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What makes some Russian citizens go to fight for Islamic State?

February 24, 2015, 17:04 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, February 24. /TASS/. The number of Russian citizens fighting for the Islamic State will most probably be growing, experts say. On the one hand, there is a large base for this: the radical Islamists groomed on foreign money. On the other, many young people, eager to make money fast, easily fall under the influence of jihadists, who recruit followers using all available means, including the Internet.

In Iraq alone there are about 1,700 Russian citizens in the groups of militants. Over the past year their number has doubled, the chief of the federal security service FSB, head of the national anti-terrorist committee, Alexander Bortnikov, told an international summit on resistance to extremism in Washington.

He stated pretty clearly that current trend was causing the law enforcers’ great alarm.

"We are perfectly aware that on the one hand we are obliged to prevent potential recruits from leaving the country. On the other, we are to do our utmost to ensure that after such types return to their home countries, including Russia, they should have no chance to stage any extremist or terrorist attacks," he said.

Russia’s Supreme Court at the end of January said 58 criminal cases were being investigated against Russian citizens taking part in the military conflict on the IS side. The list of charges against them include providing assistance to terrorist activities, getting instruction for terrorist operations and organization and participation in an armed terrorist group.

The Supreme Court also said there were Russian citizens among the field commanders of the terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra, which is involved in the armed conflict in Syria. In the meantime, the Supreme Court had long declared that group as terrorist and outlawed its activity in Russia.

"The Islamic State and the terrorist organizations operating in Iraq, Syria and Libya have a well-established system of recruitment through the social networks," a leading research fellow at the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, Vladimir Sotnikov, has told TASS. "They don’t have to dispatch enlisters to recruit candidates on site. Brainwashing is being done through the Internet. The emphasis is on young people, regardless of nationality, those professing Islam first and foremost."

Far from all those who go to fight for the IS are steadfast jihadists, the analyst remarked. Some of them, in particular, jobless ones, succumb to the flowery promises of lavish pay, which may never materialize, though. In Iraq and Syria they undergo ideological indoctrination at special schools.

Sotnikov believes that only preventive efforts by secret services as well as effective measures to fight youth unemployment in the North Caucasus can stem the growth in the number of Russians fighting for the IS.

Senior research fellow Galina Khizriyeva, of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, has told TASS that according to her estimates in Russia alone there are no fewer than 700,000 radical Islamists, or people oriented towards various sects inside Islam, not necessarily Wahhabis. There are quite a few of them in other CIS member-states, too.

In the group that is potentially vulnerable to efforts by jihadi preachers one finds people of different nationalities, including ethnic Russians. The largest number of radicals, Khizriyeva says, are in Dagestan, Moscow and Tatarstan. Khizriyeva agrees that many join IS militants not so much for ideological reasons as out of purely materialistic considerations.

Khizriyeva recalls that the basis for the emergence of radical Islam in Russia began to be formed back in 1991, with the adoption of the law On Religion - "outrageously ultra-liberal, which allowed any representative of any ideology to enter the country quite legally." For more than two decades foreign funds and religious organizations were pushing ahead with their brainwashing efforts. Emissaries from Saudi Arabia and Qatar were most active in that respect.

Russian legislation must be tightened in order to make the struggle against religious radicalism more effective.

"Laws must be tightened against destructive groups, whatever ideology they may be following, and human rights activities promoted with the aim to protect not the rights of religious minorities, but the main majority of believes from the influence of sects. Human rights activities must be geared to the protection of the majority, which, in contrast to the radicals, do not constitute a threat," Khizriyeva said in conclusion.

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