By: Madison Nowlin, CIB Asia/Eurasia Desk
Analytical Question: How has Russia’s internal security been affected by its involvement in the Syrian Civil War?
Ten people with reported ties to the Islamic State were arrested in Russia over the weekend. The planned attacks come in the wake of Russia’s recent bombardment of Syria, and this development adds confidence to the statement that Russia’s internal security has suffered as a result of their involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
Russia officially became involved in the Syrian Civil War on September 30, 2015 when the Russian Air Force began airstrikes on eight different locations throughout Syria that were controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS). In December of the same year, the Soufan Group —headed by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Ali Soufan— ublished a study stating that Russia had become the main supplier of non-Arab foreign fighters to ISIS since Moscow’s involvement in the war. A reported 2,400 Russians, most of them from the North Caucasus, are believed to have joined ISIS since Russia entered the war. In addition, competition between al-Qaeda as ISIS for recruitment has intensified in recent years, forcing both groups to generate attention by increasing the frequency of operations in the North Caucasus region (Dugulin 2016).
On Saturday November 12, 2016, ten people were arrested in Russia by the Federal Security Service (FSB). The suspects were reportedly found carrying homemade firearms and explosives, also known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The suspects confessed to planning attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg to be carried out on Sunday, November 13 —the anniversary of the attacks in Paris last year (Offord 2016). There was meant to be a series of simultaneous attacks targeting public places with large gatherings of people. The suspects originated in the Fergana Valley —a densely populated strip of land straddling Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan— which is said to be the reason the arrests were made with the help of Kyrgyzstani and Tajikistani officials (Hammett 2016).
Sunday, November 13, 2016 was the one-year anniversary of the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France. The suspects apprehended in Russia were reportedly planning an attack that mirrored those in Paris, with the intention of causing as many casualties as possible on this significant date (Anon. 2016). The help of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan made the arrests possible, and there is speculation on what would have happened if the help had not been offered. This is significant because the suspects also admitted to having been in contact with terrorist networks in Syria and Iraq. Thus, the evidence alludes to increasing communications between radicals in the Middle East and radicals in Central Asia.
The information collected was consistently reported across multiple news media sites, which reinforces the accuracy of the relevant facts. The Russian authorities received a tip from the Kyrgyzstani and Tajikistani governments on the whereabouts of the suspects. If this tip had not come, it is highly likely the attacks would have been carried out in the name of the Islamic State. The arrests of these suspects indicates that Russia is now being targeted by radicals in the Middle East through those in Central Asia, most likely due to the recent airstrikes on Aleppo. This development increases my confidence level from moderate to high due to the direct evidence of increasing communications between the Middle East and Central Asia. Even though the suspects were caught, the near-miss of a large scale attack such as this indicates a shift in the nature of the country’s security threats after its offensive in Syria. Therefore, it can be stated with high confidence that Russia’s internal security has suffered as a result of its involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
Anonymous. “Russian authorities arrest suspected Islamic State terrorists” Europe Online Magazine, 13 Nov. 2016. Accessed 13 Nov. 2016
Dugulin, Riccardo. “The Emerging Islamic State Threat in the North Caucasus” International Policy Digest, 4 Apr. 2016. Accessed 22 Oct. 2016
Hammett, Yvette. “Islamic State-linked terror suspects arrested in Russia for planning explosions” United Press International, 13, Nov. 2016. Accessed 13 Nov. 2016
Offord, Jen. “Russia arrests 10 people thought to be plotting Islamic State-linked terror attacks” International Business Times, 12, Nov. 2016. Accessed 13 Nov. 2016