DNA Testing for Disloyalty

November 12, 2013
The first people to be put in the list of “unreliables” are female relatives of fighters and adherents of Salafism. Photo: Salafist Zukhra in the town Dagestanskiye Ogni, October 2011. By Polaris/East News, Grigory Sysoyev/RIA Novosti.

A campaign has been launched in Dagestan to forcibly extract DNA samples from “unreliable” citizens, particularly Salafists. The campaign seems to be primarily aimed at women, in the wake of the October 21st bus bombing in Volgograd, conducted by the spouse of an established Dagestani militant.

There are concerns that the terrorism threat is growing ahead of the Sochi Winter Olmypics. While it remains to be seen whether Russian officials can prevent terrorism at the Olympics, there is now a fear that the Draconian measures to prevent an attack at Sochi may actually increase the threat, at least in the long run. – Ed.

“The police often come to visit us, we’ve grown use to them. They do that to make a check-off, like they’ve done their job,” says Usman Saypulaev, resident of Shamkhal, a suburb of Makhachkala (his name has been changed at his request –The New Times). His younger brother went into the forest last year.

“Last week, my father and I were summoned to the precinct. Once again, they asked us about my brother: had he made any contact, did we know where he might be located. And then they said that we had to provide a sample of our blood and saliva. They explained, ‘But your son is in the forest. What if suddenly he blows himself up in a terrorist act or dies so that you can’t identify him from his appearance? DNA samples are needed for that.’ Frankly speaking, we didn’t start arguing. What would be the point of arguing with them? We did as they told us.”

There is a large Salafist community in Shamkhal. [1. Salafism is one of the radical tendencies of Sunni Islam which has as its goal a return to the sources, to the fundamental texts of the Koran and Sunni (the description of the life of the Prophet). The New Times wrote about the problems of Russian Salafists here.] They have their own mosque and madrassa here. From time to time, so-called special complex operations are conducted here – the siloviki [agents of power ministries] conduct house-to-house searches. Most often they look into homes where relatives of members of illegal armed formations are living. But lately, even residents of Shamkhal who have not been found to have any connections to the gangs in the underground have begun to complain about more frequent visits from police officers.

For example, the family of Shamsudin Magomedov was ordered by the local police officer to appear at the police precinct and provide a DNA sample for analysis. “Before that, my neighbors were summoned to the police station. They were photographed, their saliva was taken for analysis, and their fingerprints were taken. Furthermore, no one explained why this was being done. I am not a criminal, I have not committed any offenses against the law. I do not understand why they been digging into our family,” Magomedov says, bewildered.

The siloviki began paying heightened attention to the Salafists after the recent terrorist act in Volgograd. In fact, they place women under special surveillance – widows and wives of fighters, and even their distant acquaintances to boot. Thus, on 30 October in Dagestan, three women were detained who had known Nadia Asiyalova, who, according to the investigation, staged the 21 October explosion of the Volgograd bus.[2. See The New Times 28 October 2013.] Zariyat Abdulgasanova from Buynaksk and Marjanat Abdulayeva and Alesiya Babaeva from Makhachkala were taken to Volgograd, without even their relatives being notified, where they were interrogated about the terrorist attack. They were not released from the Volgograd temporary detention cell until 6 November, without even being charged with any offenses; they are included in the case as witnesses. But the DNA samples of these women also wound up in the files.

Relatives’ File

According to Yelena Denisenko, the head of the Dagestan office of Memorial Human Rights Center, the first incidents of forcible taking of saliva and blood from “unreliable” Dagestanis took place in May. “In Buynaksk district, people were taken to the police, and then they submitted their saliva samples. The majority of them were relatives of people who were in the forest. Some of them provide the analyses voluntarily. Others are forced to submit them – not physically, of course, they are simply intimidated. This is all, of course, unlawful. Under what law can people be forced to submit samples for analysis? DNA is taken under court order when paternity is being established, for example. But here the actions of law-enforcers are unlawful.”

Denisenko believes that the police have been given orders to establish as complete a database as possible of DNA of relatives of fighters. “I think this work is being conducted in accordance with an internal directive. A resident of Makhachkala who refused to provide saliva, for example, filed a complaint against the police. He was asked to write a statement that he was refusing. Why did they need that piece of paper? I suspect that they attach such explanatory statements to the report about the work they have done.”

Law-enforcers have not made any official comments in this regard, but a source of The New Times confirmed the human rights advocate’s supposition at the Dagestani investigative department of the Russian Investigative Committee. He described how information about the DNA of relatives of fighters is put into a file, along with DNA from Salafists who may fall under the influence of extremists.

“This work began back in January of this year, but with the worsening situation in the republic, the work had to be accelerated,” said the source. “The database is needed in order to make the work of law-enforcers easier – for example, to identify bodies after special operations. This method has already repeatedly shown its effectiveness. For example, during the course of one of the clashes with fighters, some of them were wounded. They found their blood at the scene. From it, they were able to establish who had attacked.”

As Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, head of the Russian representative office of the International Crisis Group, has noted that the relationship between the Dagestani authorities and the Salafists has worsened sharply since the appointment of Ramazan Abdulatipov as head of the republic at the end of January 2013.

“In recent months, a wave of police raids has swept over Dagestan, with massive unfounded detentions of Salafists in cafes and mosques; the madrassas and school courses have been closed, restrictions have been placed on other forms of Salafist civic activity. Moderate Salafist leaders and activists have been subjected to pressure, they are put under surveillance, arrests have taken place in their homes,” Sokiryanskaya enumerates. In her opinion, the harsh rhetoric of some Dagestani leaders is aimed not at pacification of various tendencies in Islam but at opposition to them. The same effect comes from the creation of people’s volunteer corps encouraged by the authorities which often “actively interfere in the inter-confessional conflict and commit unlawful actions regarding Salafists.”

Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya sees the Sochi Olympics as the reason for the activation of the anti-Salafist campaign. On the eve of the Olympics, the siloviki, from all accounts, have been given instructions to clean up the religious field.  “All the peace-making initiatives to establish a dialogue among the religious communities have been wound up, all the conducting of a more open religious policy and a return of the fighters to civilian life,” she notes. “They have armed themselves with exclusively forceful ‘Chechen methods.’ Thus, the siloviki hope to rapidly stabilize the situation in Dagestan which remains the greatest hot spot in Russia and is located only 1,000 kilometers from Sochi.”

Meanwhile, the president of Dagestan himself refrains from sharp public statements as a rule. For example, he recently made an entirely sympathetic remark about the women caught up in terrorist activity. “You can somehow understand the feelings of a mother whose son has gone into the ranks of the members of the underground gang, you can somehow understand the state of wives who are led by their feelings regarding their husbands, and are drawn into criminal activity,” said Abdulatipov on 1 November at a meeting of the Dagestani anti-terrorist commission.

In his opinion, this problem is directly related to lack of education. “We saw the condition of our schools when we analyzed the results of the Unified State Exam,” said the head of Dagestan. “There are many outstanding people among the teachers, but when they allow thousands of violations, bribes? And if a teacher deceives, then how will the child turn out? What sort of person will he grow up to be? Is this not the reason why such a lot of women manage to be drawn into criminal activity?”

Regardless, pressure on the “unreliable” of Dagestan is growing, and the consequences may be unpredictable. In the short term, such oppression may lead to a certain reduction in violence, however, after the Olympics, Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya is certain that we can expect an escalation.

“Oppression always leads to brutalization, radicalization, and a widening of the geography of violence, but their consequences may be reflected in tragedies far beyond the bounds of the region.”