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Chechen Rebels Not Flocking to Syria Experts

RIA Novosti

18:17 24/08/2012 MOSCOW, August 24 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) - The death of a legendary Chechen warlord's son in Syria prompted speculation that Russia’s Islamist insurgents may be rushing to join a jihad against President Bashar al-Assad, but the fears are groundless, Russian analysts said.

“All Islamic countries and regions provide contributors to the ‘global jihad’, but Chechnya is no standout,” said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.

Meanwhile, speculation about Chechen militants in Syria can seriously endanger the Russian diaspora in Syria, the second-biggest in the Middle East after Israel, said Vladimir Akhmedov of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Rustam Gelayev, 24, was reported earlier this week to have died during an airstrike that hit a mosque in Aleppo, Syria’s economic capital and the site of the “mother of all battles” between Assad’s forces and insurgents.

Gelayev, the son of the late Ruslan “Black Angel” Gelayev, died fighting the Syrian regime as part of a Chechen volunteer battalion, said several Islamist websites, including the banned Kavkaz-Center, citing their own sources.

But Russian daily Kommersant claimed, citing unnamed relatives of Gelayev, that he actually came to Syria to study Islam, not fight. He spent the last several years in Georgia, Belgium and Egypt, the report added.

The leadership of the North Caucasus republic said no Chechens are fighting in Syria on either side.

“It’s possible to study Islam in Syria and fight for the opposition at the same time,” Geidar Dzhemal, head of Russia's Islamic Committee, told Georgia Times on Thursday.

Big Shoes to Fill

Gelayev’s heritage merits worries. His father, a former construction worker, commanded hundreds of militants in two wars with Russia between 1990s and the early 2000s, earning a reputation as a fierce and independent man, though a terrible strategist with a record of decisions that cost rebels hundreds of lives and robbed them of strategic initiative on more than one occasion.

Gelayev Sr. was killed in 2004 in a skirmish worthy of a Rambo movie. According to official Russian records, his squad was decimated in a fight with border guards when trying to retreat into Georgia across the mountains.

After a long chase, the “Black Angel” reportedly lost all of his men, and a shootout with a border patrol left him so severely injured he had to cut off his own hand.

The militant died trying to crawl toward the border, his body found clutching a chocolate bar that he was eating for strength, reports said at the time.

However, Chechnya has mostly suppressed rebels under its current leader, the ruthless Ramzan Kadyrov, who forced the insurgency in recent years to move to neighboring republics, including Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Not Their War

Though media often spoke about Chechen militants participating in conflicts across the Islamic world, including Iraq and Afghanistan, the reports were mostly unconfirmed and questioned by experts, including Dr. Brian Williams from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, who has published several studies to the point.

“There may be a smattering of [Chechen] adventure-seekers in Syria, but they’re statistically insignificant,” Malashenko said.

Large Chechen diasporas are to be found in Turkey and Jordan and could have contributed to the ranks of Assad’s enemies, said Akhmedov.

A considerable North Caucasus community also exists in Syria, estimated at between 100,000 and 150,000, but the vulnerable colony has struggled to maintain neutrality since the start of internal strife in March 2011, Akhmedov said.

If anything, reports about Chechen militants in Syria serve to endanger the diaspora, which also comprises many Russian women who married Syrians between the 1960s and the 1990s and is Moscow’s crucial ally in the country, the analyst said.

Many non-Syrians are joining the rebels, but North Caucasus natives have been fleeing the country since 2011 rather than taking up arms, he said.



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