The Volgograd warning

Gordon M. Hahn

There's more to the terrorist threat to the Sochi Olympics in Russia than Chechen nationalism.

Much attention is being paid to December's two suicide bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. Renamed from Stalingrad, the city is located 400 miles from Sochi, the site of next month's Winter Olympics. Although the bombings in Volgograd deserve our attention in the context of the upcoming Games, they represent a drop in the bucket of terrorist violence being levelled in the region since the declaration of the "Caucasus Emirate" six years ago by its "emir", Abu Usman, born Dokku Umarov.

Various apologists for extremist Chechen separatism, Islamic radicalism and more recently, Circassian nationalism, have sought to divert attention from the CE's alliance with al-Qaeda and other groups in the global jihadi revolutionary movement. Their partial though waning success has left a few important details out. The CE is a strongly committed extremist Salafi terrorist group seeking to establish its emirate across not just the north Caucasus, but also Russia and the south Caucasus as a building block of the global caliphate envisaged by the larger movement. Since the October 2007 formation of the CE, its mujahideen have been responsible for more than 2,200 attacks and violent incidents, including 54 suicide bombings. So although the timing and locations of the three Volgograd suicide bombings since October were probably dictated by the upcoming Olympics, they would have occurred anyway, even in the absence of the Games.

The mujahideen must act within the limits of their capacity and Russian counter-terrorism efforts, but their capacity and geographic range are considerable and growing. The CE has networks across at least four republics in Russia's North Caucasus: Dagestan, which is the CE's spearhead, carrying out some 65 per cent of all attacks over the last four years; Kabardino-Balkariya; Chechnya; and Ingushetiya. Two bombings in Dagestan went largely unnoticed because of the Volgograd attacks. A CE cell was wiped out in Chegem, Kabardino-Balkariya. The CE's network in Dagestan, the so-called Dagestan Vilayat (DV), has carried out half of the 36 suicide bombings that have occurred in Russia since 2010, and has specialised in recruiting ethnic Russian converts, including the perpetrators of the October attack and one or both of the December attacks in Volgograd. This tactic is a strong candidate for use by the CE at or during Sochi.

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