Saturday, February 5, 2011

Treasures in the Land of Az, Part 2

Has anything changed?

Please read Part 1, and then you will know what I am talking about.

Last month, there was an incident in Moscow, wherein terrorists attacked an airport, attempting to target international victims - trying to get some political bang for their suicide bomber buck.

Supposedly, the case is solved (?); Wahhabi connections are suspected, but questions remain. Speculation is that the police may have had advance warning of the attack, but were unable to thwart it.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated (?) incident, terrorists planned to target New Year's Eve celebrations in Moscow; one female suicide bomber was going to blow herself up causing casualties, and another bomber was going to blow up responding security forces.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Farther south, in Dagestan, we have more. From Four dead in Dagestan car bomb, January 27, 2011:

Four people have been killed and six wounded in a car bomb explosion outside a cafe in the Russian region of Dagestan.

The attack is the deadliest to hit the Northern Caucasus region since Monday's suicide bombing on a Moscow airport that killed 35 people and been blamed on fighters from the overwhelmingly Muslim area.

The blast took place at just after 10:00pm local time (1900 GMT) on Wednesday outside the Karavan cafe on the outskirts of the town of Khasavyurt.

"Four people were killed, all of them civilians," a local interior ministry spokesman told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Six people were wounded, three of whom were hospitalised.

A criminal investigation has been opened into an "act of terror and illegal use of explosives", the Interfax news agency said, quoting the local branch of the investigative committee.

Investigators believe that about 30kg of TNT equivalent explosives were used in the blast.

Attacks by fighters have claimed hundreds of lives in the Northern Caucasus over the last years as they wage a campaign against the authorities with the aim of imposing an Islamic state in the region.

Airport suspect

In a separate development, Russian media reports on Thursday said that investigators were searching for an ethnic Russian member of a North Caucasus group who vanished last year and is suspected of involvement in the attack on the Moscow airport.

Investigators have yet to publish any firm conclusions three days after the attack but unofficial reports have made a link with the group and a mysterious explosion in Moscow on December 31.

The Kommersant newspaper said the investigation was focusing on a man named Razdobudko from the Stavropol region, just north of the Caucasus mountains, who is suspected of belonging to a local armed Muslim group, Nogaisky Dzhamaat.

Suggesting that he could have been the suicide bomber, Kommersant said the authorities now believed that the attacker was most likely to have been a male ethnic Russian rather than from one of the Caucasus ethnic groups.

An ethnic Russian?

Supposedly, this guy's name was Vitaly Razdobudko; he was a convert to Islam who, together with his wife, disappeared in October. The trail supposedly leads not to Chechnya, but to Dagestan. From Russians name Muslim convert as prime suspect for airport bombing, January 28, 2011:

In this case, suspicion has fallen on a cell called the Nogai Brigade, which is thought to operate around Stavropol and in the northern part of neighbouring Dagestan. Police said they were looking for 10 members of the group, which is also suspected of being behind a failed attack on New Year's Eve, when a female suicide bomber was believed to be preparing to attack crowds of Russians celebrating the New Year on Manezh Square near the Kremlin.

Dagestan is a Republic in the Russian Federation, located along the coast of the Caspian Sea. The region is rich in oil (and a major transshipment point for heroin and Islamic terrorism), but Dagestan itself remains poor.

Der Spiegel has an excellent background series on the conflict there; I suggest you begin with Part 1.


From Secular Nationalism Versus Political Islam in Azerbaijan, dated February 9, 2005 (numbers in brackets refer to footnotes; see original):

Being one of only four countries in the world with a majority of Shiites, Azerbaijan represents an interesting case of secular Shiism surrounded by countries and regions where theocracy and religious movements (both Shiite and Sunni) seem to thrive. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this South Caucasus country witnessed a civil war, several coup d'état, war with its western neighbor Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and the rise to power of its former Communist era leader Heydar Aliyev. What puts the country on the international map is that it has a substantial amount of oil reserves – both on and off-shore – and that Azerbaijan is a pro-Western country neighboring troubled regions of the North Caucasus and Islamic Iran.

While the majority of Azerbaijan's approximately eight million citizens are followers of the Shiite branch of Islam, there are substantial Sunni communities in the north and the west of the country. The religious cleavage between Sunnis and Shiites is reinforced by the fact that most of the non-Azeri minorities (such as the Lezgin) are Sunnis who live in the north of the country, neighboring Dagestan.

Perhaps as a direct result of Azerbaijan's Soviet legacy, Islam as a political force has not flourished despite increasing interaction with Iran. Moreover, historically speaking, Azerbaijan has had a nationalist orientation rather than a religious one. The close ethnic ties between Azeris and Turks played an important role in Azerbaijan's adoption of the Turkish model of strong nationalism and secularism (also known as Kemalism). The short lived presidency of the mercurial and Turkic irredentist Abulfazl Elchibey in 1992-93 witnessed the rise to power of the Azerbaijani Popular Front and increasing cooperation with Ankara. The coming to power of Heydar Aliyev in 1993 brought a more balanced orientation in Azerbaijan's relations with its neighbors. Having been part of the former Soviet elite, Aliyev was able to gradually control the political scene and in due course stabilized the country's domestic and foreign policies.


Aside from mainstream Shi'a Islamism, there are two other Islamist tendencies in Azerbaijan. The first is the so-called Wahhabi movement which has some adherents among Sunni Lezgin minorities in the north and some parts of the capital Baku. The Wahhabi movement has been active in Chechnya, Dagestan and northern Azerbaijan for over a decade. Most of the radical Islamic groups operating in the North Caucasus are either followers of or funded by Wahhabi movements from overseas. [6]

The presence of strong Wahhabi networks in the north of the country overlaps with the growing nationalist and ethnic sentiments of the Lezgins, thus making it difficult to contain. [7] In July 2004, Azerbaijani news sources reported the arrest of over 200 people who were believed to be followers of the Wahhabi movement in Baku and were accused of plotting a coup d'état against the government under the disguise of training people to fight the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Later in December in a television interview, the chairman of the SCRA, Rafiq Aliyev, estimated that there are about 15,000 Wahhabis operating in Baku alone. [8]


The Azeri state apparatus is in tight control of all political and religious activities in the country and ensures that Islamic movements are either closely monitored or supervised by various government agencies. As far as the transit of Islamic fighters through Azerbaijan is concerned, officials in Baku have been in close contact with Russian security agencies to guarantee that the border crossings between Azerbaijan and Dagestan are not exploited by terrorists or radical groups. Whether these promises and guarantees are being duly enforced is anyone's guess.

In the final analysis, while the threat from Islamic Iran is minimal and perhaps even non-existent, the danger of transnational al-Qaeda linked Islamic groups targeting Azerbaijan is very real. Broadly speaking, there are two reasons to be fearful. Firstly, Azerbaijan remains an extremely important geographic link between the Islamic groups in the North Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. Thus any serious attempts by the Azeri authorities to constrain these links might directly lead to a terrorist attack. Secondly, Azerbaijan's enthusiastic alignment with the U.S. and the west automatically makes it a potential target for al-Qaeda. Privately Azeri authorities recognize the magnitude of the threat and are terrified of a massive attack on their oil infrastructure. The most troubling aspect of the situation is that they can not do much more to protect against the looming threat.

You know, I can't help but wonder if someone isn't backing Wahhabi Sunni Muslims in the region. This would connect with Saudi Arabia, whose ruling family long ago cut a deal with a guy named Wahhab to promote his version of Islam. This would also connect with the narcotics-trafficking terrorists who are giving us problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, the price would be paid by Russia, a major destination and transshipment route of the trafficked heroin, as well as a target of the terrorism.

Another benefit would be the isolation of Iran. If Wahhabi Sunni Islamic extremism could grow there, that would allow an avenue for Islamic expansion to compete with the avenue opened by Iran's Shia Islamic Fundamentalism.

Also, the Azeri-Turkish connection is significant, as Turkey is a key US ally in the region, and the Turkish Deep State is a big mover of heroin, as well as of arms and nuclear secrets. The Turkish Deep State is implicated in the Sibel Edmonds case with corruption of high-ranking US officials. A push in the direction of Sunni Islam in the Caucusus could help drive Azerbaijan more into the US/Turkey camp, again away from Iran or Russia.

From The rise of Islam in Azerbaijan, March 28, 2005:

While the rise of Islam might hinder the overall pro-Western development and integration of Azerbaijan, large-scale oil and gas projects may be in immediate danger. The construction of the $3 billion worth Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is about to be completed and the gas pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum has recently commenced. These vital regional projects will smooth Azerbaijan's integration into the economic and security space of Turkey and Europe. Yet a stable pro-Western political environment is prerequisite for the operation of the pipelines.

Pro-Western? On the surface, they can be whatever they want, just as long as the energy corridor is secure, the oil keeps flowing, Tehran is stiff-armed, and Moscow is on the defensive.

Real US interests are being outmaneuvered by those who seek to promote perceived US interests (oil, power politics against Russia and Iran) as a cover for their own interests (profit in the oil, narcotics and arms markets).

I think I see the hand of the US Deep State in this one.

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