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This week's main stories:
- Russia designates armed wing of the Batalkhadzhintsy brotherhood as terrorist
- FSB opens new criminal case against alleged members of Set anarchist group
- Azerbaijan reports on detention of Islamic State “accountant”
| Russia designates armed wing of the Batalkhadzhintsy brotherhood as terrorist|
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has designated the armed wing of the Batalkhadzhintsy as a terrorist organisation. The wing was created in December 2022 and, according to Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov, has been participating in Russia’s war on Ukraine (Caucasian Knot, 27 February).
The Batalkhadzhintsy are a secretive Sufi brotherhood that originates from the Ingushetian town of Surkhakhi. Since the 2010s, they have regularly found themselves in conflict with the Ingushetian authorities. Researcher Ivan Klyszcz — who has written a detailed profile of the group and the history of that conflict — reports that membership of the group is estimated to be between five and 15,000 people, although the group itself claims up to 30,000, or 5-8% of the total population. Klyszcz notes “the brotherhood is known as a state-within-a-state as it is secretive and large enough to be mostly self-contained.” Journalist Milana Mazayeva has argued that the brotherhood have been losing support in recent years, both as a result of the pressure from the authorities and the increasing popularity of Salafism in the republic (Meduza, 14 December 2022).
The Batalkhadzhintsy have established good relations with Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, who has offered members of the brotherhood shelter as their conflict with the Ingushetian authorities has worsened. As Klyszcz observes, former Ingushetian Head Yunus-bek Yevkurov viewed the group as something of a “fifth column” for Kadyrov inside the republic, but the interests of the brotherhood and the Kadyrov regime sometimes diverge. Nevertheless, in December 2022, media outlets reported that members of the Batalkhadzhintsy had established an armed group called the Batalkhadzhintsy Rapid Response Unit (BOBR). This was supposedly paying Kadyrov back for his support, and BOBR was subordinated to the Akhmat Spetsnaz unit, bolstering the security services under his control at a time when Chechen units were reportedly experiencing recruitment difficulties. The group trained at the Russian Special Forces University in Gudermes, Chechnya, before going to fight in Ukraine (Meduza, 14 December 2022).
The decision to declare the Batalkhadzhintsy’s armed wing a terrorist organisation was apparently made by the Southern District Military Court on 16 December 2022, although it has only just become more widely known. Technically, it means Kadyrov is now supporting a terrorist organisation, but don’t expect that to have any meaningful consequences.
| FSB opens new criminal case against alleged members of Set anarchist group|
The FSB has opened a criminal case over an alleged Moscow cell of the Set (Network) group, which is an “antifascist and anarchist” group that Russia has designated a terrorist organisation. On 27 February, the FSB carried out searches of several Moscow addresses belonging to alleged members of the group and their relatives (BBC Russian Service, 27 February).
The first charges against Set were brought in 2017 in Penza. Two of its alleged founders were sentenced in 2020 to 18 and 16 years in prison, while another five members received terms of six to 14 years. The convicted individuals all denied not only the charges, but the very existence of such a group.
In early 2018, a second batch of charges were brought against alleged members in St Petersburg. One person admitted the charges and received a sentence of three and a half years; he left Russia when he was released in summer 2021 and claimed his confession had been extracted under torture.
According to the website of the National Antiterrorism Committee, Set itself was designated as a terrorist organisation by a ruling of the Moscow District Military Court on 17 January 2019 (National Antiterrorism Committee, undated).
Reporting at the time identified only one of the Penza suspects as the founder, and claimed that overall eight people were arrested in Penza and three in St Petersburg; claims by the suspects that they had been tortured featured prominently. The case against one of the Penza suspects was dropped after he gave evidence against his accomplices. The remainder were accused of planning to carry out explosions during the 2018 presidential elections and the 2018 football World Cup. Russian President Vladimir Putin took an interest in the case, according to his press secretary (Kommersant, 11 February 2020). Aleksandr Verkhovskiy, director of the SOVA Center —a nonprofit organisation that researches nationalism, xenophobia, and human rights and frequently criticises Russian terrorism-related cases — noted that the sentences were unusually harsh for a group that had not actually perpetrated any violence (Vedomosti, 11 February 2020).
Moscow, Minsk and Omsk all feature in reporting as possible additional locations for Set cells. According to the BBC Russian Service report on the latest case, fears of further arrests have led a number of anarchists to flee the country. Anarchist Telegram channels apparently suspect that one of the targets of the new charges could be Azat Miftakhov, a mathematics student from Moscow State University. Miftakhov is currently serving a six-year sentence for attacking an office of the ruling party, United Russia, and has reportedly been implicated by the confessions of those who have already been convicted.
| Azerbaijan reports on detention of Islamic State “accountant”|
On 21 February, Azerbaijan’s State Security Service claimed they had detained a man on suspicion of being an “accountant” for the Islamic State (IS). They said that the man had been hiding out in different countries (APA, 21 February).
Three days later, a new report appeared that the security services had detained an Azerbaijani citizen by the name of Mircavad Seyidağa oğlu Salahov on suspicion of financing terrorism, training with IS in Raqqa and recruiting his brother, Mircəlal, to the group (APA, 24 February).
These could be different cases. However, the statement about the arrest on the website of the State Security Service refers to Salahov as an “accountant” for IS and again referenced taking refuge in multiple countries (State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 24 February). There is no report on the website about a separate arrest. It is possible that these are two distinct incidents and that the State Security Service just don’t update their website much — the reporting on the earlier incident is too minimalist to allow for certainty either way. It seems far more likely, however, that this is the same incident, with more details being released a few days later.
| Other stories of interest|
- Krasnodar activist reports that around 80 new graves appeared at a cemetery used by the Russian private military company, Wagner, between 2 and 23 February. The total number of graves containing deceased Wagnerites is estimated at 400 (Kavkaz Realii, 24 February).
- Andrey Medvedev, a former Wagner commander who fled to Norway seeking asylum in January, has reportedly been arrested for assaulting a police officer. His lawyer characterised the incident as “a misunderstanding after consuming alcohol” (Novaya Gazeta, 24 February). Details of Medvedev’s defection to Norway can be found in the 26 January edition of Threatologist Eurasia.
- The Soufan Center considers the implications of reports that the UK is considering designating Wagner a terrorist group. It notes that this would be the first such terrorism designation by a state, although Ukraine and the United States have previously declared it an international criminal organisation (Soufan Center, 22 February).
- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov dismissed as “unfounded” reports that Wagner is operating in Burkina Faso. This echoes an earlier denial by the head of Burkina Faso’s military junta (Alarabiya news, 23 February).
- The latest round of European Union sanctions against Wagner have targeted 11 individuals and seven entities for human rights abuses in the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan (Deutsche Welle, 26 February).
- Sergey Mironov reports that the Russian Government has rejected on constitutional grounds a legislative proposal, submitted in March 2022, to legalise Wagner (Kommersant, 28 February).
- Ingushetian security services detain man on suspicion of aiding terrorism. No additional details were provided (Caucasian Knot, 28 February).
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