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From Russia to Guantanamo, via Afghanistan

Published: December 24, 2002 (Issue # 830)



  • The mosque in Naberezhniye Chelny is considered a stronghold of radical Islam.
    Photo: Nabi Abdullaev / The St. Petersburg Times

NABEREZHNIYE CHELNY, Tatarstan - Ravil Gumarov, 40, was once a model Soviet citizen. He was a member of the Komsomol, he graduated from vocational school, and he had a well-paid position as a foreman at construction sites in his hometown.

Today, his official title is detainee JJJBJC at the prison camp at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He is one of eight Russian citizens identified by Russian investigators among the hundreds of detainees suspected of having links to the Taliban or al-Qaida. They were seized by U.S. troops in Afghanistan earlier this year.

Three of the eight, including Gumarov, come from Tatarstan, two from the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in the North Caucasus, and one each from Muslim communities in Bashkortostan and the Chelyabinsk and Tyumen regions of western Siberia.

One had been an imam in his local mosque, another a wrestling champion, and a third a police lieutenant.

Most of them were seized while fighting against U.S. troops and the forces of the Northern Alliance near Kunduz in early 2002, according to Russian investigators.

At least half, and perhaps all, of the Russian detainees had arrived in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001, at a time when the country was not thought of in the West as synonymous with Islamic terrorism. If it was thought of at all, it was as a desolate territory where belligerent tribes were attempting to create a society based on a literal interpretation of the Koran.

Igor Tkachyov, the chief investigator of the North Caucasus branch of the Prosecutor General's Office and the head of a team of Russian investigators who visited the detainees at Guantanamo Bay last month, said they told him they had gone to Afghanistan in search of a society where they could study Islam and feel at home.

"They are religious fanatics who underwent very serious brainwashing - somebody found a crack in their psyche and made them believe they have to live by Sharia law," he said in a recent interview in the town of Yessentuki, in the southern Stavropol region.

Even though they could face harsh punishment in the United States, most of them do not wish to return to Russia, Tkachyov said. Russia has been pushing for their extradition.

Alexei Malashenko, an expert on Islam at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said that each of the detainees may have had a different reason for going to Afghanistan, but the underlying attraction was likely the same.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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