comment: Mixing Turncoats and Terrorism
Published: September 12, 2012 (Issue # 1726)
Events ofáone August day ináRussiaĺs volatile republic ofáDagestan have once again highlighted how turncoats can enhance terroristsĺ capabilities toácarry out deadly attacks ináthe North Caucasus andáother regions ofáRussia.
OnáAug. 28, Aminat Kurbanova, anáethnic Russian woman whose original name was Alla Saprykina, visited Said Afandi al-Chirkawi, theáspiritual leader ofátwo major Sufi orders ináthe North Caucasus. Theáprominent sheikh was initially reluctant toámeet Kurbanova, but theá29-year-old woman said she was aáRussian who wanted toáconvert toáIslam, andáhe eventually agreed toáreceive her ináhis village home. Ináreality, this former actress andádancer had not only already converted toáIslam, but had also joined theáranks ofáthe believers ináSalafism, theáso-called pure Islam. Once ináthe same room with theásheikh, she detonated aábomb concealed under her clothes toákill him andáseven others, including herself.
Russian law enforcement officials were aware that Kurbanova had been assisting militant Salafites andáthat she may have decided toábecome aáshahid after her second husband was killed fighting. But they still could not intercept theáwoman during her deadly mission.
About 150,000 people showed up foráthe funeral ofáthe sheikh, who had tens ofáthousands ofáfollowers. His death is likely toáfuel tensions andáperhaps incite violence between members ofáthe Sufi orders andámilitant Salafites ináthe North Caucasus.
Onáthe day Kurbanova blew herself up, another militant Salafite carried out aásuicide attack ináDagestan. Ramazan Aliyev, aáborder guard, opened fire onácolleagues andápolice atáa barracks ináDagestanĺs Derbent district, killing seven before being shot toádeath himself.
Russiaĺs border guard force is highly professional, andáits members are screened more thoroughly than conscripts ináthe armed forces. Yet Aliyev, whose radical religious views had been reportedly known foráyears, was allowed toáserve foráyears.
There have been dozens ofádocumented cases ináthe North Caucasus when servicemen ofáRussiaĺs so-called power agencies switch sides toáassist terrorists, or when local militants infiltrate these agencies toáfacilitate deadly attacks.
It is also well known that aánumber ofáethnic Slavs have converted toáIslam andájoined theáNorth Caucasus-based groups, including suicide bombers Vitaly Razdobudko andáhis wife. It should be noted that Kurbanovaĺs second husband, Magomed Ilyasov, helped toátrain theáRazdobudkos forátheir suicide missions. Such converts could be especially dangerous because they have aábetter chance toásuccessfully approach targets ináRussia, as policemen tend toáfocus onádark-skinned non-Slavs inátheir racial profiling ofáterrorist suspects.
Terrorist attacks involving these kinds ofáconverts andáturncoats would be particularly difficult toárepel, especially if theáassailants are well-trained, equipped andáprepared toádie, believing that theáreward forátheir ômartyrdomö is paradise. Such attacks could prove particularly devastating if they are staged against critical infrastructure facilities such as nuclear power stations. Major catastrophes onáthe scale ofáChernobyl or Fukushima could be repeated as aáresult ofápremeditated actions byáterrorists who are assisted fromásources within Russia if employees ofáthe countryĺs security services andácritical facilities are not prepared toáprevent such attacks.
Theáauthorities must also take measures toáprevent such attacks fromábeing staged. Apart fromáaddressing root causes andácontributing factors behind theáorganized violence ináthe North Caucasus, preventive actions should include comprehensive screening ofástaff atápower agencies andákey infrastructure facilities toáweed out insiders who could cooperate with terrorists toácause significant casualties andámajor social andáeconomic disruptions.
Simon Saradzhyan is aáresearch fellow atáHarvard Kennedy Schoolĺs Belfer Center.