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Will Russia’s air strikes against IS stir domestic radicals into activity?

October 02, 2015, 19:28 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 2. /TASS/. Both Western and Russian mass media are brimming with speculations over whether the just-started air operation in Syria will trigger a surge in terrorist activities by radical Islamists in Russia. Law enforcers have for many years waged struggle against them and quite a few terrorist attacks have been prevented, experts recall. However, it is most essential now to launch an ideological counter-campaign to give a proper rebuff to IS recruiters and prevent them from luring Russian citizens in their web.

The number of Russian citizens and people born in other CIS countries who have joined the IS terrorists is growing by leaps and bounds; some of them have already returned home. Fast pre-emptive measures must be taken right away, the chief of Russia’s presidential staff Sergey Ivanov has said.

"Such Russians already number thousands, and not tens or hundreds," he said, adding that one of the main aims of the decision to use the Russian air and space force planes in Syria was to prevent the proliferation of IS ideology.

"Most of them are militants from the North Caucasus, who have openly vowed allegiance to the Islamic State, accepted this brand name and are prepared to work for it," the Internet portal quotes research fellow Vasily Ivanov, of the Volga Regional Centre of Ethno-Religious Studies as saying. "What sort of work they will be doing is clear to all - terrorist attacks." Apart from the North Caucasus the Islamists have quite a few supporters in the Khanty-Mansi autonomous area, in Tyumen in Moscow and the Moscow Region and in the Volga River area, of course. How many of them there are in reality can be seen even in the groups in the social networks supportive of the Islamic State. Before they numbered up to 20,000. These days such groups begin to be actively blocked as soon as the membership approaches 1,000. But new pages are created virtually in no time. "True, far from all members of these groups are ready to go and kill now. Statistics look as follows: in Tatarstan there are about 3,000 advocates of radical Islam, while only 100 of them will agree to take up arms."

Terrorist attacks are not the only threat. Rank-and-file IS followers do not stop at armed robberies in order to spend the seized cash on jihad. Some of such jihadi-minded highwaymen have been detained in the Ulyanovsk Region, on the Volga River, and near Moscow.

Senior research fellow at the Russian institute of strategic studies (RISI), Galina Khizriyeva, foresees no dramatic change in the Islamists’ activities in Russia after the country has launched an air operation in Syria, because Russian secret services have long expected they would grow increasingly active. "We’ve long accumulated enough experience for countering this sort of threats. We were prepared for this struggle a long time ago. The number of terrorist attacks will most probably stay at the previous level, or may even decline somewhat. In Dagestan, Chechnya and other republics of the North Caucasus systemic efforts are underway. Before, nothing of the sort was done in the Tyumen Region. Complacency prevailed in Tatarstan, too, but now all related agencies have been alerted there."

The situation will remain under control "if the recruiters are denied an opportunity to brainwash people," Khizriyeva said.

The struggle against radical Islam has never ceased, she recalled. "It has been afoot ever since the 1990s, when the Islamic State’s ideology of establishing a world Caliphate came to the fore."

"First, the Islamic State became ingrained in people’s minds. All of us were able to see the Islamic State mentality spread about the North Caucasus. Successful struggle with it was conducted, though, in the media space, as well, and there is certain experience of armed struggle against militant groups."

"They committed quite a few terrorist attacks in the past, and they will commit more in the future," Khizriyeva said. She has no illusions on that score. "They were doing that all the time, in particular, when they began to be financed and when emissaries from various countries of the Persian Gulf were visiting the region."

Professor Leonid Syukiyaynen, of the Higher School of Economics, points to the need for ideological struggle with the Islamists and for desacralizing their ideas.

"Success in a military operation can be achieved within a matter of days, while banishing wrong ideas would take much more time than just three days. But sweeping measures will be capable of minimizing the negative effects."

In other words, he explained, ideological struggle and preventive efforts by law enforcers must go hand in hand. "Ever more converts join the Islamic State. Clearly, there are some other factors that attract them. Finance and compulsion do not always decide everything. People go there despite resistance by law-enforcers. It remains to be seen why."

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