News that the three ISIS suicide bombers who killed 44 people in a gun and bomb attack at Istanbul Atatürk Airport are from Dagestan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, has highlighted the fact that Russia has a massive—and growing—radical Islam problem.
The Turkish police have also arrested three further “Russian nationals” suspected of links with ISIS following the attack.
The Dagestan national was named as Osman Vadinov, who had entered Turkey from Syria as a “refugee” after serving with ISIS, it has been revealed.
Dagestan borders Chechnya, where Russia has waged two wars against Islamists since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan nationals were not named.
Dagestan is a federal subject of Russia, with a population of 2,910,249—of whom only 3.6 percent are ethnic Russians. It has been the scene of an ongoing Islamic insurgency since the 1990s, with the main militant Islamist organization known as Shariat Jamaat being responsible for much of the violence.
Shariat Jamaat was created during the Second Chechen War in favor of Dagestan’s independence as an Islamic state, and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Russian security and military personnel, officials, and civilians.
ISIS is known to operate in the Dagestan region of Russia and claimed to have carried out a gun attack that left one person dead and 11 injured on New Year’s Eve.
Since June, ISIS militants have laid claim to parts of the region, including areas in Dagestan.
Uzbekistan is an independent former Soviet Republic, and is nominally a secular state although the majority of the population is Muslim.
Kyrgyzstan borders Uzbekistan to the west, and, like its neighbor, is supposed to be a secular state, with the majority of its population being Muslim.
According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, Islamic violence in Russia’s North Caucasus, “which has experienced deadly conflict for two decades, is down substantially the last two years—partly because most of its radicals have joined the foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.”
According to the report, by June 2015, most North Caucasus insurgent groups had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), later to be designated as its new “province,” Vilayat Kavkaz.
Some small groups in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria remain loyal to the Caucasus Emirate (CE), another violent regional jihadist organization, the report added.
The report went on to state that “Turkey has become a popular destination” for “Russian jihadists transiting to Syria” and that “Russian-speaking IS liaisons who helped new arrivals cross the Syrian border operated effectively.”
“North Caucasians fight in Iraq and Syria not only for IS, but also for Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as in rebel groups not affiliated with either and mostly under Chechen commanders.
“Due to their reputation as fearless fighters, Chechens are often promoted quickly to command of small groups, or to second- and third-rank positions in IS.”
Muslims constitute most of those living in the North Caucasus residing between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea: Circassians, Balkars, Chechens, Ingush, Kabardin, Karachay, and numerous Dagestani peoples.
Moscow has one million Muslim residents and up to 1.5 million more Muslim “migrant workers,” and there are currently around 8,000 mosques in Russia.
Russia’s FSB security service estimates nearly 2,900 “Russians” have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside ISIS since 2014.