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Religious Extremism Finds Fertile Ground

Published: October 18, 2005 (Issue # 1114)


MOSCOW The indiscriminate suppression of unofficial Islamic organizations in Kabardino-Balkaria combined with poverty and historical grievances have created fertile ground for a virulent strain of religious extremism, as manifested by Thursdays violent raids.

The coordinated attacks in the republics capital, Nalchik, ended a relative lull throughout the North Caucasus region since last years horrendous hostage-taking drama in Beslan and demonstrated a lasting commitment to trying to destabilize the region in the hope of wresting swathes of it from Moscows control.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a continuation of the tactic of staging attacks to destabilize an increasingly number of areas in the North Caucasus, said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

In the past year, networks of insurgents and terrorists have staged almost daily, smaller-scale attacks on police and other officials in Dagestan, Ingushetia, Chechnya and other ethnic republics of the North Caucasus.

Several hours after the launch of the daring multipronged assault on key government facilities in Nalchik, the web site of these networks posted a statement claiming they had been led by the Kabardino-Balkaria-based group Yarmuk.

Yarmuk comprises the Kabardino-Balkaria part of the North Caucasus network of Islamic militants who are often, but not always correctly, referred to in Russia

as Wahhabis. Yarmuk, which has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks on police in the republic since 2004, coordinates it actions with Shamil Basayev, the most notorious terrorist of the North Caucasus.

Thursdays claim of responsibility was confirmed by Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov, who accused Anzor Astemirov, a Yarmuk leader, of having organized the Nalchik attacks.

Much of the responsibility for the rise of Yarmuk must be borne by the longtime leader of Kabardino-Balkaria, Valery Kokov, who tolerated no political or religious dissent in the mostly Muslim republic. Using a tactic employed by other strongmen running North Caucasus republics, he labeled all alternatives to the local branch of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Russia as Wahhabis and harassed them.

Kokov resigned in September and was replaced by Arsen Kanokov, a pro-Kremlin State Duma deputy and businessman.

The 15 years of Kokovs strong-handed rule radicalized unofficial Muslim organizations to such a degree that some of their members have gone underground and taken up arms to fight the local regime in alliance with the insurgent and terrorist networks operating across the North Caucasus, experts on the region said.

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