The New Passport of Russian Terrorism

November 11, 2013
Bombing of a passenger bus in Volgograd | © RIA Novosti. Dmitry Gruz

On October 21, a bus bombing killed six people in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. The perpetrator of the crime was, according to Russian authorities, Naida Asiyalova, wife of 22 year old Dmitry Sokolov, a known Dagestani militant and bomb maker. This incident was the latest chapter in what is essentially an insurgency moving at a near-glacial pace. Initially, many Russian thinkers could not help but see a connection between the bombing and the escalating ethnic tensions in Russia, but the reality is that the motives for the attack are unclear.

Below is a translation of an editorial that ran in the pro-Kremlin RIA Novosti. It suggests that the motives of Caucasian militants are so diffuse, and so irrational, that such attacks are basically impossible to prevent. The piece’s title stems from the confusion about the photos released to the press of the bomber’s passport, confusion that has not really been resolved.

As the Sochi Olympics near, there are serious concerns that terrorist attacks could increase in volume and severity, and may threaten the security of the games — one reason among many that this will be the most expensive Olympic Games ever held. – Ed.

Nadia Asiyalova, or the new passport of Russian terrorism

No one has yet found an answer to the question of how to deal with terrorism, that exists only for the sake of terrorism, according to Vadim Dubnov.

Vadim Dubnov, RIA Novosti political commentator.

Naida Asiyalova took her own life and those of six residents of Volgograd. For what and why? There is no major war in the Caucasus, the outcome of which it could affect, and Dagestan has never been involved in such a war. The war waged by terrorists cannot be won, and the terrorists know it.

This is senseless terrorism. The most dangerous kind. And, as Volgograd has shown, perhaps the most inevitable.

The passport puzzle

The explosion in Volgograd is one of those news stories that is destined to remain on the front pages of newspapers and the main pages of websites for a long time, but such news never become a sensation. In the three years after the Domodedovo explosion, Russians sort of got accustomed to living free of terrorist attacks, but at the same time they don’t seem to have lost the habit of thinking that such attacks can happen any moment.

Maybe that’s why the only mystery that rocks the imagination of a person in the street was the unusually new passport of the suicide bomber, shown by the NTV channel. The photos of it in smallest details were later published by online resources and replicated by the social networks.

Gunib district, where she comes from according to that passport, is an area with a long tradition of terror. Buinaksk is one of the most turbulent Dagestani cities in terms of terrorism. Based on the preliminary data it was possible to quickly reconstruct her quite romantic family history: it turned out that her husband was a 20-year-old Russian guy, who was ten years younger than her, but already managed to gain some respect among the militants for his talents in the area of demolition.

Today there are dozens, if not hundreds of such women in Dagestan. With all its other oddities the passport, however, reconstructed the most ordinary biography of a Dagestan bomber.

Many of them start their way to a bus or a subway car by becoming companions, friends and wives of militants, acting on a sudden impulse, that can dramatically change the life of a quite happy young woman, far removed from any destructive doctrine, and apparently not suspected of any mental or intellectual inferiority.

Dagestani experts believe that today there are dozens of such women. There are perhaps hundreds of those who can potentially become such women. It takes just a few of them for a bus somewhere to explode.

And sooner or later, the bus explodes.

It all starts in the “woods”

By “the woods” we don’t mean just some kind of a training camp up in the mountains, or some guarded hideouts and dugouts. It’s possible to stay in the ‘woods’ remaining in the comfort of your own home somewhere in Makhachkala or Buynaksk, or in a small village.

“The woods” is first and foremost an extensive infrastructure. Business, logistics, legal advice, IT. The “woods” has a legal wing, that is called ” Ahle Sunnah wal Jama’ah,” which, in essence, is what the Sunnis call themselves – the “people of the Sunnah and the community.” As if by a tacit agreement the law enforcement agencies do not touch them, perhaps to have an opportunity to maintain some kind of contact with the underground. Although, of course, they are under surveillance.

“People of the Sunnah” speak of what the “woods” are fighting for. They fight for an “Islamic state.” Who are they fighting? Russia, that does not allow Dagestan to live under the Sharia law. How can you build an Islamic state inside a secular one?

There is no ready answer. There is no unity. Some believe that it is necessary to separate from Russia. Some, on the contrary, believe that the ideals of Sharia have no boundaries, and each Muslim should have the right to an Islamic state.

The other principles of such a state are based, in varying degree, on that idea. However, those who promote that idea seem to be quite happy that it exists only as a dream. Because the dream actually becomes a political technology.

A chimera of a state

Within the North Caucasus, Dagestan has always been the cultural and ideological center. It was through Dagestan that Islam spread over the Caucasus. Back in early 90s, Dagestani honor students, together with the local thugs, pulled off the famous banking scheme, and were seriously offended because it went down in history under the name of “Chechen payment advices.” In the second half of the 90s something that came from Dagestan quickly became known as “Wahhabism”. The “pacified” Chechen militants were pushed out to Dagestan. They came there with their “woods” traditions, and the soil was fetrile enough for them to take root.

However, the Chechen ideas were totally unfit for Dagestan. Separatism could not catch on here. In a republic, whose population consists of about fifty nationalities, none of which has a controlling stake, the idea of sovereignty sounded synonymous with the subsequent civil war of all against all.

The multi-nationality in general resulted in a comparatively democratic way of life. There remains, for example, an unprecedented freedom of press. Every center of power has to have its leverage, including in terms of information. However, this achievement is impaired by regular killings of reporters that, being the reverse side of the coin, makes this example of the Dagestani system almost its allegory.

In short, there is a real political process in Dagestan, there is a real public debate, the “social elevators” don’t work here, but almost anyone from the elite preserves close ties with ancestral roots and community, which still forms the basis of the Dagestan way of life and its bizarre democracy.

Rally in memory of the victims of the tragedy in Beslan. © RIA Novosti | Vadim Zhernov

Rally in memory of the victims of the tragedy in Beslan. © RIA Novosti | Vadim Zhernov

And the “woods” becomes part of the overall boiling where it’s impossible to separate things: business from power, the power from the clans, the clans from the “woods”, and the “woods” from the protest movement.

And, of course, there are ragtag protest movements that suit every taste. There are those who are not without a certain pathos called Islamic thinkers, that is intellectuals, philosophers, graduate students in philology. The first category went into the “woods” back in the mid‑2000s. Around the same time, Magomedali Vahabov, an underground movement leader who was killed in 2010, went to the “woods” in the same Gunib district. This former university playboy and a leader of the student theater, chose this role of a classic Mujahideen.

There are those who just take revenge, and this revenge blinds them. These people are hiding from blood feud. Those for whom the woods will write everything off, including common thuggery. Those who have nowhere to go, but to the woods.

It brought together those who are here for entirely different reasons – political, religious, ethical, anarchistic, criminal – do not not like the existing state. And that’s why all of them are so naturally unified behind the idea of a different state – an Islamic one. A dream-state. A chimera of a state. And it does not matter at all what its borders will be, how it will be arranged and if it will exist at all.

Terrorism without a purpose

To some of them the idea starts to look too uncertain to risk their lives for. And they are not so few. They may be even a majority. But it doesn’t take too many of those in the woodsto shake the country with explosions in Moscow and, for example, in Volgograd, once every three years.

As Dagestani experts explained, a wannabe suicide bomber must initially have some weak point that is used to start preparing them, or working with them. “In this regard a woman is easier to deal with. Failed marriage, illness of a child, and if a husband or a boyfriend is a militant who is jailed, or killed. That’s a recruiter’s dream combination…”

Recruiters go around universities, mosques and streets. Initial recruitment is, perhaps, the only weak point in this chain reaction that ends with an explosion. And this is probably one of the last opportunities for the security services to display their professionalism. But for terrorists even that limited success of the security services means just a natural and predictable rejection.

But if the first stage has been completed, chances to prevent an explosion are close to zero. Because in practice it is not possible to fight something that has no practical sense.

Inspecting the debris after the explosion in the train from Kislovodsk to Mineralnye Vody © RIA Novosti. RIA Novosti

Inspecting the debris after the explosion in the train from Kislovodsk to Mineralnye Vody
© RIA Novosti. RIA Novosti

And there is no sense – be it political or military – in an explosion in the subway or in a bus. Speaking in military terms about the damage inflicted upon the civilian population, this damage is not big enough to compel the enemy to think about something or to reconsider something. Perhaps realizing this, these terrorists, unlike “normal” terrorists, do not set any conditions to discuss speaking to the enemy.

The “Caucasus Emirate” is not even a terrorist holding. Doku Umarov, who the Russian law enforcers once tacitly considered a man they could negotiate with, is by no means an authority for all the other leaders of the militants, and none of them is hiding this animosity.

About ten years ago there were people in the underground, representing a significant part thereof, with whom you could discuss at least something. Today, what we have in place of that underground is the woods, with diverse leaders, and even more diverse people, many of them have nowhere to return, and therefore they don’t care at all about the idea they will die for.

If possible, they will die together with citizens of Volgograd or Moscow. Without any sense, without a pragmatic motive, with no sane purpose, that might make the terrorists’ actions predictable at least to some extent and therefore preventable.

Terrorism could be fought in times of Budennovsk. In times of Maskhadov. But no one has yet found ways to deal with terrorism, that exists for the sake of terrorism, not for some purpose, even the most brutal.

And that’s why it is no longer so important, why they decided to show us Naida Asiyalova’s brand new passport. Indeed, does it really matter what her real name was?

The views experessed by the author may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti