In Syria last week was marked by a significant number of successful government operations against militant forces. Dozens of bandit groups have been located and destroyed in the provinces of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama. Many of them included renown Wahhabi commanders. However, it is still premature to talk about an imminent end to the Syrian conflict.
The city of Jaramana, some 10 km south east from Damascus, was the scene of another cynical act of terror. The rebels attacked a funeral procession, blowing up a bomb in the middle of a crowd of mourners as they were on the way to the cemetery. At least 12 people were killed in the blast, and a further 48, including several children, were seriously wounded.
In the province of Damascus insurgents brutally slaughtered 20 civilians, including women, to pass them off as victims of Assad’s regime. The bandits moved bodies of the dead civilians to the mosque of Sheikh Askar, where they had previously planted explosives. Their plan was to provoke the army to a gunfight and blow up the mosque, making it look like the government forces shelled praying civilians with artillery fire. This happened on the eve of the meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria.
The Islamic Arc
We cant help noticing again and again that the effect of instability in the Middle East is ever more clearly reflected in the situation in Russia; which, however, is not surprising. In the summer of 2008 many had seriously believed that the mortgage crisis in the U.S. will have no impact on our "safe haven." Now we are talking about events that have a much greater threat to internal stability, and they are already at work at dividing Russia.
More terrorist acts rocked Dagestan this past week. In the Derbent District private Ramzan Aliyev shot two of his border patrol colleagues while on duty. He then went back to the barracks, where he killed five sleeping privates and wounded four Special Services troops. He was killed by return fire. According to one theory, the offender was recruited by the Wahhabis.
The same day, a female suicide bomber came to the house of Said Afandi, one of Dagestan’s most influential spiritual leaders, and activated an explosive device in the midst of a group of children and elderly women. Seven people were killed, including Afandi. This rutheless mass murder shocked residents of the Republic, and its effect can only be compared to the recent attacks on religious leaders in Tatarstan. Said Afandi was also a preacher of traditional Islam and did not accept Wahhabism, which cost him his life. We are beginning to think that events of the past several days are an open challenge to the Russian authorities and to all of us living here. It frankly looks like an attempt to spark another Damascus or Aleppo in Russia.
Today we are in touch with Dr. Ahmed Yarlykapov, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Ethnopolitical Studies of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.
- Ahmed, hello!
- Hello, Eugene!
- How do you think the killing of Said Afandi will affect the situation in the region? Do you see any trends in increasing radical Islamic influence in Russia?
- The murder of Said Afandi undoubtedly has a very negative effect on the sutation in the region, because Afandi was a leader of serious regional significance. He was, in fact, a great spiritual leader not only for his Sufi followers, but also for nearly all of Dagestan. So of course the murder is a great shock. But is also a great loss for the Sufis because a leader of such influence and importance cannot be replaced quickly. Furthermore, the murder was prepared in advance and took place at a very turbulent moment when the situation in Dagestan is on the verge of severe destabilization. God forbid that the Sufis allow themselves to be overwhelmed by emotion over this tragic event, and I really hope that the situation will not slide towards civil war. This is the first time I even mentioned it, and I really wanted to avoid using this word (war – ed.), but there is now a very real danger that the Muslim community in Dagestan may develop a very serious confrontation.
Going back to the rise of radical Islam in Russia, yes, this is becoming very obvious. Russia is not in isolation and Russian Muslims are part of the worldwide Muslim community, where we are seeing increasing growth of anti-Sufi sentiment. This is actually a global trend, where the radical Muslim movement is becoming more widespread, and more often it develops into outright extremism. This also includes the rise of anti-Sufi feelings. In this respect, global trends are fully reflected in the situation in Russia.
- What do you think the government should do to normalize the situation?
- I believe that this situation places very serious responsibility onto the government. Firstly, the government needs to do a sober assessment of this situation, and secondly, it needs to take very serious and very precise measures. What I am trying to say is that the government initiative to introduce bands of militia to police streets indicates a certain sense of shock and helplessness. There are existing security forces that need to work with very precise, surgical methods. Measures must be comprehensive, not limited only to coercive actions, but also measures, of a whole different scope and level of influence.
The New Libya
Meanwhile democracy continues its solemn march through Libya. The south of the country is still one big battlefield, while Benghazi is on high military alert for an indefinite period of time, introduced after a series of attacks by unidentified assailants on senior military officials who had previously betrayed Gaddafi. 14 of them have already been killed, and an unidentified attacker has recently shot both legs of the commander of the Libyan Air Force.
At the same time Libyan cultural life is in step with the rest of the country. While authorities look the other way Islamist militants destroy the country’s historic and religious monuments. Recently these marauding bands demolished the al-Shaab mosque in Tripoli and desecrated the mausoleum of Sheikh Al-Asmar, causing widespread public agitation. An old Imam, who tried to bring attackers to their senses and protect the old mosque was publicly beaten by radicals and taken away, his current location is unknown. All of these events were witnessed by the police, who preferred not to interfere.
Against this background foreign investors, who had previously rushed into the new Libya, had suddenly lost their interest to invest. Even the British corporations, known for their ability to work anywhere, had suddenly lost any desire to go back to Libya. In their view it is still much too dangerous, corruption is extreme, and in general, the situation is not much different from Iraq.
Shot of the week
What do insurgents in the Middle East and Africa have in common, apart from Chinese sneakers? Our guess its probably their weapons proficiency and knowledge of safety measures while handling guns and ammo. Lets recall what is like in Libya.