The Russians, um, make that the Chechens are coming
Amid depressing and worrying reports that the international community is not doing enough in the face of mounting threats from the Islamic State (ISIS), UN bodies claim that the word’s most frightening terror organisation has seen a dramatic and impressive swelling of the ranks as hundreds of foreign youths are enticed to join the ranks of the jihadists fighting to establish a caliphate in the Levant and beyond.
The United States says efforts are under way to stop foreign fighters from reaching Iraq or Syria, but whatever means have been undertaken fall short.
A brief walk through Istanbul’s Ataturk airport recently gave witness to scores of young men of military age and physique sporting Islamic-style beards using Istanbul as the transit point. Several factors, including language and accents, pointed to them being Chechens and others were also clearly not from northern and central Africa.
So worried are international governments that the UN Security Council meeting May 29th included interior ministers for the first time after a UN study showed a rise in the number of foreign terrorist fighters worldwide.
The study showed a 71% increase in the number of foreign fighters joining the jihad from mid 2014 through March 2015. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, says the rate of flow is higher than it has ever been and is mainly focused on movement into Syria and Iraq, with a growing problem evident in Libya.
Around 25,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries have joined the ranks of local armed groups, according to the report.
The Security Council adopted a resolution in September 2014 that called on governments to make it a serious crime for their nationals to enlist in such groups as fighters.
Oblivious to international attempts to prevent them from reaching their intended destinations, large numbers of foreign fighters travelled from Tunisia, Morocco, France and Russia. The United Nations says new trails of jihadists have been noted from the Maldives, Finland and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as sub-Saharan African countries.
Arguably, more than 160 raids by US military planes and more sorties by a coalition of countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, friendly to the United States, rather than weaken or defeat ISIS, instead apparently has empowered it to make new gains, as demonstrated with the capture of the historic city of Palmyra in Syria and the civilian airport in Libya.
It is crystal clear that an innovative strategy will be needed to address the mounting threat. Western intelligence agencies report that returning Islamist combatants pose a real threat to the security of Western Europe.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s greatest threat comes from Chechens who have been joining the ranks of ISIS by the hundreds. He warned that fighters returning from the Syrian and Iraqi fronts could start a third Chechen war.
Turkey could perhaps take the initiative by monitoring more closely who transits its airports and territory to gain access to ISIS-controlled areas with which it shares a border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports, to some degree, the Islamists, yet he must be under no illusion that, given the very nature and mandate of the Islamists, it remains a matter of time before ISIS turns its attention to Turkey as well.