The Winter Olympics started last Thursday. We’re 6 days in and (thankfully) there have been no terror attacks (that we know of). Is that because Russian CT and security efforts are effective, because the Jihadis are busy elsewhere, a combination of the two or something else entirely? Here’s the latest Sochi SITREP from Groz. Mad Duo
Sochi SITREP Part V: Why are the Chechens in Syria?
We’re at the halfway point of the Olympic Games in Sochi and the Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE) has not launched their widely predicted attacks. Is ICE simply waiting for complacency to set in within the Russian Security Forces? Has Putin’s “Ring of Steel” been successful as the most vast security apparatus in Olympic history? These are questions that have flooded media coverage of the games. Much of the hysteria of Black Widow Bombers has passed as the media has seemingly declared the Olympics secure. However, is this premature? Is the analysis of the success of Russian Security Forces been accurate?
The answer may not lie in the Caucasus region, but in the battlefields of Syria.
Since that last installment of the Sochi Sitrep information from the Russian media has been heavily tailored to meet the wishes of their government. One of the only pieces of the Counter Terror Puzzle that was actually released was that of a successful operation in Dagestan. This operation killed the suspected organizer of the Volgograd bombings. Dzhamaldin Mirzayez was killed in an assault on home in Izberbash with another suspect after firing on Security Forces. One other suspect was (surprisingly) taken alive after surrendering. The limited amount of intelligence released by the Russians tell us just how closely they are monitoring world opinion.
Sergey Ivanov Putin’s Chief of Staff released a statement that focused on the fact that the Olympics are not over, so a threat still exists. Also Ivanov spoke on his belief by relaying the maxim that the ‘best security is the security that you do not see’. This statement by Ivanov keeps with the Russian aim of keeping visitors and the athletes themselves from having an overwhelming feeling of security. Expect the Russians to keep information heavily censored for the remainder of the games. By contrast the Jihadis for their part have continued media and propaganda operations. An ICE leader named Tengiz Guketlov released a briefing where he claimed the January killings in Starvopol were in response for the killings of, “innocent Muslims by Security Forces”. Guketlov also tried to distance the killings from any link to the Olympics, but in a contradictory release the Ingush media of ICE released a statement threatening visitors to the Olympics of attacks by ICE. Recent (unsubstantiated) reports from Jihadi websites claim helicopter-backed Russian CT operations have resulted in Russian casualties within the Chechnya provinces of Sunzha. These three messages show that ICE releases briefing for local populations to gain support as Guketlov did while simultaneously releasing terror threats internationally.
Now that we are up to date on the events that have transpired since the last Sitrep, let us begin to analysis what might be behind this seeming lack of action on the part of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate.
Chechen Jihadi Diaspora
The idea of Jihadis travelling across the world to reach locations where other believers are engaged in conflict is nothing new. However, this idea of a truly international struggle by Jihadis is difficult to grasp by the uninitiated, particularly in the West. The call to Jihad is something that is taken with utmost seriousness by Jihadis. The concept of leaving one’s country to go fight in another country for purely religious reasons is something the Western World continuously fails to grasp. Islamic extremists do not recognize nations or borders; they only recognize the need for a Caliphate.
Although this belief is present in almost every message from every Jihadist group in the world, most Westerners simply cannot wrap their head around someone discounting nations and recognized borders (or their ‘own country’). This idea was prevalent in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was the reason why so many foreign fighters (including Chechens) were so often present. The conflict in Syria has drawn fighters from abroad in disturbingly large numbers. Saifullah al Shishani’s death by a mortar round during the assault on the Aleppo Prison (see below) has brought the number of Chechens fighting in Syria back to the forefront. Saifullah al Shishani was commanding the ‘Al-Khilafa army’ (Army of the Caliphate) as part of the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, the offical Syrian branch of al Qaeda.
Al Shishani is a case study in the amount of Chechens going to Syria not just to fight but to lead Jihadis. Like many Chechen fighters Saifullah al Shishani started out with the Muhajireen or emigrant (foreign) fighters in Syria. Also, like other Chechen Jihadis, Saifullah left the Muhajireen to a local group. In his case it was Al Nusrah. Another Chechen leader named Abu Omar al Shishani took his fighters to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. The spilt from Muhajireen to Al Nusrah or ISIS is due to the power struggle between the two in Syria, and could take up a whole article on it’s own. However, the death of Saifullah, who is known more for being killed on video than being a crucial leader in the Jihadi forces in Syria, has brought to light the large number of Chechens fighting in Syria. The number of Chechens in Syria has continually increased with videos of over a hundred Chechen fighters in formations surfacing since the conflict increased.
This begs the question – has the large number of Chechen Jihadis flowing into Syria to operate both in leadership or in fighting roles weakened ICE? The Chechen independence movement began as a largely nationalist movement. It has evolved into a full blown international Jihadi movement much like Arab contemporaries. It is likely that this evolution has weakened ICE’s hand in the Caucasus. Whether it has been weakened enough to decrease its ability to launch full scale attacks on the Olympics remains to be seen.
How Sharp is the Scalpel?
The other nagging question posed by the lack of a terrorist attack on the Olympics is, could this be due to an increased efficacy in the form of Russia’s changing Counter Terror apparatus? As has been discussed in previous articles the Russian Federation has spent vast amounts of rubles on molding its Counter Terror and Special Operations Forces into a more viable solution for the Caucasus terror problem. The shift from all out armored assaults using the traditional “Russian Hammer” op model to more precise scalpel type operations akin to those of the West has largely reshaped how Russia conducts Counter Terror missions.
We have not yet witness even an aborted terror attack. Has this evolution of Russian CT been proven effective? I believe it is much too soon to draw a conclusion. As you may recall from previous Sochi SITREPS, the Chechens are, if nothing else, very patient when it comes to launching attacks. We have roughly a week left in the Olympics. They could simply be allowing the Russians to become complacent. The coming days will tell.
Read the background on the Russian Scalpel vs. Russian Hammer, ICE’s tactics and the previous SOCHI SITREPS:
Sochi SITREP Part 2: https://www.breachbangclear.com/site/10-blog/601-sochi-sitrep-part-2.html
Sochi SITREP Part 3: https://www.breachbangclear.com/site/10-blog/608-sochi-sitrep-part-3.html
Sochi SITREP Part 4: https://www.breachbangclear.com/site/10-blog/628-sochi-sitrep-part-4.html
About the Author: Sean “Groz” Burke is a former Assault Section Leader in the Marine Corps infantry with combat deployments to assorted sunny Middle Eastern and African locations. During his tenure as a gyrene many doors were kicked, gates blown and people’s days excessively ruined. During these deployments Sean often instructed the use of foreign weapon systems, helped his command understand the armament capabilities of the enemy and was his unit’s resident “terp wrangler.” He attended numerous PME schools, including Sensitive Site Exploitation and the Iraqi Arabic and Culture Course. After departing the Marine Corps Sean graduated Temple University with a degree in history and is now (no shit) a high school teacher. When not teaching he continues to compulsively study foreign weapon systems, world affairs and foreign policy. Groz is one of the biggest geardos the Mad Duo knows (which is really saying something). He is a wealth of information regarding al things Cordura, Steel and COMBLOC.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang-CLEAR!