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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, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during today’s Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the center’s Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonight’s performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Center’s Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodina’s website for more details.



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