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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

Friday, Apr. 18


Teachers and students alike shouldn’t miss the opportunity to establish lasting contacts with Russian and foreign institutions during the 21st Education and Career Fair at LenExpo, beginning today and finishing tomorrow. Learn more about education in Russia and connect with your fellow scholars.


The Tromso International Film Festival, Norway’s largest, brings a short festival to St. Petersburg for one day only during Scandinavian Oddities, starting at 7 p.m. today at Rodina Cinema Center. Tickets for the event are 100 rubles ($2.80).


Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianity’s holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti — Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the desert’s most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDA’s Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBA’s Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.