martes, 26 de marzo de 2013

Caucasus Emirate: a pawn in al-Qaeda’s strategy?

Although no one has claimed responsibility for last Monday’s attack at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, suspicion has immediately fallen on Dokka Umarov’s Caucasus Emirate, an al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist insurgency in Russia’s Northern Caucasus. 

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FSB stated that Chechnya was another front in the war against al-Qaeda, claiming that the most horrible acts of terrorism were financed by Arabs. Those mujahideens who came from abroad were mostly from Jordan and especially Saudi Arabia, and Saudis were the ones who filled the command positions in Chechnya: until March 2002, when he was poisoned by the FSB, the most prominent Arab fighter in the region was Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem, better known as Emir Khattab, a  mujahideen tought to be from Jordan, who was instead born in Saudi Arabia to an Arab father and a Circassian mother, as emerged after his death.
The main obstacle for a major Arab involvement in the Chechen conflict was the strong position and authority of local warlords such as Shamil Basayev. Only when Chechens found themselves close to defeat in the mid-2000s, they shifted towards a more strictly Islamist agenda. In 2003 Basayev adopted the title of Emir Abdallah Shamil Abu-Idris, and quotes from the Quran started to precede his statements on terrorist websites. In October 2007 Doku Umarov, who succeeded Sheikh Abdul Halim Sadulayev as president of the self-proclaimed Chechen republic of Ichkeria, proclaimed the Caucasus Emirate, declaring himself its Emir and converting Chechnya into a vilayat (province) of the emirate. 



Although last Moscow bombing fits into the Caucasus Emirate’s combat strategy, which  focuses on both guerrilla actions in the Caucasus and terrorist attacks on Russian cities, it might have also been conceived as a response to renewed Russian interest in al-Qaeda’s most important battlefield: Afghanistan. During a recent two-days visit to the Russian capital, Afghan President Hamid Karzai described Moscow as an “important partner” of Kabul, stating that “Russia is a great political, economic and military power. In the past years, our bilateral relations have significantly strengthened.” As a matter of fact, Kabul’s relations with its powerful neighbour have sensibly improved in the last years and Russia is even making a cautious entry as a security provider in the country where the Soviet Union lost its most important battle of the Cold War. 

According to the Afghan Internal Affairs Ministry, Russia expressed its readiness to train and equip the Afghan police. Moscow has already supplied 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles for police units in Afghanistan and is currently negotiating to deliver Russian-made helicopters for the nascent Afghan army, with NATO paying Russian factories to produce these helicopters. Along with the arms and equipment, Russian military specialists and trainers will also be sent to Afghanistan. Moscow will proceed cautiously and incrementally, avoiding casualties, and ruling out any deployment of troops. According to the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, “Russia is prepared to provide fully-fledged assistance for Afghanistan to provide for its security and ensure its independence after 2014.” 

The terrorist attack on Domodedovo airport migh have therefore been a threat by al-Qaeda to the Russian leadership. The long war fought by the Soviet Union against Islamic integralism throughout the eighties has still not ended, but this time the Kremlin is not alone: despite any geopolitical rivalry, the United States, together with Moscow and other regional powers such as China, India and Iran, will not allow the Talibans to regain control of Afghanistan, aware that their own national security depends on the pacification of this key country for the destiny of Eurasia.

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