Inte­ri­or Min­istry, who asked to remain anony­mous due to the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the issue. As the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion wors­ened and Salafism spread, Pankisi became much more homoge­nous, with most mixed fam­i­lies leav­ing for near­by towns. The Bati­rashvilis, how­ev­er, stayed. “If Tarkhan’s father had moved to Alvani [a Geor­gian town near the gorge], the Islamiza­tion of their fam­i­ly would not have hap­pened,” says Temur.

    ...

    Dis­il­lu­sioned with devel­op­ments in Pankisi, Temur began to mix with Geor­gian Chris­tians from out­side the gorge. He request­ed a Bible from a Geor­gian friend, and, aged 18; “I had my meet­ing with God – the God whose name is love.”

    The road to Syr­ia

    Short­ly after Temur had his meet­ing with God, Tarkhan was hav­ing a very dif­fer­ent series of meet­ings. “As far as we know,” says the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cer, “from the age of 15 he [Tarkhan] became a moun­tain guide and was help­ing peo­ple go back and forth. He was help­ing the Chechens cross the bor­der.” This was the time of the sec­ond Chechen war in the late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, a war which saw refugees, jihadists and rad­i­cal preach­ers flood into Pankisi. The val­ley became a camp for civil­ians dis­placed by the war, and a rear base for Chechen fight­ers and their Islamist allies fight­ing the Rus­sians. It was bombed by the Russ­ian air force in 2002. In the midst of this upheaval many Kists, includ­ing Tamaz Bati­rashvili, joined the fight in Chech­nya.

    But in spite of the dan­ger­ous milieu Tarkhan found him­self in, and in spite of the increas­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion of his old­er broth­er Tamaz, the future ISIS com­man­der had no time for rad­i­cal Islam. “He was a guy who want­ed to fight the Rus­sians from a very ear­ly age. He was not very reli­gious at all,” says the for­mer secu­ri­ty offi­cial. It wasn’t long before he would be giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty.

    Tarkhan enlist­ed in the Geor­gian mil­i­tary and fought in the Geor­gian-Russ­ian war of 2008. “He was work­ing for army intel­li­gence doing recon­nais­sance and those kinds of things, and he was very good,” says the for­mer offi­cial. “His com­man­ders gave him a very good report.

    How­ev­er, fol­low­ing the dis­as­trous con­clu­sion of the war, then-pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvili brought in Bacho Akha­la­ia as min­is­ter of defense, cit­ing the need for “a much stricter hand.” A ruth­less enforcer, Akha­la­ia was a for­mer pen­i­ten­tiary min­is­ter and is cur­rent­ly serv­ing a sev­en-year sen­tence for tor­tur­ing pris­on­ers. It was under Akhalaia’s watch that Tarkhan’s life start­ed to unrav­el. “He was dis­missed from the army for some health prob­lems, but I don’t know whether it was real­ly health prob­lems or they start­ed to dis­trust him,” said the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cer.

    Then, in Sep­tem­ber 2010, Tarkhan was arrest­ed by mil­i­tary police on what many con­sid­er to be trumped-up charges of ille­gal weapons pos­ses­sion. “They dis­missed him. They arrest­ed him for car­ry­ing weapons,” says the for­mer offi­cial, who casts doubt on the ratio­nale behind arrest­ing Tarkhan. “You know, arrest­ing a Chechen guy, when you know who he is, you know what he has done for the coun­try, arrest­ing him for just car­ry­ing weapons is kind of…” he trails off, shak­ing his head.

    Tarkhan was sen­tenced to three years in prison (though he only served 16 months before being grant­ed ear­ly release). The con­vic­tion, and the sense that the coun­try he had sought to serve had reject­ed him, set him on the path to rad­i­cal­iza­tion and to Syr­ia.

    “It was ingrat­i­tude. Ingrat­i­tude from the part of the state,” Temur says. “Every­one knows this – they set him up. They plant­ed a weapon on him. He was a suc­cess­ful sol­dier. He did a lot for Geor­gia. All of this was ren­dered mean­ing­less.”

    “This feel­ing of injus­tice led to his rad­i­cal­iza­tion,” says the for­mer offi­cial. “He comes out of prison a rad­i­cal Mus­lim.”

    By late 2012 Tarkhan had made the trip to Syr­ia, where he was soon joined by his old­er broth­er Tamaz. He began his rapid rise through the jihadist ranks, becom­ing the com­man­der of a most­ly Chechen, Russ­ian-speak­ing unit and win­ning a string of vic­to­ries against the Syr­i­an regime.

    ...

    Both Tarkhan and Tamaz were aware of Temur’s con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­i­ty. This con­ver­sion, in the eyes of Salafi extrem­ists, amounts to apos­ta­sy, a crime that should be pun­ished by death. “I would always have these heat­ed debates about reli­gion with Tamaz. I con­stant­ly had con­flicts with Tamaz,” Temur says. “Tarkhan would see this, so he avoid­ed bring­ing up the top­ic of my reli­gion. Tarkhan was a dif­fer­ent kind of per­son, very warm-heart­ed.”

    A Chris­t­ian Chechen

    Life as a Chris­t­ian Chechen has not been easy for Temur. “I went through a few very dif­fi­cult years, when all of my rel­a­tives were against me, all of Pankisi was against me. When I went out in the street peo­ple would spit in my face. They would kick me in the ass, punch me in the face and insult me,” he says.

    He now lives out­side the gorge, in the indus­tri­al city of Rus­tavi with his wife (also Chechen) and chil­dren. Nev­er­the­less, he fre­quent­ly goes back home, where his orga­ni­za­tion, the ‘Ban­ner of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,’ works to pro­mote reli­gious tol­er­ance. Temur, who has spent time as a part of var­i­ous Protes­tant church­es, now describes him­self as a non-denom­i­na­tion­al Chris­t­ian. His orga­ni­za­tion is not explic­it­ly reli­gious, but works with schools and oth­er groups in Geor­gia to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between reli­gions, fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als.

    ...

    Accord­ing to the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial, more than 100 Pankisi res­i­dents left to fight in Syr­ia – a huge num­ber for a pop­u­la­tion of about 5,000 Kists, accord­ing to the 2014 cen­sus. Of those, around 35 have died, most­ly very young men fol­low­ing in Tarkhan’s foot­steps. “He was a super­star local­ly,” he says. “Imag­ine if they had a great foot­ball play­er from there, right? Every­one would play foot­ball. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they had a great ter­ror­ist.”

    A ten­ta­tive kind of nor­mal­i­ty has returned to the Pankisi gorge. No one from the val­ley has left for Syr­ia since 2015. The fight­ers who are still there are not wel­come back in Geor­gia.

    But if any­thing, rad­i­cal Islam is stronger in the gorge than ever. The Salafi mosques are thriv­ing, while a dwin­dling group of elders are the only ones keep­ing the tol­er­ant, Sufi faith of old alive. There is wide­spread dis­con­tent. In Jan­u­ary 2018 Geor­gian spe­cial forces shot shot a 17-year-old boy, Temir­lan Macha­likashvili, in his bed, mor­tal­ly wound­ing him. He was sus­pect­ed of ties to a Pankisi-linked Chechen ter­ror­ist, although the sub­se­quent inves­ti­ga­tion demon­strat­ed no such links.

    ...

    ————

    “The Islamist and the evan­gel­i­cal: one Geor­gian family’s sto­ry” by William Dun­bar; Eurasianet; 04/01/2019

    “It was dur­ing the time of the first Chechen war, rag­ing across the bor­der in Rus­sia in the ear­ly and mid 1990s, that this eth­ni­cal­ly mixed world of reli­gious tol­er­a­tion began to fall apart. As for­eign fight­ers, often from the Mid­dle East and financed by Sau­di reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions, came to fight, they brought with them their inter­pre­ta­tion of Islam, gen­er­al­ly called Salafism, a puri­tan­i­cal strand with roots in Sau­di Ara­bia. “It was in 1995 or ‘96 when the, shall we say, changes began in Islam. Var­i­ous teach­ers came, and a new stage of Islamiza­tion start­ed, a new cur­rent,” Temur says.

    You can’t under­stand the ori­gins of the con­tem­po­rary Pankisi gorge with­out rec­og­niz­ing the pro­found impact of the flow of jihadist from the Mid­dle East dur­ing the first Chechen war close to three decades ago. It was then that the tra­di­tion­al tol­er­ant Sufism that pre­vailed in the area was sup­plant­ed by rad­i­cal Sau­di-financed Salafism. It’s the Pankisi gorge ver­sion of a the same sto­ry seen across the Sun­ni world in recent decades. That’s the sto­ry we’re hear­ing from Temur Tsa­ti­ashvili, first cousin of leg­endary fight­er Tarkhan Bati­rashvili, aka Abu Omar al-Shis­hani aka Omar the Chechen. Temur and Tarkhan both grew up in a tol­er­ant soci­ety pop­u­lat­ed by inter­faith house­holds like Tarkhan’s own home. Until it changed.

    Inter­est­ing­ly, though, it’s not just Temur shar­ing this his­to­ry. An unnamed for­mer high-rank­ing Geor­gian intel­li­gence was also will­ing to share this his­to­ry, on a con­di­tion of anonymi­ty due to the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the issue. Why the high lev­el of sen­si­tiv­i­ty?

    ...
    Temur grew up a devout Mus­lim, in the Sufi tra­di­tion of his Chechen ances­tors. This was a tol­er­ant, almost ecu­meni­cal faith, and Temur’s fam­i­ly would join in the cel­e­bra­tions of their Chris­t­ian neigh­bors for Christ­mas and East­er. Tarkhan’s imme­di­ate fam­i­ly were some of those Chris­t­ian neigh­bors: Tarkhan’s father was a Geor­gian Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian, his moth­er a Mus­lim Kist. It is an irony that Temur became a Chris­t­ian while Tarkhan became an Islamist, but both end­ed up choos­ing nov­el, mis­sion­ary forms of faith at odds with the cen­turies-old reli­gious tra­di­tion of Pankisi.

    ...

    The changes wrought by the Chechen war and the rise of Salafism affect­ed the Bati­rashvili house­hold too. It was at this time that Tarkhan’s old­er broth­er Tamaz became rad­i­cal­ized, accord­ing to both Temur and to a for­mer high-rank­ing intel­li­gence offi­cial in the Geor­gian Inte­ri­or Min­istry, who asked to remain anony­mous due to the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the issue. As the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion wors­ened and Salafism spread, Pankisi became much more homoge­nous, with most mixed fam­i­lies leav­ing for near­by towns. The Bati­rashvilis, how­ev­er, stayed. “If Tarkhan’s father had moved to Alvani [a Geor­gian town near the gorge], the Islamiza­tion of their fam­i­ly would not have hap­pened,” says Temur.

    ...

    It also sounds like Tarkhan was­n’t per­son­al­ly impact­ed by the rad­i­cal­iza­tion tak­ing place in his com­mu­ni­ty despite hav­ing worked as a teenag­er as a moun­tain guide help­ing Chechens cross the bor­der. By 2008, he was work­ing for army intel­li­gence doing recon­nais­sance. This would, of course, over­lap with the 2006–2010 peri­od when he was report­ed­ly being trained by US spe­cial forces. As we saw, his skills were so val­ued by his US train­ers that, accord­ing on one anony­mous Geor­gian defense offi­cial, “the only rea­son he didn’t go to Iraq to fight along­side Amer­i­ca was that we need­ed his skills here in Geor­gia”. Tarkhan/Al-Shis­hani’s rad­i­cal­iza­tion was yet to come:

    ...
    Short­ly after Temur had his meet­ing with God, Tarkhan was hav­ing a very dif­fer­ent series of meet­ings. “As far as we know,” says the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cer, “from the age of 15 he [Tarkhan] became a moun­tain guide and was help­ing peo­ple go back and forth. He was help­ing the Chechens cross the bor­der.” This was the time of the sec­ond Chechen war in the late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, a war which saw refugees, jihadists and rad­i­cal preach­ers flood into Pankisi. The val­ley became a camp for civil­ians dis­placed by the war, and a rear base for Chechen fight­ers and their Islamist allies fight­ing the Rus­sians. It was bombed by the Russ­ian air force in 2002. In the midst of this upheaval many Kists, includ­ing Tamaz Bati­rashvili, joined the fight in Chech­nya.

    But in spite of the dan­ger­ous milieu Tarkhan found him­self in, and in spite of the increas­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion of his old­er broth­er Tamaz, the future ISIS com­man­der had no time for rad­i­cal Islam. “He was a guy who want­ed to fight the Rus­sians from a very ear­ly age. He was not very reli­gious at all,” says the for­mer secu­ri­ty offi­cial. It wasn’t long before he would be giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty.

    Tarkhan enlist­ed in the Geor­gian mil­i­tary and fought in the Geor­gian-Russ­ian war of 2008. “He was work­ing for army intel­li­gence doing recon­nais­sance and those kinds of things, and he was very good,” says the for­mer offi­cial. “His com­man­ders gave him a very good report.
    ...

    And then we get to the appar­ent expla­na­tion for Tarkhan/Al-Shis­hani’s con­ver­sion into a jihadist: In Sep­tem­ber 2010, he was arrest­ed on what every­one appears to view as trump-up charges of ille­gal weapons pos­ses­sion. This is fol­low­ing the dis­as­trous con­clu­sion of the Geor­gian war and the ele­va­tion of the ruth­less Bacho Akha­la­ia as min­is­ter of defense. It’s almost as if the Geor­gian state was try­ing to ‘get rid of a prob­lem’. And yet it’s not at all clear why Tarkhan/Al-Shis­hani would have been tar­get­ed like this because, by all accounts, it was his arrest and impris­on­ment that result­ed in his jihadist rad­i­cal­iza­tion. We don’t know what the motive was for this treat­ment of a for­mer star sol­dier. It’s as if he was turned into a jihadist by the Geor­gian state. But for what­ev­er rea­son, he was impris­oned and then released after 16 months and allowed to trav­el to Syr­ia:

    ...
    How­ev­er, fol­low­ing the dis­as­trous con­clu­sion of the war, then-pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvili brought in Bacho Akha­la­ia as min­is­ter of defense, cit­ing the need for “a much stricter hand.” A ruth­less enforcer, Akha­la­ia was a for­mer pen­i­ten­tiary min­is­ter and is cur­rent­ly serv­ing a sev­en-year sen­tence for tor­tur­ing pris­on­ers. It was under Akhalaia’s watch that Tarkhan’s life start­ed to unrav­el. “He was dis­missed from the army for some health prob­lems, but I don’t know whether it was real­ly health prob­lems or they start­ed to dis­trust him,” said the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cer.

    Then, in Sep­tem­ber 2010, Tarkhan was arrest­ed by mil­i­tary police on what many con­sid­er to be trumped-up charges of ille­gal weapons pos­ses­sion. “They dis­missed him. They arrest­ed him for car­ry­ing weapons,” says the for­mer offi­cial, who casts doubt on the ratio­nale behind arrest­ing Tarkhan. “You know, arrest­ing a Chechen guy, when you know who he is, you know what he has done for the coun­try, arrest­ing him for just car­ry­ing weapons is kind of…” he trails off, shak­ing his head.

    Tarkhan was sen­tenced to three years in prison (though he only served 16 months before being grant­ed ear­ly release). The con­vic­tion, and the sense that the coun­try he had sought to serve had reject­ed him, set him on the path to rad­i­cal­iza­tion and to Syr­ia.

    “It was ingrat­i­tude. Ingrat­i­tude from the part of the state,” Temur says. “Every­one knows this – they set him up. They plant­ed a weapon on him. He was a suc­cess­ful sol­dier. He did a lot for Geor­gia. All of this was ren­dered mean­ing­less.”

    “This feel­ing of injus­tice led to his rad­i­cal­iza­tion,” says the for­mer offi­cial. “He comes out of prison a rad­i­cal Mus­lim.”

    By late 2012 Tarkhan had made the trip to Syr­ia, where he was soon joined by his old­er broth­er Tamaz. He began his rapid rise through the jihadist ranks, becom­ing the com­man­der of a most­ly Chechen, Russ­ian-speak­ing unit and win­ning a string of vic­to­ries against the Syr­i­an regime.
    ...

    Final­ly, note how rad­i­cal strains of Islam remain stronger than ever and appear to have basi­cal­ly per­ma­nent­ly sup­plant­ed the Sufism of decades past. It real­ly was a wild­ly suc­cess­ful cul­tur­al con­quest, thanks in large part to war and an end­less flood of for­eign-sup­port­er rad­i­cal preach­ers and fight­ers. With future con­se­quences from this rad­i­cal­iza­tion undoubt­ed­ly yet to come:

    ...
    Accord­ing to the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial, more than 100 Pankisi res­i­dents left to fight in Syr­ia – a huge num­ber for a pop­u­la­tion of about 5,000 Kists, accord­ing to the 2014 cen­sus. Of those, around 35 have died, most­ly very young men fol­low­ing in Tarkhan’s foot­steps. “He was a super­star local­ly,” he says. “Imag­ine if they had a great foot­ball play­er from there, right? Every­one would play foot­ball. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they had a great ter­ror­ist.”

    A ten­ta­tive kind of nor­mal­i­ty has returned to the Pankisi gorge. No one from the val­ley has left for Syr­ia since 2015. The fight­ers who are still there are not wel­come back in Geor­gia.

    But if any­thing, rad­i­cal Islam is stronger in the gorge than ever. The Salafi mosques are thriv­ing, while a dwin­dling group of elders are the only ones keep­ing the tol­er­ant, Sufi faith of old alive. There is wide­spread dis­con­tent. In Jan­u­ary 2018 Geor­gian spe­cial forces shot shot a 17-year-old boy, Temir­lan Macha­likashvili, in his bed, mor­tal­ly wound­ing him. He was sus­pect­ed of ties to a Pankisi-linked Chechen ter­ror­ist, although the sub­se­quent inves­ti­ga­tion demon­strat­ed no such links.
    ...

    And that trou­bling obser­va­tion from 2019 about rad­i­cal Islam being stronger than ever in the Pankisi gorge brings us to the fol­low­ing Decem­ber 2021 report in the Kyiv Inde­pen­dent about anoth­er Islam­ic State bust. This time it was an active ISIS cell oper­at­ing in Kyiv. Inter­est­ing­ly, while there’s no indi­ca­tion they were plan­ning a ter­ror­ist act, the lack of ISIS mate­ri­als has some experts spec­u­lat­ing that this could be effec­tive­ly a crim­i­nal gang of for­mer ISIS fight­ers. On the oth­er hand, as experts warn, the lack of ISIS mate­ri­als sug­gest we could be look­ing at what amounts to an attempt to keep valu­able for­eign fight­ers with bat­tle­field expe­ri­ence alive and ready to fight anoth­er day. But it’s the appar­ent com­man­der of this Kyiv cell that is the most intrigu­ing because, accord­ing to the SBU, the cell was being direct­ed by Tsezar Tokhosashvili aka Al-Bara Shis­hani. That’s despite the fact that he was extra­dit­ed by Kyiv to Geor­gia — where he had been sen­tenced to prison in absen­tia — back in May of 2020:

    The Kyiv Inde­pen­dent

    SBU busts Islam­ic State cell in Kyiv that could be led by top IS com­man­der

    by Anas­tasi­ia Lap­ati­na
    Decem­ber 16, 2021 4:21 PM

    The Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice of Ukraine (SBU) said on Dec. 16 that it had uncov­ered an active Kyiv cell of the Islam­ic State, one of the world’s dead­liest ter­ror groups.

    Accord­ing to a pre­lim­i­nary inves­ti­ga­tion, the cell had 12 mem­bers, includ­ing five Russ­ian cit­i­zens. Secu­ri­ty ser­vices car­ried out 11 search­es and found weapons, ammu­ni­tion, forged iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools, includ­ing many phones.

    The cell was direct­ed by “one of the lead­ers of the Islam­ic State, who was detained by the SBU and extra­dit­ed to Geor­gia in May 2020,” the state­ment said.

    The name of the cell leader hasn’t been released. Based on the descrip­tion, it’s pos­si­ble that he was Tsezar Tokhosashvili, a Geor­gian cit­i­zen going by the nom de guerre of Al-Bara Shis­hani, whom Ukraine extra­dit­ed to Geor­gia in 2020.

    Want­ed by Inter­pol, Tokhosashvili was a key offi­cial of the Islam­ic State, wide­ly known as the ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion’s “Deputy Min­is­ter of War.”

    He served as the deputy to Abu Omar al-Shis­hani, one of the most senior IS com­man­ders, who was in turn a close mil­i­tary advis­er to the orga­ni­za­tion’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di. Both Shis­hani and Bagh­da­di are now dead.

    Tokhosashvili was wide­ly believed to have been killed by an airstrike in 2017, so the announce­ment of his arrest in Ukraine in 2019 came as a sur­prise.

    ...

    With its focus on the war with Rus­sia, Ukraine doesn’t see IS as an urgent threat.

    Ukraine’s con­sid­er­able Mus­lim minor­i­ty of over a mil­lion peo­ple, most of whom speak Russ­ian, make it easy for IS mem­bers from Russ­ian-speak­ing post-Sovi­et states to blend in.

    More­over, the country’s ram­pant cor­rup­tion also helps ter­ror­ists cross Ukraine’s bor­der, get fake doc­u­ments and qui­et­ly treat gun­shot wounds, as long as they have the mon­ey.

    In 2020, for­mer SBU’s Deputy Head Vik­tor Yagun told media out­let Zaborona that hun­dreds of Islam­ic State asso­ciates may reside in Ukraine.

    SBU inves­ti­ga­tors ini­ti­at­ed crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings into the cre­ation of a ter­ror­ist group or ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion.

    Yet accord­ing to Aleks Korenkov, an expert who leads the Inter­na­tion­al Research Cen­ter for Secu­ri­ty Prob­lems, the detainees may just be a crim­i­nal group rather than ter­ror­ists.

    “From the pho­tos pub­lished by the SBU, it can be assumed that the detainees look more like a crim­i­nal group than ter­ror­ists. They did not resist dur­ing the arrest, they have no (IS) flags, no recruit­ment lit­er­a­ture, noth­ing that would indi­cate them belong­ing to the IS,” Korenkov told the Kyiv Inde­pen­dent.

    Unlike the recent­ly uncov­ered cell, IS units in the past con­tained sym­bols of the Islam­ic State and extrem­ist reli­gious lit­er­a­ture, writ­ten by men linked to recruit­ment.

    ...

    It is pos­si­ble that the group con­sist­ed of for­mer IS fight­ers, as many of them con­tin­ue hid­ing in coun­tries around the world, often engag­ing in crim­i­nal activ­i­ties.

    It is also pos­si­ble that the group was in con­tact with cur­rent IS fight­ers in Iraq and Syr­ia. The ter­ror­ist group has recent­ly renewed its pres­ence in Iraq, and many for­eign fight­ers from post-Sovi­et coutries, espe­cial­ly Rus­sia, have stayed in the region.

    “The val­ue of such hid­den cen­ters of IS in Euro­pean coun­tries is not mon­ey, and not even recruit­ment. It is the preser­va­tion of human resources. The war in Syr­ia has shown that expe­ri­enced for­eign vol­un­teers are impor­tant to the suc­cess of orga­ni­za­tions such as the Islam­ic State. Their expe­ri­ence is invalu­able… (and) it is impor­tant for the orga­ni­za­tion to keep these peo­ple even after their mil­i­tary defeat,” Korenkov said.

    “Such peo­ple tend to remain loy­al to the orga­ni­za­tion. And when a new envi­ron­ment is cre­at­ed that is con­ducive to the restora­tion of the ‘caliphate’, they will be called to a new war. If the detainees real­ly belong to the Islam­ic State, then they are rather a cell whose goal is to wait until they are called to a new war.”

    ———-

    “SBU busts Islam­ic State cell in Kyiv that could be led by top IS com­man­der” by Anas­tasi­ia Lap­ati­na; The Kyiv Inde­pen­dent; 12/16/2021

    “The cell was direct­ed by “one of the lead­ers of the Islam­ic State, who was detained by the SBU and extra­dit­ed to Geor­gia in May 2020,” the state­ment said.”

    The Geor­gian gov­ern­ment was­n’t being clear on the iden­ti­ty of “one of the lead­ers of the Islam­ic State, who was detained by the SBU and extra­dit­ed to Geor­gia in May 2020,” but it’s not hard to infer that ISIS lead­er’s iden­ti­ty. There was only one ISIS leader extra­dit­ed to Geor­gia in May of 2020, after all: Tsezar Takhosashvili aka Al-bara Shis­hani. It’s not a mys­tery. The mys­tery at this point is how is it that Tokhosashvili was appar­ent­ly still direct­ing the group from a Geor­gian prison:

    ...
    The name of the cell leader hasn’t been released. Based on the descrip­tion, it’s pos­si­ble that he was Tsezar Tokhosashvili, a Geor­gian cit­i­zen going by the nom de guerre of Al-Bara Shis­hani, whom Ukraine extra­dit­ed to Geor­gia in 2020.

    Want­ed by Inter­pol, Tokhosashvili was a key offi­cial of the Islam­ic State, wide­ly known as the ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion’s “Deputy Min­is­ter of War.”

    He served as the deputy to Abu Omar al-Shis­hani, one of the most senior IS com­man­ders, who was in turn a close mil­i­tary advis­er to the orga­ni­za­tion’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagh­da­di. Both Shis­hani and Bagh­da­di are now dead.

    Tokhosashvili was wide­ly believed to have been killed by an airstrike in 2017, so the announce­ment of his arrest in Ukraine in 2019 came as a sur­prise.
    ...

    And then we get to dis­turb­ing reminders about how the Ukrain­ian state does­n’t appear to real­ly view ISIS as a threat worth focus­ing on. Reminders that include the 2020 admis­sion by for­mer SBU Deputy Head Vik­tor Yagun about how hun­dreds of Islam­ic State asso­ciates may reside in Ukraine:

    ...
    With its focus on the war with Rus­sia, Ukraine doesn’t see IS as an urgent threat.

    Ukraine’s con­sid­er­able Mus­lim minor­i­ty of over a mil­lion peo­ple, most of whom speak Russ­ian, make it easy for IS mem­bers from Russ­ian-speak­ing post-Sovi­et states to blend in.

    More­over, the country’s ram­pant cor­rup­tion also helps ter­ror­ists cross Ukraine’s bor­der, get fake doc­u­ments and qui­et­ly treat gun­shot wounds, as long as they have the mon­ey.

    In 2020, for­mer SBU’s Deputy Head Vik­tor Yagun told media out­let Zaborona that hun­dreds of Islam­ic State asso­ciates may reside in Ukraine.
    ...

    And while a lack of ISIS mate­ri­als had some experts ques­tion­ing whether or not this was effec­tive­ly a crim­i­nal gang, there’s anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty: this was an attempt to keep valu­able expe­ri­enced for­eign jihadists alive to fight for ISIS anoth­er day:

    ...
    SBU inves­ti­ga­tors ini­ti­at­ed crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings into the cre­ation of a ter­ror­ist group or ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion.

    Yet accord­ing to Aleks Korenkov, an expert who leads the Inter­na­tion­al Research Cen­ter for Secu­ri­ty Prob­lems, the detainees may just be a crim­i­nal group rather than ter­ror­ists.

    “From the pho­tos pub­lished by the SBU, it can be assumed that the detainees look more like a crim­i­nal group than ter­ror­ists. They did not resist dur­ing the arrest, they have no (IS) flags, no recruit­ment lit­er­a­ture, noth­ing that would indi­cate them belong­ing to the IS,” Korenkov told the Kyiv Inde­pen­dent.

    Unlike the recent­ly uncov­ered cell, IS units in the past con­tained sym­bols of the Islam­ic State and extrem­ist reli­gious lit­er­a­ture, writ­ten by men linked to recruit­ment.

    ...

    It is pos­si­ble that the group con­sist­ed of for­mer IS fight­ers, as many of them con­tin­ue hid­ing in coun­tries around the world, often engag­ing in crim­i­nal activ­i­ties.

    It is also pos­si­ble that the group was in con­tact with cur­rent IS fight­ers in Iraq and Syr­ia. The ter­ror­ist group has recent­ly renewed its pres­ence in Iraq, and many for­eign fight­ers from post-Sovi­et coutries, espe­cial­ly Rus­sia, have stayed in the region.

    “The val­ue of such hid­den cen­ters of IS in Euro­pean coun­tries is not mon­ey, and not even recruit­ment. It is the preser­va­tion of human resources. The war in Syr­ia has shown that expe­ri­enced for­eign vol­un­teers are impor­tant to the suc­cess of orga­ni­za­tions such as the Islam­ic State. Their expe­ri­ence is invalu­able… (and) it is impor­tant for the orga­ni­za­tion to keep these peo­ple even after their mil­i­tary defeat,” Korenkov said.
    ...

    What kind of ISIS safe­haven role is Kyiv still play­ing today? It’s hard to imag­ine the war that broke out in 2022 made the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment more focused on anti-ter­ror oper­a­tions. Just as it’s hard to imag­ine they would­n’t rel­ish the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see some bat­tle hard­ened ISIS fight­ers launch attacks against Russ­ian forces or Rus­sia itself.
    And that’s all part of why ques­tions about a pos­si­ble Ukrain­ian role in the ISIS‑K con­cert hall attacks should include ques­tions about whether or not Al-Bara Shis­hani is still direct­ing ISIS cells in Kyiv inex­plic­a­bly. We don’t know if that’s still hap­pen­ing, but it’s hard to rule it out at this point unless the guy is report­ed to have died. And even then...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 6, 2024, 7:52 pm
  8. The sit­u­a­tion is rapid­ly desta­bi­liz­ing and threat­en­ing to blow­ing up into some­thing much larg­er. That appears to be the some­what pre­dictable state of affairs in the Mid­dle East fol­low­ing a drone arma­da attack by Iran against Israel. Time will tell this is turns into the spark for some­thing much larg­er, per­haps soon.

    But it’s worth not­ing one of the grim­ly inter­est­ing aspects of the poten­tial­ly unfold­ing larg­er con­flict between Iran, Israel, and maybe a host of oth­er nations in the region along with the US: we appear to be in peri­od of ele­vate ISIS activ­i­ty and vir­tu­al­ly all of these enti­ties are the stat­ed ene­mies of ISIS. In fact, it was just back in Jan­u­ary when Iran suf­fered twin bomb­ing attacks by ISIS‑K, the same branch behind the Moscow con­cert hall attacks last month. So with ISIS‑K seem­ing­ly get­ting much more active in recent months, we have to ask who exact­ly is ISIS going to tar­get as this con­flict plays out? They’re going to have plen­ty of tar­gets.

    Again, time will tell, but that grim ques­tion brings us to the fol­low­ing set of sto­ries about one of the notable aspects of the the ISIS‑K attacks against Iran and Rus­sia: First, it turns out Iran also warned Rus­sia about an impend­ing ISIS‑K attack short­ly before the March 22 attacks, in addi­tion to the US warn­ings we’ve heard so much about. But unlike the US, which report­ed­ly gained its intel­li­gence from inter­cept­ed “chat­ter”, the Ira­ni­ans appar­ent­ly gained their intel­li­gence from the inter­ro­ga­tions car­ried out fol­low­ing the ISIS‑K attacks back in Jan­u­ary.

    Next, it also turns out the US warned Iran of its own ISIS‑K attacks short­ly before the bomb­ings back in Jan­u­ary. Warn­ings that also were report­ed­ly based on inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Inter­est­ing­ly, while ISIS took cred­it for the bomb­ings in Iran, the group did­n’t spec­i­fy that it was ISIS‑K behind it, but the US insist­ed that it was def­i­nite­ly ISIS‑K. So based on these two recent ISIS‑K attacks and the US’s advance knowl­edge based on inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions, it would appear that the US has a remark­able han­dle on ISIS-K’s plan­ning and oper­a­tions.
    All the more remark­able by the fact we saw these claims about the abil­i­ty to inter­cept these com­mu­ni­ca­tions show up in news reports fol­low­ing both attacks. The abil­i­ty to read­i­ly inter­cept a ter­ror group’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions like that is quite a thing to just admit in the press. But it hap­pened. Twice this year already, as we’re going to see. This is a good time to recall the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­men­t’s alarm­ing rela­tion­ship with ISIS...is that pos­si­bly the basis for the US’s remark­able pen­e­tra­tion of ISIS-K’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions?

    And then there’s the oth­er major ISIS‑K tar­get that isn’t (hope­ful­ly) going to be part of this larg­er con­fla­gra­tion unfold­ing between Iran and Israel but is very much a major US adver­sary with grow­ing influ­ence in the region: Chi­na. Yes, it turns out ISIS‑K declared Chi­na to be one of its major tar­gets. The dec­la­ra­tions were made in 2023 fol­low­ing a string of attacks inside Afghanistan tar­get­ing tar­get­ing Chi­na inter­ests in the coun­try.

    But ISIS‑K isn’t just inter­est­ed in dri­ving Chi­na out of Afghanistan. The “hap­pi­ness and free­dom” of ” “all the Mus­lims of East Turk­istan” is the big declared new goal for the group, a call to arms that is implic­it­ly pig­gy­back­ing on West­ern claims of geno­cide against the Uyghurs of Xin­jiang. While we have yet to hear about ISIS‑K attacks inside Chi­na, we can be con­fi­dent they are com­ing.

    So who is ISIS‑K going to attack should a war open up draw­ing Israel, Iran, the US (and who knows who else) into a much larg­er con­flict. Will ISIS‑K play a role in that con­flict? Or maybe take advan­tage of the con­flict to stage attacks in places like Rus­sia or Chi­na? We’ll see, but at this point, we can be pret­ty con­fi­dent the US is going to have advance knowl­edge, what­ev­er it is.

    Oh, and it turns out we’re already hear­ing some inter­est­ing advice from US nation­al secu­ri­ty experts about how best to han­dle the ris­ing ISIS‑K activ­i­ty around the world: Accord­ing to a piece recent­ly pub­lished by Jen­nifer Kavanagh, a senior fel­low in the Amer­i­can State­craft Pro­gram at the Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace (CEIP), the best US response to ISIS‑K is no response. Yep. As Kavanagh argues, the US’s track record of crip­pling ter­ror­ist groups has­n’t exact­ly been a stun­ning suc­cess while the risks of a domes­tic attack are rel­a­tive­ly low. But, more impor­tant­ly, the US can’t afford to redi­rect resources towards ISIS when much larg­er threats from Rus­sia and Chi­na are loom­ing. That was Kavanagh’s argu­ment pub­lished a cou­ple of weeks ago. And while Iran was­n’t men­tioned as a loom­ing threat, we can rea­son­ably assume Iran would get added to that loom­ing threat list too.

    Keep in mind Jake Sul­li­van, Joe Biden’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sor, is a for­mer CEIP senior fel­low. So when we see columns call­ing for a ‘do noth­ing’ approach to ISIS‑K pub­lished by a group like CEIP, that’s a big clue as to what the US nation­al secu­ri­ty estab­lish­ment is think­ing.

    So while there’s going to be no short­age of fac­tors to keep an eye on as the con­flict erupt­ing between Iran and Israel devel­ops, it’s going to be worth keep­ing an eye on how a new­ly rein­vig­o­rat­ed ISIS‑K might take advan­tage of the sit­u­a­tion. By the “ene­my of my ene­my” log­ic, ISIS‑K is every­one’s ene­mies’ ene­my, mak­ing it a very inter­est­ing play­er in this sit­u­a­tion.

    Ok, first, here’s a Reuters report from a cou­ple of weeks ago about the oth­er warn­ing Rus­sia received short­ly before the Moscow con­cert hall attack. A warn­ing from Iran obtained thanks to the inter­ro­ga­tion of ISIS‑K affil­i­ates fol­low­ing the twin bomb­ings inside Iran back in Jan­u­ary. The Iran­ian warn­ings were non-spe­cif­ic and just warned that some­thing big was com­ing, con­trast­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly from the US warn­ings that specif­i­cal­ly includ­ed warn­ings about attacks on con­cert halls. And as we also learn from an unnamed source famil­iar with the US intel­li­gence’s very spe­cif­ic fore­knowl­edge of the attack, that intel came from inter­cept­ed “chat­ter”. So Rus­sia did indeed receive mul­ti­ple warn­ings about an impend­ing attack. A vague gen­er­al warn­ing from Iran and a stun­ning spe­cif­ic warn­ing from the US:

    Reuters

    Exclu­sive: Iran alert­ed Rus­sia to secu­ri­ty threat before Moscow attack

    By Parisa Hafezi
    April 1, 2024 10:41 AM UTC
    Updat­ed

    Sum­ma­ry

    * Iran warned Rus­sia of pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist attack
    * Infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed lacked spe­cif­ic details
    * Tehran gained infor­ma­tion from sus­pects linked to Ker­man attack
    * US intel­li­gence also warned Rus­sia of like­ly attack
    * Says Afghan-based ISIS‑K behind both Rus­sia and Iran attacks

    DUBAI, April 1 (Reuters) — Iran tipped off Rus­sia about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a major “ter­ror­ist oper­a­tion” on its soil ahead of the con­cert hall mas­sacre near Moscow last month, three sources famil­iar with the mat­ter said.

    In the dead­liest attack inside Rus­sia in 20 years, gun­men opened fire with auto­mat­ic weapons at con­cert­go­ers on March 22 at the Cro­cus City Hall, killing at least 144 peo­ple in vio­lence claimed by the Islam­ic State mil­i­tant group.

    The Unit­ed States had also warned Rus­sia in advance of a like­ly mil­i­tant Islamist attack but Moscow, deeply dis­trust­ful of Wash­ing­ton’s inten­tions, played down that intel­li­gence.

    It is hard­er, how­ev­er, for Rus­sia to dis­miss intel­li­gence from diplo­mat­ic ally Iran on the attack, which has also raised ques­tions over the effec­tive­ness of Russ­ian secu­ri­ty ser­vices. Moscow and Tehran, both under West­ern sanc­tions, have deep­ened mil­i­tary and oth­er coop­er­a­tion dur­ing the two-year Ukraine war.

    “Days before the attack in Rus­sia, Tehran shared infor­ma­tion with Moscow about a pos­si­ble big ter­ror­ist attack inside Rus­sia that was acquired dur­ing inter­ro­ga­tions of those arrest­ed in con­nec­tion with dead­ly bomb­ings in Iran,” one of the sources told Reuters.

    Iran arrest­ed 35 peo­ple in Jan­u­ary, includ­ing a com­man­der of Islam­ic State’s Afghanistan-based branch ISIS-Kho­rasan (ISIS‑K), who it said were linked to twin bomb­ings on Jan. 3 in the city of Ker­man that killed near­ly 100 peo­ple.

    Islam­ic State claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the Iran blasts, the blood­i­est since the 1979 Islam­ic Rev­o­lu­tion. U.S. intel­li­gence sources said ISIS‑K had car­ried out both the Jan. 3 attacks in Iran and the March 22 shoot­ings in Moscow.

    ...

    ISIS‑K, named after an old term for a region that encom­passed parts of Iran, Turk­menistan and Afghanistan, emerged in east­ern Afghanistan in late 2014 and quick­ly estab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for extreme bru­tal­i­ty.

    ‘SIGNIFICANT OPERATION’

    A sec­ond source, who also request­ed anonymi­ty due to the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the issue, said the infor­ma­tion Tehran pro­vid­ed to Moscow about an impend­ing attack had lacked spe­cif­ic details regard­ing tim­ing and the exact tar­get.

    “They (the mem­bers of ISIS‑K) were instruct­ed to pre­pare for a sig­nif­i­cant oper­a­tion in Rus­sia... One of the ter­ror­ists (arrest­ed in Iran) said some mem­bers of the group had already trav­elled to Rus­sia,” the sec­ond source said.

    A third source, a senior secu­ri­ty offi­cial, said: “As Iran has been a vic­tim of ter­ror attacks for years, Iran­ian author­i­ties ful­filled their oblig­a­tion to alert Moscow based on infor­ma­tion acquired from those arrest­ed ter­ror­ists.”

    ...

    A source famil­iar with the U.S. intel­li­gence on an impend­ing attack in Rus­sia said it was based on inter­cep­tions of “chat­ter” among ISIS‑K mil­i­tants.

    Chal­leng­ing the U.S. asser­tions, Rus­sia has said it believes Ukraine was linked to the attack, with­out pro­vid­ing evi­dence. Kyiv has strong­ly denied the asser­tion.

    TAJIK NATIONALS

    The attacks in Ker­man and near Moscow both involved Tajik nation­als. ISIS‑K has aggres­sive­ly recruit­ed from the impov­er­ished for­mer Sovi­et repub­lic of Tajik­istan, secu­ri­ty experts say.

    Sources said Iran had dis­cussed its secu­ri­ty con­cerns with Tajik­istan. A diplo­mat­ic source in Tajik­istan con­firmed that Tehran had recent­ly dis­cussed with Dushanbe the issue of increased involve­ment of eth­nic Tajiks in mil­i­tant activ­i­ties.

    ...

    In 2022 Islam­ic State claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for a dead­ly attack on a Shi’ite shrine in Iran that killed 13 peo­ple. Tehran iden­ti­fied the attack­er as a Tajik nation­al.

    Ear­li­er attacks claimed by Islam­ic State include twin bomb­ings in 2017 that tar­get­ed Iran’s par­lia­ment and the tomb of the Islam­ic Repub­lic’s founder, Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­i­ni.

    ————

    “Exclu­sive: Iran alert­ed Rus­sia to secu­ri­ty threat before Moscow attack” By Parisa Hafezi; Reuters; 04/01/2024

    ““Days before the attack in Rus­sia, Tehran shared infor­ma­tion with Moscow about a pos­si­ble big ter­ror­ist attack inside Rus­sia that was acquired dur­ing inter­ro­ga­tions of those arrest­ed in con­nec­tion with dead­ly bomb­ings in Iran,” one of the sources told Reuters.”

    It was­n’t just the US pro­vid­ing those warn­ings to Rus­sia. Iran issued them too. Although the basis for these warn­ings dif­fered sig­nif­i­cant­ly. In the case of Iran, the intel­li­gence was obtained dur­ing the inter­ro­ga­tion of ISIS‑K affil­i­ates who were round­ed up after the group’s Jan­u­ary attacks in Iran. Attacks that, notably, were also car­ried out by Tajik nation­als. The US, on the oth­er hand, appears to have derived its intel­li­gence on inter­cep­tions of ISIS‑K “chat­ter”:

    ...
    Iran arrest­ed 35 peo­ple in Jan­u­ary, includ­ing a com­man­der of Islam­ic State’s Afghanistan-based branch ISIS-Kho­rasan (ISIS‑K), who it said were linked to twin bomb­ings on Jan. 3 in the city of Ker­man that killed near­ly 100 peo­ple.

    Islam­ic State claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the Iran blasts, the blood­i­est since the 1979 Islam­ic Rev­o­lu­tion. U.S. intel­li­gence sources said ISIS‑K had car­ried out both the Jan. 3 attacks in Iran and the March 22 shoot­ings in Moscow.

    ...

    A source famil­iar with the U.S. intel­li­gence on an impend­ing attack in Rus­sia said it was based on inter­cep­tions of “chat­ter” among ISIS‑K mil­i­tants.

    ...

    The attacks in Ker­man and near Moscow both involved Tajik nation­als. ISIS‑K has aggres­sive­ly recruit­ed from the impov­er­ished for­mer Sovi­et repub­lic of Tajik­istan, secu­ri­ty experts say.
    ...

    And as the fol­low­ing Reuters report from back in Jan­u­ary men­tions, the detec­tion of ISIS‑K chat­ter was also the basis for the US’s warn­ings to Iran short­ly before those attacks. So the US appears to have a remark­ably good pen­e­tra­tion of ISIS-K’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions. And for what­ev­er rea­son, we’re see­ing admis­sions of this pen­e­tra­tion show­ing up in news reports. It’s an inter­est­ing state of affairs in counter-ter­ror­ism:

    Reuters

    Exclu­sive: US intel­li­gence con­firms Islam­ic State’s Afghanistan branch behind Iran blasts

    By Jonathan Lan­day and Steve Hol­land
    Jan­u­ary 5, 2024 1:55 PM CST
    Updat­ed

    WASHINGTON, Jan 5 (Reuters) — Com­mu­ni­ca­tions inter­cepts col­lect­ed by the Unit­ed States con­firmed that Islam­ic State’s (ISIS) Afghanistan-based branch car­ried out twin bomb­ings in Iran that killed near­ly 100 peo­ple, two sources famil­iar with the intel­li­gence told Reuters on Fri­day.

    “The intel­li­gence is clear-cut and indis­putable,” one source said.

    That source and a sec­ond, both of whom request­ed anonymi­ty to dis­cuss the sen­si­tive issue, said the intel­li­gence com­prised com­mu­ni­ca­tions inter­cepts, with­out pro­vid­ing fur­ther details. The col­lec­tion of the inter­cepts has not been pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed..

    Wednes­day’s bomb­ings, the dead­liest of their kind in Iran since the 1979 Islam­ic Rev­o­lu­tion, added to region­al ten­sions over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and attacks by Yemen’s Tehran-aligned Houthi group on com­mer­cial ship­ping in the Red Sea.

    ISIS on Thurs­day claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the bomb­ings, say­ing two oper­a­tives wear­ing explo­sive sui­cide belts staged the attack dur­ing a memo­r­i­al ser­vice for Qassem Soleimani, a senior mil­i­tary com­man­der assas­si­nat­ed in Iraq in a 2020 U.S. drone strike.

    The Sun­ni Mus­lim mil­i­tant group, how­ev­er, did not spec­i­fy that its Afghanistan-based affil­i­ate, known as ISIS-Kho­rasan (ISIS‑K), was respon­si­ble for the bomb­ings in the south­east­ern Iran­ian city of Ker­man.

    “The U.S. has pret­ty clear intel” that ISIS‑K con­duct­ed the attack, the first source said.

    ...

    ISIS claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for a 2022 attack on a Shi’ite shrine in Iran that killed 15 peo­ple and 2017 bomb­ings that hit the par­lia­ment and the tomb of the Islam­ic Repub­lic’s founder, Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­i­ni.

    Iran on Fri­day said secu­ri­ty forces had arrest­ed 11 peo­ple sus­pect­ed of involve­ment in Wednes­day’s attack and had seized explo­sive devices and vests.

    While Tal­iban crack­downs have weak­ened ISIS‑K and prompt­ed some mem­bers to leave Afghanistan for neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, the affil­i­ate has con­tin­ued focus­ing on plot­ting for­eign oper­a­tions, U.S. offi­cials say.

    ———-

    “Exclu­sive: US intel­li­gence con­firms Islam­ic State’s Afghanistan branch behind Iran blasts” By Jonathan Lan­day and Steve Hol­land; Reuters; 01/05/2024

    ““The intel­li­gence is clear-cut and indis­putable,” one source said.”

    Clear-cut and indis­putable. That’s how one of the unnamed sources described the nature of the intel­li­gence picked up through inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions. It was so clear-cut that the US was able to deter­mine that it was ISIS‑K that car­ried out the attacks in Iran even though the claims of respon­si­bil­i­ty from ISIS did­n’t spec­i­fy which branch had done it:

    ...
    That source and a sec­ond, both of whom request­ed anonymi­ty to dis­cuss the sen­si­tive issue, said the intel­li­gence com­prised com­mu­ni­ca­tions inter­cepts, with­out pro­vid­ing fur­ther details. The col­lec­tion of the inter­cepts has not been pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed..

    ...

    The Sun­ni Mus­lim mil­i­tant group, how­ev­er, did not spec­i­fy that its Afghanistan-based affil­i­ate, known as ISIS-Kho­rasan (ISIS‑K), was respon­si­ble for the bomb­ings in the south­east­ern Iran­ian city of Ker­man.

    “The U.S. has pret­ty clear intel” that ISIS‑K con­duct­ed the attack, the first source said.
    ...

    So far in 2024, we have the US warn­ing two key adver­saries about impend­ing ISIS‑K attacks based on inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions. And it’s only April. How many more ISIS‑K attacks on major US adver­saries are we going to see over the course of the rest of 2024? And how many of those attacks will include warn­ings from the US? Those are some of the rather odd ques­tions we’re forced to digest giv­en the cir­cum­stances.

    But as the fol­low­ing Vice arti­cle from back in March of 2023 reminds us, Iran and Rus­sia aren’t the only major US adver­saries suf­fer­ing from ISIS‑K attacks of late. Chi­na has become a major focus for the group. It start­ed with the Decem­ber 12, 2022, attack on the Lon­gan Hotel in Kab­ul, fol­lowed by a failed sui­cide bomb­ing attempt the fol­low­ing month tar­get­ing the Afghan for­eign min­istry facil­i­ty in Kab­ul. Both attacks occurred right around the times of offi­cial vis­its by Chi­nese del­e­ga­tions.

    And while part of ISIS-K’s moti­va­tion for focus­ing on Chi­na clear­ly has to do with the promi­nent posi­tion the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has played in open­ing up rela­tions with the new Tal­iban-led gov­ern­ment, it’s also clear that ISIS‑K isn’t just intent on dri­ving Chi­na out of Afghanistan. The “hap­pi­ness and free­dom” of Uyghurs of Xin­jiang, or “East Turk­istan” as the group puts it, is now a major declared objec­tive for the group:

    Vice

    ISIS‑K Is Wag­ing a New War in Afghanistan—This Time Against Chi­na

    The Afghanistan arm of the Islam­ic State is tar­get­ing Chi­nese nation­als in a bid to “avenge” Uyghur Mus­lims in Xin­jiang.

    by Gavin But­ler
    March 1, 2023, 12:05am

    By the time the bombs went off inside the Kab­ul Lon­gan Hotel on the after­noon of Dec. 12, 2022, the armed insur­gents had already filmed their last words. Cradling pis­tols and pos­ing beside a lounge chair heaped with ammu­ni­tion, grenades, and explo­sives, two young mil­i­tants, dressed incon­spic­u­ous­ly in a hood­ed sweat­shirt and a brown sher­pa jack­et, point­ed to the sky and pledged alle­giance to the Islam­ic State.

    Since the Tal­iban reclaimed lead­er­ship over Afghanistan in 2021, this hotel, locat­ed in the cen­tral dis­trict of the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul, had become well-known for its pop­u­lar­i­ty among a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese busi­ness­men who’d start­ed vis­it­ing the coun­try, offer­ing invest­ment and finan­cial sup­port to an increas­ing­ly embat­tled admin­is­tra­tion. What ensued on that mid­win­ter after­noon was a vio­lent siege that result­ed in at least 21 casualties—three dead and 18 injured—as the gun­men det­o­nat­ed two bags filled with explo­sives and opened fire on Chi­nese guests.

    The insur­gents were even­tu­al­ly killed by local secu­ri­ty forces, accord­ing to the Tal­iban-run admin­is­tra­tion, and the next day Chi­na urged its cit­i­zens to leave Afghanistan as soon as pos­si­ble. For the Islam­ic State Kho­rasan Province (ISIS‑K), a region­al affil­i­ate of the Islam­ic State (IS) that lat­er claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the inci­dent, it was a suc­cess.

    Lat­er that week, the offi­cial IS newslet­ter Al-Naba cel­e­brat­ed the Lon­gan Hotel attack as an onslaught that “spread ter­ror and pan­ic among the ranks of the com­mu­nist Chi­nese,” “put threats towards Chi­na into action on the ground,” and “[ini­ti­at­ed] the jour­ney of vengeance” against Bei­jing.

    Its sup­posed crimes? Sup­port­ing the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment and “killing, arrest­ing, and tor­tur­ing Uyghur Mus­lims.”

    In recent months, ISIS‑K—otherwise known by the ini­tial­ism ISKP—has adopt­ed an increas­ing­ly bel­li­cose posi­tion toward Chi­na. What start­ed as a cam­paign to under­mine Chi­nese sup­port for the Islamist group’s Tal­iban rivals has trans­formed into tar­get­ed con­dem­na­tion of the East Asian super­pow­er itself. Now that vit­ri­ol has boiled over into vio­lence. And with tar­get­ed attacks against Chi­nese cit­i­zens in Afghanistan like­ly to con­tin­ue, Beijing’s prospects in the coun­try are look­ing more and more per­ilous.

    ISIS‑K’s strate­gic shift was rat­i­fied on Feb. 19, when the group col­lat­ed all of its devel­op­ing anti-Chi­na nar­ra­tives into one com­pre­hen­sive doc­u­ment: a 117-page pro­pa­gan­da pam­phlet, focussed on Chi­na and the oppres­sion of Uyghur Mus­lim minori­ties, that experts say is intend­ed to be a guide­book for all jihadist groups. The day before, ISIS‑K had released a 48-minute video that declared the lib­er­a­tion of Uyghurs as “one of our great­est objec­tives.”

    Where­as pre­vi­ous­ly the group’s ani­mos­i­ty was focused almost exclu­sive­ly on the Tal­iban, the Unit­ed States, and the gov­ern­ments of both Afghanistan and Pak­istan, the ISIS‑K media machine is now turn­ing its crosshairs toward Bei­jing, high­light­ing alle­ga­tions of geno­cide against Uyghurs and encour­ag­ing sup­port­ers to retal­i­ate by com­mit­ting vio­lence against Chi­nese inter­ests.

    ...

    On Jan­u­ary 11, ISIS‑K mil­i­tants fol­lowed up on the Lon­gan Hotel siege and killed at least 20 peo­ple in a failed sui­cide bomb­ing tar­get­ing the Afghan for­eign min­istry facil­i­ty in Kab­ul, where a Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion was report­ed­ly due to meet with the Tal­iban some­time dur­ing the day. Weeks lat­er, in their near­ly hour­long video titled “We Killed Those Whom You Pro­tect,” the group warned of fur­ther attacks against Chi­nese nation­als, diplo­mats, and aid work­ers in Afghanistan, claim­ing to be the only jihadist organ­i­sa­tion that is actu­al­ly fight­ing back against Uyghur oppres­sion.

    “We will not only ter­rorise and kill the Chi­nese infi­dels but also ensure the free­dom and hap­pi­ness of all the Mus­lims of East Turk­istan,” said the nar­ra­tor of the video, refer­ring to the Chi­nese region of Xin­jiang, where the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is thought to have detained more than 1 mil­lion Uyghurs in what the UN High Com­mis­sion­er for Human Rights has said con­sti­tutes seri­ous human rights vio­la­tions and poten­tial crimes against human­i­ty.

    Lucas Web­ber, co-founder and edi­tor of the Mil­i­tant Wire research net­work, has been notic­ing this trend in the Islamist group’s mes­sag­ing. Fol­low­ing the fall of Kab­ul and the return of the Tal­iban to pow­er, he watched close­ly as ISIS‑K emerged, in terms of both words and lat­er actions, as the fore­most anti-Chi­na force with­in jihadist cir­cles. As their pro­pa­gan­da appa­ra­tus became more cen­tralised and focussed, mem­bers of the group start­ed look­ing beyond China’s for­eign rela­tions with the Tal­iban and dig­ging deep­er into the nation’s domes­tic poli­cies and his­to­ry, par­tic­u­lar­ly in rela­tion to Uyghurs in Xin­jiang. What they found there, said Web­ber, was an oppor­tu­ni­ty.

    While it might seem improb­a­ble that an extrem­ist organ­i­sa­tion as noto­ri­ous as ISIS‑K would peg their flag to a glob­al­ly recog­nised human rights cause, Web­ber not­ed that the group has realised the poten­cy of Uyghur oppres­sion as a recruit­ment tool, as well as a way to pro­mote their brand on an inter­na­tion­al scale: by tap­ping into one of the most infa­mous­ly grotesque cas­es of human rights abus­es fac­ing Mus­lims any­where in the world.

    “The Uyghur issue is one of the big­ger issues of Mus­lim oppres­sion,” Web­ber said. “And so they [ISIS‑K] have been look­ing to exploit this and lever­age it to grow their appeal and to essen­tial­ly show that ‘we’re the only group tak­ing action, we’re the only group con­sis­tent­ly speak­ing out… We’re going to keep issu­ing threats, crit­i­cisms, launch­ing attacks, and focus­ing on this issue.’”

    Web­ber described the Lon­gan Hotel siege as a “turn­ing point”: the first time ISIS‑K mil­i­tants put their words into action and launched a direct attack against Chi­nese inter­ests. It was also like­ly an augury of things to come. Giv­en the recent esca­la­tion of the group’s hos­tile rhetoric, Web­ber wagered “very good odds” that ISIS‑K vio­lence against Chi­nese peo­ple will con­tin­ue.

    ...

    There aren’t many coun­tries that have com­mit­ted to work­ing along­side the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment, but Chi­na is one. Since the offi­cial takeover of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has pub­licly engaged in friend­ly, bilat­er­al inter­ac­tion with Tal­iban author­i­ties, even going as far as to lob­by for them in inter­na­tion­al for­mats like the UN, while pro­vid­ing them with human­i­tar­i­an and mil­i­tary assis­tance, accord­ing to the Jamestown Foun­da­tion.

    More recent­ly, Bei­jing has also shown con­spic­u­ous inter­est in pour­ing invest­ment into the coun­try in the hopes of exploit­ing its vast nat­ur­al resources. Afghanistan boasts an esti­mat­ed $1 tril­lion worth of untapped min­er­al deposits, includ­ing cop­per, gold, iron, and lithium—a lucra­tive bit of pay dirt for any­one who might be able to with­draw the mate­ri­als safe­ly. In ear­ly Jan­u­ary, a Chi­nese firm signed a 25-year con­tract for oil extrac­tion in the coun­try. Mean­while, anoth­er Chi­nese state-owned com­pa­ny is report­ed­ly look­ing to resume a project to mine the world’s sec­ond largest cop­per deposit from a bar­ren region just south of Kab­ul, after more than a dozen years of inac­tiv­i­ty.

    These hard­en­ing busi­ness ties have pre­cip­i­tat­ed an influx of Chi­nese nation­als into Afghanistan, and raised the hopes of a Tal­iban gov­ern­ment that is find­ing itself increas­ing­ly belea­guered by ongo­ing eco­nom­ic strug­gles and a spi­ralling human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis. At the same time, how­ev­er, the country’s secu­ri­ty under Tal­iban rule has start­ed to look increas­ing­ly shaky—due in no small part to con­stant insur­rec­tions from ISIS‑K, who have entrenched them­selves as “the pri­ma­ry rivals” of the Tal­iban and attacked Chi­nese tar­gets in a bid to rat­tle Beijing’s nerves.

    “They [ISIS‑K] are try­ing to under­mine China’s con­fi­dence in the Taliban’s abil­i­ty to pro­vide secu­ri­ty,” Web­ber said. “They want to under­mine, and essen­tial­ly dam­age, any­thing that could strength­en the Tal­iban’s gov­ern­ing posi­tion.”

    This tac­tic was applied with dev­as­tat­ing suc­cess dur­ing the raid on the Lon­gan Hotel. The day before the attack, on Dec. 11, 2022, Chi­nese Ambas­sador to Kab­ul Wang Yu met with Afghanistan’s deputy for­eign min­is­ter Sher Moham­mad Abbas Stanikzai at the Tal­iban-run for­eign min­istry to express his “sat­is­fac­tion over the over­all secu­ri­ty in Afghanistan.” Forty-eight hours lat­er, Chi­nese cit­i­zens were being urged to flee.

    ...

    Iftikhar Fir­dous, found­ing edi­tor of the Kho­rasan Diary, described the hotel siege as “the most impor­tant oper­a­tion for ISKP in 2022… the apex of a time­ly and care­ful­ly devised ter­ror­ist oper­a­tion.”

    “[ISKP] were the first IS branch to harm a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Chi­nese nation­als, poten­tial­ly hav­ing a gal­vanis­ing effect on oth­er IS branch­es in oth­er regions,” Fir­dous told VICE World News. More direct­ly, he added, the siege “vis­i­bly expose[d] Taliban’s lack of secu­ri­ty and intel­li­gence as well as ISKP capa­bil­i­ties of plan­ning such an oper­a­tion” against Chi­nese nation­als.

    ...

    In response to the attack, China’s for­eign min­istry spokesper­son Wang Wen­bin urged the Tal­iban to “take res­olute and strong mea­sures to ensure the safe­ty of Chi­nese cit­i­zens, insti­tu­tions and projects in Afghanistan.” In Jan­u­ary, fol­low­ing both the hotel raid and the blast out­side Afghanistan’s for­eign min­istry, Chi­na again implored the Islamist group to pro­vide greater secu­ri­ty to Chi­nese nation­als inside the coun­try, promis­ing to pro­vide them with mod­ern weapons in return.

    It was ISIS‑K’s more recent video and pro­pa­gan­da pam­phlet, though, both released in the past fort­night, that estab­lished the group’s anti-Chi­na agen­da more deci­sive­ly than ever before. As Fir­dous explained, the pam­phlet con­sti­tut­ed, for the first time, “a whole book fea­tur­ing Chi­na and the Tal­iban as [ISKP’s] main rivals in Afghanistan, which is set to become one of the main pub­li­ca­tions in the region and a ref­er­ence for all jihadist groups.”

    As a pri­or­i­ty, ISIS‑K is now active­ly address­ing and recruit­ing mil­i­tants in oth­er such groups, includ­ing the Turk­istan Islam­ic Par­ty (TIP): a Uyghur Islam­ic extrem­ist organ­i­sa­tion found­ed in west­ern Chi­na. While the two groups have pre­vi­ous­ly been known to work in close alliance—issu­ing pro­pa­gan­da in the Uyghur lan­guage, exchang­ing per­son­nel and mil­i­tary advice, and plan­ning joint attacks—ISIS‑K has more recent­ly start­ed to crit­i­cise TIP for what they see as a fail­ure to fol­low through on pledges of Uyghur lib­er­a­tion.

    Fir­dous point­ed out that for ISIS‑K, though, the Uyghur issue is just one part of a greater mis­sion, and pre­text for the group “to more broad­ly start its long-last­ing cam­paign against Chi­na in Afghanistan and in the region.”

    While the group’s ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties are most­ly con­fined to Afghanistan and Pak­istan, its vision is glob­al: to sup­port the top­pling of what it sees as cor­rupt gov­ern­ments in Mus­lim nations, incite ter­ror­ist attacks in the West, and rein­state an Islam­ic caliphate. ISIS‑K has emerged as the Islam­ic State’s strongest pro­po­nents of an inter­na­tion­al jihad. As a result, the scope of their oper­a­tions has widened.

    On Sep. 9, 2022, an ISIS‑K media group, Tawhid News, pub­lished a state­ment in which mil­i­tants threat­ened to destroy oil and gas pipelines run­ning over­land from Cen­tral Asia to Chi­na in a bid to sab­o­tage the country’s ener­gy infra­struc­ture and crip­ple its econ­o­my. The group has also hint­ed at future attacks against Russ­ian, Amer­i­can, and Indi­an tar­gets.

    ...

    If ISIS‑K is tak­en at its word, then the vio­lence is far from fin­ished. Chi­na is rapid­ly los­ing con­fi­dence in the secu­ri­ty of Afghanistan, the Tal­iban are scram­bling to repel IS activ­i­ties with­in the country’s borders—largely through night raids and extra­ju­di­cial deten­tions and killings—and ISIS‑K mil­i­tants are cap­i­tal­is­ing on the dishar­mo­ny to sow fur­ther con­flict and advance their extreme jihadist agen­da.

    The resul­tant chaos has cast a cloud of uncer­tain­ty over the sta­bil­i­ty of Beijing’s prospects in the coun­try. And while it’s dif­fi­cult to antic­i­pate exact­ly what the next few weeks and months might hold—the ele­ment of sur­prise is a key part of ISIS‑K’s mil­i­tary strat­e­gy, after all—both Web­ber and Fir­dous seem con­fi­dent about one thing: There will be blood, and it will more than like­ly be Chi­nese nation­als who shed it.

    “It is rea­son­able to assess that ISKP is going to attack for­eign nation­als again,” Fir­dous said. “And with Chi­na being among the most involved coun­tries in Afghanistan, its cit­i­zens and inter­ests are pri­ma­ry tar­gets.”

    ————-

    “ISIS‑K Is Wag­ing a New War in Afghanistan—This Time Against Chi­na” by Gavin But­ler; Vice; 03/01/2023

    “In recent months, ISIS‑K—otherwise known by the ini­tial­ism ISKP—has adopt­ed an increas­ing­ly bel­li­cose posi­tion toward Chi­na. What start­ed as a cam­paign to under­mine Chi­nese sup­port for the Islamist group’s Tal­iban rivals has trans­formed into tar­get­ed con­dem­na­tion of the East Asian super­pow­er itself. Now that vit­ri­ol has boiled over into vio­lence. And with tar­get­ed attacks against Chi­nese cit­i­zens in Afghanistan like­ly to con­tin­ue, Beijing’s prospects in the coun­try are look­ing more and more per­ilous.”

    The Decem­ber 2022 ISIS‑K bomb­ing the Lon­gan Hotel in Kab­ul marked a shift­ed in ISIS-K’s over­all strat­e­gy. It was now a staunch­ly anti-Chi­na group. And while Chi­na’s deep­en­ing ties to the Tal­iban can explain part of that strate­gic shift, it’s not like ISIS‑K is focused on attack­ing Chi­nese inter­ests in Afghanistan. ‘Free­ing the Uyghurs’ is now a major ISIS‑K goal:

    ...
    Since the Tal­iban reclaimed lead­er­ship over Afghanistan in 2021, this hotel, locat­ed in the cen­tral dis­trict of the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul, had become well-known for its pop­u­lar­i­ty among a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese busi­ness­men who’d start­ed vis­it­ing the coun­try, offer­ing invest­ment and finan­cial sup­port to an increas­ing­ly embat­tled admin­is­tra­tion. What ensued on that mid­win­ter after­noon was a vio­lent siege that result­ed in at least 21 casualties—three dead and 18 injured—as the gun­men det­o­nat­ed two bags filled with explo­sives and opened fire on Chi­nese guests.

    ...

    Lat­er that week, the offi­cial IS newslet­ter Al-Naba cel­e­brat­ed the Lon­gan Hotel attack as an onslaught that “spread ter­ror and pan­ic among the ranks of the com­mu­nist Chi­nese,” “put threats towards Chi­na into action on the ground,” and “[ini­ti­at­ed] the jour­ney of vengeance” against Bei­jing.

    Its sup­posed crimes? Sup­port­ing the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment and “killing, arrest­ing, and tor­tur­ing Uyghur Mus­lims.”

    ...

    ISIS‑K’s strate­gic shift was rat­i­fied on Feb. 19, when the group col­lat­ed all of its devel­op­ing anti-Chi­na nar­ra­tives into one com­pre­hen­sive doc­u­ment: a 117-page pro­pa­gan­da pam­phlet, focussed on Chi­na and the oppres­sion of Uyghur Mus­lim minori­ties, that experts say is intend­ed to be a guide­book for all jihadist groups. The day before, ISIS‑K had released a 48-minute video that declared the lib­er­a­tion of Uyghurs as “one of our great­est objec­tives.”

    Where­as pre­vi­ous­ly the group’s ani­mos­i­ty was focused almost exclu­sive­ly on the Tal­iban, the Unit­ed States, and the gov­ern­ments of both Afghanistan and Pak­istan, the ISIS‑K media machine is now turn­ing its crosshairs toward Bei­jing, high­light­ing alle­ga­tions of geno­cide against Uyghurs and encour­ag­ing sup­port­ers to retal­i­ate by com­mit­ting vio­lence against Chi­nese inter­ests.

    ...

    Lucas Web­ber, co-founder and edi­tor of the Mil­i­tant Wire research net­work, has been notic­ing this trend in the Islamist group’s mes­sag­ing. Fol­low­ing the fall of Kab­ul and the return of the Tal­iban to pow­er, he watched close­ly as ISIS‑K emerged, in terms of both words and lat­er actions, as the fore­most anti-Chi­na force with­in jihadist cir­cles. As their pro­pa­gan­da appa­ra­tus became more cen­tralised and focussed, mem­bers of the group start­ed look­ing beyond China’s for­eign rela­tions with the Tal­iban and dig­ging deep­er into the nation’s domes­tic poli­cies and his­to­ry, par­tic­u­lar­ly in rela­tion to Uyghurs in Xin­jiang. What they found there, said Web­ber, was an oppor­tu­ni­ty.

    While it might seem improb­a­ble that an extrem­ist organ­i­sa­tion as noto­ri­ous as ISIS‑K would peg their flag to a glob­al­ly recog­nised human rights cause, Web­ber not­ed that the group has realised the poten­cy of Uyghur oppres­sion as a recruit­ment tool, as well as a way to pro­mote their brand on an inter­na­tion­al scale: by tap­ping into one of the most infa­mous­ly grotesque cas­es of human rights abus­es fac­ing Mus­lims any­where in the world.

    ...

    Web­ber described the Lon­gan Hotel siege as a “turn­ing point”: the first time ISIS‑K mil­i­tants put their words into action and launched a direct attack against Chi­nese inter­ests. It was also like­ly an augury of things to come. Giv­en the recent esca­la­tion of the group’s hos­tile rhetoric, Web­ber wagered “very good odds” that ISIS‑K vio­lence against Chi­nese peo­ple will con­tin­ue.

    ...

    Iftikhar Fir­dous, found­ing edi­tor of the Kho­rasan Diary, described the hotel siege as “the most impor­tant oper­a­tion for ISKP in 2022… the apex of a time­ly and care­ful­ly devised ter­ror­ist oper­a­tion.”

    “[ISKP] were the first IS branch to harm a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Chi­nese nation­als, poten­tial­ly hav­ing a gal­vanis­ing effect on oth­er IS branch­es in oth­er regions,” Fir­dous told VICE World News. More direct­ly, he added, the siege “vis­i­bly expose[d] Taliban’s lack of secu­ri­ty and intel­li­gence as well as ISKP capa­bil­i­ties of plan­ning such an oper­a­tion” against Chi­nese nation­als.

    ...

    It was ISIS‑K’s more recent video and pro­pa­gan­da pam­phlet, though, both released in the past fort­night, that estab­lished the group’s anti-Chi­na agen­da more deci­sive­ly than ever before. As Fir­dous explained, the pam­phlet con­sti­tut­ed, for the first time, “a whole book fea­tur­ing Chi­na and the Tal­iban as [ISKP’s] main rivals in Afghanistan, which is set to become one of the main pub­li­ca­tions in the region and a ref­er­ence for all jihadist groups.”

    As a pri­or­i­ty, ISIS‑K is now active­ly address­ing and recruit­ing mil­i­tants in oth­er such groups, includ­ing the Turk­istan Islam­ic Par­ty (TIP): a Uyghur Islam­ic extrem­ist organ­i­sa­tion found­ed in west­ern Chi­na. While the two groups have pre­vi­ous­ly been known to work in close alliance—issu­ing pro­pa­gan­da in the Uyghur lan­guage, exchang­ing per­son­nel and mil­i­tary advice, and plan­ning joint attacks—ISIS‑K has more recent­ly start­ed to crit­i­cise TIP for what they see as a fail­ure to fol­low through on pledges of Uyghur lib­er­a­tion.
    ...

    And that Decem­ber 2022 attack was fol­low­ing up with a failed Jan­u­ary 11, 2023, sui­cide bomb­ing at the tar­get­ing the Afghan for­eign min­istry facil­i­ty in Kab­ul dur­ing a Chi­nese vis­it. Weeks lat­er, a video was released with a mes­sage of free­dom and hap­pi­ness for “all the Mus­lims of East Turk­istan”:

    ...
    On Jan­u­ary 11, ISIS‑K mil­i­tants fol­lowed up on the Lon­gan Hotel siege and killed at least 20 peo­ple in a failed sui­cide bomb­ing tar­get­ing the Afghan for­eign min­istry facil­i­ty in Kab­ul, where a Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion was report­ed­ly due to meet with the Tal­iban some­time dur­ing the day. Weeks lat­er, in their near­ly hour­long video titled “We Killed Those Whom You Pro­tect,” the group warned of fur­ther attacks against Chi­nese nation­als, diplo­mats, and aid work­ers in Afghanistan, claim­ing to be the only jihadist organ­i­sa­tion that is actu­al­ly fight­ing back against Uyghur oppres­sion.

    “We will not only ter­rorise and kill the Chi­nese infi­dels but also ensure the free­dom and hap­pi­ness of all the Mus­lims of East Turk­istan,” said the nar­ra­tor of the video, refer­ring to the Chi­nese region of Xin­jiang, where the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is thought to have detained more than 1 mil­lion Uyghurs in what the UN High Com­mis­sion­er for Human Rights has said con­sti­tutes seri­ous human rights vio­la­tions and poten­tial crimes against human­i­ty.
    ...

    It’s hard not to notice the incred­i­ble align­ment of the US’s long-stand­ing strate­gic objec­tives with ISIS-K’s new areas of focus. Which brings us to the fol­low­ing opin­ion piece pub­lished by Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace where we find Jen­nifer Kavanagh, a senior fel­low in the Amer­i­can State­craft Pro­gram at the Carnegie, mak­ing the case that the best US response to the recent string of ISIS‑K attacks is no response. Why no response? Well, as Kavanagh argues, the US’s counter-ter­ror oper­a­tions haven’t exact­ly been stun­ning suc­cess­es in the past and have a demon­strat­ed lim­it­ed abil­i­ty to real­ly impact the oper­a­tions of ter­ror­ist groups, which, itself is an inter­est­ing admis­sion.

    But then she gets to the oth­er big rea­son to do noth­ing: the US should focus on the loom­ing threats posed by Rus­sia and Chi­na and going after ISIS‑K would be a dis­trac­tion and waste of resources in light of those much larg­er con­flicts:

    Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace

    Washington’s Best Response to the ISIS‑K Attack May Be No Response

    Jen­nifer Kavanagh
    March 28, 2024

    The day before ISIS-Kho­rasan (ISIS‑K) car­ried out a dead­ly attack on a con­cert hall in Moscow, Gen­er­al Michael Erik Kuril­la tes­ti­fied before Con­gress about the threat posed by the group. The leader of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that ISIS‑K, an affil­i­ate of the Islam­ic State, “retains the capa­bil­i­ty and the will to attack U.S. and West­ern inter­ests abroad in as lit­tle as six months with lit­tle to no warn­ing.” He made a sim­i­lar assess­ment one year ear­li­er in front of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, where he also warned that addi­tion­al fund­ing to sup­port expand­ed intel­li­gence activ­i­ties and strike oper­a­tions would be required to counter the group’s rise.

    ...

    Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s admin­is­tra­tion should resist calls to expand the scope of its coun­tert­er­ror oper­a­tions over­seas, even by a lit­tle. Increas­ing over­seas mil­i­tary oper­a­tions is not the most effi­cient way to pro­tect the U.S. home­land in this instance—and in fact, it may do more harm than good. U.S. intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties appear able to track the group pro­fi­cient­ly, even with­out forces deployed in Afghanistan. An already over­stretched U.S. mil­i­tary can ill-afford to widen its coun­tert­er­ror­ism respon­si­bil­i­ties as it tries to man­age the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and ten­sions in the West­ern Pacific—especially giv­en its lim­it­ed suc­cess in coun­ter­ing sim­i­lar ter­ror­ist threats else­where. This is a case where the best response may be no response.

    The risk of an ISIS‑K attack inside Unit­ed States is lim­it­ed, despite the assault in Moscow. Though they receive a sig­nif­i­cant amount of media atten­tion, ter­ror­ist attacks per­pe­trat­ed by Islamist groups in the Unit­ed States have been far less fre­quent than those com­mit­ted by right-wing extrem­ists over the past twen­ty years. Since the emer­gence of ISIS, only a hand­ful of vio­lent attacks inside the Unit­ed States have been linked to the group and none to ISIS‑K, which has so far been most active in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Kuril­la him­self admit­ted that ISIS‑K attacks on the U.S. home­land are not like­ly in the near term..

    Far from being on the rise, attack claims across all ISIS affil­i­ates have fall­en sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the past few years. This same trend fol­lows for ISIS‑K, owing in part to Tal­iban efforts to sup­press the group’s activ­i­ties inside Afghanistan. ISIS‑K has increased its exter­nal oper­a­tions over the past year, but the group still has been con­nect­ed to few­er than two dozen plots and attacks world­wide. None have tar­get­ed the Unit­ed States, and those in Europe were large­ly dis­rupt­ed before they occurred.

    In addi­tion, evi­dence is min­i­mal that a degra­da­tion of U.S. core intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties has occurred after the U.S. with­draw­al from Afghanistan, at least as it per­tains to ISIS‑K. Instead, U.S. intel­li­gence on the group is robust, time­ly, and spe­cif­ic, sug­gest­ing con­tin­ued strong capa­bil­i­ties and exten­sive net­works even in the absence of boots on the ground. Indeed, the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has already proven its abil­i­ty to track ISIS‑K activ­i­ty with con­sid­er­able accu­ra­cy. Weeks before the March 22 attack, U.S. offi­cials informed Moscow of the group’s intent to strike civil­ian tar­gets inside the country—including con­cert halls—but their advice was rebuffed. U.S. offi­cials offered a sim­i­lar warn­ing to Iran pri­or to the group’s sui­cide bomb­ing in Ker­man. There is good rea­son to be con­fi­dent that these same intel­li­gence assets would offer warn­ing of poten­tial ISIS‑K attacks on the Unit­ed States, with enough time for offi­cials to take nec­es­sary action and with­out any major changes to cur­rent U.S. mil­i­tary pos­ture or activ­i­ties.

    Even if a cred­i­ble ISIS‑K threat to the U.S. home­land were to emerge, expand­ing coun­tert­er­ror oper­a­tions would prob­a­bly not be the most effec­tive response. First, ISIS‑K’s most active cells are now spread across Cen­tral Asia, mak­ing them dif­fi­cult to tar­get or elim­i­nate and under­min­ing the ratio­nale for renewed airstrikes in Afghanistan. Fur­ther­more, research shows that both large-scale air cam­paigns aimed at ter­ror­ist group hide­outs and more lim­it­ed drone oper­a­tions rarely ful­ly erad­i­cate ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions and can some­times back­fire. Sec­ond, as the war in Gaza and the U.S. glob­al war on ter­ror have demon­strat­ed, ground-based mil­i­tary cam­paigns also can­not wipe out dif­fuse and net­worked ter­ror­ist groups. In fact, most U.S. mil­i­tary oper­a­tions intend­ed to counter and defeat ter­ror­ist groups like ISIS‑K over at least two decades in the Mid­dle East and else­where have been met with only lim­it­ed suc­cess and con­sid­er­able cost and risk, espe­cial­ly when it comes to con­tain­ing the spread of off­shoots. ISIS‑K emerged in Afghanistan while the Unit­ed States was still oper­at­ing in the coun­try, sug­gest­ing that hav­ing more U.S. troops on the ground is not the solu­tion to any increase in extrem­ist activ­i­ty that has occurred.

    ...

    Above all, an already over­stretched U.S. mil­i­tary and defense indus­tri­al base under strain can­not afford to take on a renewed coun­tert­er­ror role, espe­cial­ly when its like­ly con­tri­bu­tions would be of only mar­gin­al val­ue at best. Any expan­sion to cur­rent coun­tert­er­ror oper­a­tions would absorb valu­able sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance assets, per­son­nel, muni­tions, and long-range pre­ci­sion mis­siles that are already in short sup­ply and high demand, includ­ing in Ukraine, the Red Sea, and the Indo-Pacif­ic. In an era of con­strained resources and major pow­er adver­saries, the Unit­ed States should pri­or­i­tize its mil­i­tary invest­ments, and this will require choos­ing what not to do. With­draw­ing from Afghanistan in 2021was a good step in that direc­tion, and Wash­ing­ton should avoid being pulled back into yet anoth­er coun­tert­er­ror cam­paign while more press­ing threats from Rus­sia and espe­cial­ly Chi­na loom.

    ————

    “Washington’s Best Response to the ISIS‑K Attack May Be No Response” by Jen­nifer Kavanagh; Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace; 03/28/2024

    Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s admin­is­tra­tion should resist calls to expand the scope of its coun­tert­er­ror oper­a­tions over­seas, even by a lit­tle. Increas­ing over­seas mil­i­tary oper­a­tions is not the most effi­cient way to pro­tect the U.S. home­land in this instance—and in fact, it may do more harm than good. U.S. intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties appear able to track the group pro­fi­cient­ly, even with­out forces deployed in Afghanistan. An already over­stretched U.S. mil­i­tary can ill-afford to widen its coun­tert­er­ror­ism respon­si­bil­i­ties as it tries to man­age the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and ten­sions in the West­ern Pacific—especially giv­en its lim­it­ed suc­cess in coun­ter­ing sim­i­lar ter­ror­ist threats else­where. This is a case where the best response may be no response.

    No response. At least noth­ing more than the US is cur­rent­ly doing to pre­vent ISIS‑K attacks. The US mil­i­tary can’t han­dle the extra work­load giv­en the loom­ing chal­lenges it faces with Rus­sia and Chi­na. That’s the rec­om­men­da­tion we’re from Jen­nifer Kavanagh, a senior fel­low in the Amer­i­can State­craft Pro­gram at the Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace.

    And as part of her rea­son­ing, Kavanaugh sug­gests that the risk of an ISIS‑K attack inside the US is lim­it­ed and that all indi­ca­tions are that the US intel­li­gence on the group has­n’t degrad­ed since the pull out from Afghanistan. And, well, giv­en the extreme­ly pre­scient intel­li­gence on both the attacks in Iran and Rus­sia, it’s hard to argue with the asser­tion. At a min­i­mum, the US demon­stra­bly has a very good han­dle on ISIS-K’s plans:

    ...
    The risk of an ISIS‑K attack inside Unit­ed States is lim­it­ed, despite the assault in Moscow. Though they receive a sig­nif­i­cant amount of media atten­tion, ter­ror­ist attacks per­pe­trat­ed by Islamist groups in the Unit­ed States have been far less fre­quent than those com­mit­ted by right-wing extrem­ists over the past twen­ty years. Since the emer­gence of ISIS, only a hand­ful of vio­lent attacks inside the Unit­ed States have been linked to the group and none to ISIS‑K, which has so far been most active in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Kuril­la him­self admit­ted that ISIS‑K attacks on the U.S. home­land are not like­ly in the near term..

    ...

    In addi­tion, evi­dence is min­i­mal that a degra­da­tion of U.S. core intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties has occurred after the U.S. with­draw­al from Afghanistan, at least as it per­tains to ISIS‑K. Instead, U.S. intel­li­gence on the group is robust, time­ly, and spe­cif­ic, sug­gest­ing con­tin­ued strong capa­bil­i­ties and exten­sive net­works even in the absence of boots on the ground. Indeed, the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has already proven its abil­i­ty to track ISIS‑K activ­i­ty with con­sid­er­able accu­ra­cy. Weeks before the March 22 attack, U.S. offi­cials informed Moscow of the group’s intent to strike civil­ian tar­gets inside the country—including con­cert halls—but their advice was rebuffed. U.S. offi­cials offered a sim­i­lar warn­ing to Iran pri­or to the group’s sui­cide bomb­ing in Ker­man. There is good rea­son to be con­fi­dent that these same intel­li­gence assets would offer warn­ing of poten­tial ISIS‑K attacks on the Unit­ed States, with enough time for offi­cials to take nec­es­sary action and with­out any major changes to cur­rent U.S. mil­i­tary pos­ture or activ­i­ties.
    ...

    And, of course, the col­umn ends with an empha­sis on the the “more press­ing threats from Rus­sia and espe­cial­ly Chi­na.” Press­ing threats that hap­pen to be key tar­gets of ISIS‑K, along with Iran:

    ...
    Above all, an already over­stretched U.S. mil­i­tary and defense indus­tri­al base under strain can­not afford to take on a renewed coun­tert­er­ror role, espe­cial­ly when its like­ly con­tri­bu­tions would be of only mar­gin­al val­ue at best. Any expan­sion to cur­rent coun­tert­er­ror oper­a­tions would absorb valu­able sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance assets, per­son­nel, muni­tions, and long-range pre­ci­sion mis­siles that are already in short sup­ply and high demand, includ­ing in Ukraine, the Red Sea, and the Indo-Pacif­ic. In an era of con­strained resources and major pow­er adver­saries, the Unit­ed States should pri­or­i­tize its mil­i­tary invest­ments, and this will require choos­ing what not to do. With­draw­ing from Afghanistan in 2021was a good step in that direc­tion, and Wash­ing­ton should avoid being pulled back into yet anoth­er coun­tert­er­ror cam­paign while more press­ing threats from Rus­sia and espe­cial­ly Chi­na loom.
    ...

    As we can see, as long as ISIS‑K is attack­ing West­ern rivals, the group is seen as a low pri­or­i­ty. That’s the rea­son­ing we’re see­ing laid out in this col­umn pub­lished by this high­ly influ­en­tial think tank. The kind of rea­son­ing that sug­gests we should expect a lot more ISIS‑K attacks in the com­ing months that con­ve­nient hit the West­’s major geostrate­gic rivals. And a lot more reports about how US intel­li­gence knew the attacks were com­ing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 13, 2024, 4:32 pm

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