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Iran Review: Boston Bomb Attacks: Beginning of a New Era for Cooperation between US and RussiaSalem-News.com
Interview with Seyedeh Motahhareh Hosseini- Expert on Russia & Eurasia Issues.
(TEHRAN Iran Review) - Although over two weeks have passed since the twin bomb attacks targeted the annual Boston Marathon in the United States, claiming three lives and leaving a great number of the American citizens injured, speculations and analyses related to this development still draw a lot of attention from analytical and media circles. In the meantime, the issue which has been attached the highest importance was the nationality of two suspects associated with the bombings in Boston and their possible links to a wider network of religious extremism and terrorism. On the other hand, Russia has had longstanding concerns about the issue of fundamentalism and terrorism in North Caucasus region of the country. As a result, there have been speculations that the incident in Boston can create common concerns between Russia and the United States, thus leading to a new era of cooperation between the two countries.
To shed more light on such issues and bring to light their more subtle aspects, the following interview has been conducted with Dr. Motahhareh Hosseini, assistant professor at the University Jihad’s Institute of Humanities and Social Studies. Dr. Hosseini has been focusing on the issue of Islam and Muslims in Russia as well as Islamic movements in North Caucasus region during the recent years. Authoring Muslims in Russia and joint translation of Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security are the main results of her studies in this field. The complete text of the interview with Dr. Hosseini follows.
Q: Following the recent bomb attacks in Boston, we saw that two young men with alleged links to fundamentalist groups in North Caucasus were introduced as the main culprits. Since before the incident in Boston, the Islamist movement in North Caucasus was largely known for its anti-Russian operations and pursuit of secessionist and independent-seeking goals, can we now talk about a possible decision by the movement to take its activities to a new level from domestic to international arena?
A: The Islamist movement in Caucasus seeks to establish a new state in North Caucasus under the name of the Islamic Emirate of Caucasus. The evidence to prove that this movement has made any decisions to take its actions beyond the Russian borders is still scanty. It is very weird that two suspects in Boston blasts are Chechens because Islamists in Chechnya and Dagestan, both in Caucasus region, have never embarked on terrorist operations outside Russia. Even inside Russia, their operations have been bound by specific limits, mostly focused on the areas immediately around Dagestan and Chechnya as well as some big cities in Russia. The radical Islamists in Chechnya have so far shown no interest in fighting against the United States. The main reason for this is firstly their lack of education and regional tunnel vision, and secondly, intense and violent conflict with the Russian army. The type of control that the Russian government sways over this region (through local security forces, especially the Kadyrov family), and the economic situation of this mountainous region also play a part. The entry into the United States of Chechens and their possible role in the aforesaid bomb attacks may probably indicate new activities and new translocation of forces by the relatively imaginary Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
I personally believe that such activities cannot be carried out in the United States unless through full cooperation of collaborators inside the United States. In fact, the suitable ground for such terrorist activities is provided and the way for the implementation of such plots is usually paved by the political forces which are against the American government. Such activities, therefore, are only possible through collaboration of certain parts of the US security forces because the control system in that country is powerful enough not to allow for the implementation of such operations. Terrorist scenarios in the United States are usually very suspicious and normal information which abounds about such operations in other places is usually lacking in the United States. Take Russia as an example. Following a terrorist operations in Moscow (against Dubrovka Theater), or in Makhachkala (Dagestan), or in Grozny (Chechnya), or even after the Beslan school hostage crisis, all culprits involved in those operations were identified and all methods used as well as operating teams and other similar information came into the light in a short period of time.
The main reason behind this is that once you have found few clues, the whole intricate web of a case can be undone. The same is true about other countries as well. In the United States, however, despite its complex administrative, urban and intelligence systems (as compared to the simple systems which exist in the mountainous regions of Chechnya and poor cities of Russia), and in spite of the fact that every team operation will leave a lot of clues behind, the information provided on this case has been contradictory and scanty. At the same time Chechen groups are usually aware of each other’s operations and translocation of their forces usually takes place through Fergana Valley, south of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Therefore, it would be quite strange to assume that two Chechen youths have appeared as the main culprits in Boston bombings without having organizational links to Chechen groups or having been transferred through the traditional Fergana – Uzbekistan route. All these facts I brought up here to reach the conclusion that the presence of two Chechens in Boston as the main masterminds behind the twin blasts without any kind of organizational relationship to terrorist organizations inside Chechnya can be only part of a premeditated scenario. The main goal of that scenario is, in fact, boosting the cooperation between the United States and Russia against Muslims living along Russia’s southern borders up to its border with China’s Xinjiang province.
Q: If the hypothesis about the expansion of the activities of North Caucasus Islamist movement is accepted, can one then talk about a possible change in the movement’s ideology. If yes, what could be the major consequences of that change in ideology?
A: Although the impact of the popular revolutions in Arab countries can lead to changes in the ideological view of people in Caucasus as well, that change will not certainly take place over a short period of time. Although the people in Chechnya and Dagestan are receiving military training for fighting in the mountains, when it comes to theoretical and ideological training, they have been mostly satisfied with the least degree of such training which is made available to them through Fergana Valley. Their ideological training is also limited to the viewpoints of Wahhabism as promoted by Saudi Arabia. Due to extreme financial and communication poverty and the strict control, which is enforced on Fergana Valley as the main path which links them to the rest of the Islamic world, they cannot afford more than that training. As a result, it is not easy for them to bring about a rapid ideological change in their community because they are still under the influence of the ideas of Muhammad Abul Faraj and his reactionary ideas about the governance, which has also created waves in his home country of Egypt.
Even the internal structure of the Islamist movement in Caucasus does not make way for such a change. Due to geographical, sociological, military and environmental reasons, it is not possible for them to take their activities to an international level. They also lack the motivation to do that. After all, the United States is the enemy of their enemy (Russia).
However, it is almost certain that the Islamist movement in Caucasus will rise in a new form and under a new cover to use new methods in the face of a Russia whose power is on the fall. The reasons behind the falling power of Moscow include changes in the structure of the Russian government, the problems that the new government of Putin has been facing with a coalition of the powerful figures and the military combined with the Western-minded policies which were introduced by Putin’s predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev. Since Doku (Dokka) Umarov, as a prominent Chechen Islamist figure, has been previously fighting in Caucasus along with Omar Khattab (an Al-Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf) and has learned many things from him, he is probably in contact with Al-Qaeda. The question, however, is why that relationship did not cause the Americans any problem when Khattab was still alive? Why that relationship has become troublesome and assumed international importance some 10-15 years after the assassination of Khattab, establishment of security in Afghanistan, assassination of Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, and the suppression of Salafi and Wahhabi unrest in Fergana (after their prominent leader, Juma Namangani, was killed)?
In short, any change in the movement’s ideology will only harm Russia and will change the way that the movement will choose to fight against Russia; it will do no harm to the United States.
Q: What kind of relationship has existed between the Islamist movement in North Caucasus and the wider domain of Islamic extremism in the world, especially with Al-Qaeda network?
A: The Islamist movement in North Caucasus is assumed to have relations to Al-Qaeda network. The references made to Islamist warriors of Caucasus in certain tape recordings which have been attributed to Bin Laden, a visit to Caucasus by Al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the presence of prominent Al-Qaeda figures in this region as well as the fact that a number of Chechen or Dagestani warriors are currently kept at the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison have been mentioned as major evidence to the existence of that relationship. These are, of course, proof to contacts which cannot be defined within framework of a network. If they had formed a network, there should have been such consequences as serial bombings, military trainings in border areas and guerrilla bases, and continued transport of forces from Caucasus to Al-Qaeda bases for theoretical, military and security training. There should be also strong relations between Salafi and Wahhabi leaders in the region, on the one hand, and Al-Qaeda military and paramilitary forces as well as Chechen warriors, on the other hand, along the borders of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.
Such contacts, however, do not exist on a regular basis. For example, Ramzan Kadyrov (the current head of the Chechen Republic and a former Chechen rebel) has full control over Chechen leaders and is very averse to all kinds of activities against the central government of Russia. All the border areas which were once good breeding grounds for Chechen separatists are currently under joint control of the United States and Russia. At present, the American Army as well as security agents from Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, are active in North Azerbaijan (South Caucasus). They have full control over northwestern border of Georgia and the Muslim areas in Abkhazia. Those areas were previously used by anti-Russia separatists to establish military training camps for the secessionist forces and were also used by Wahhabi elements as a path into Azerbaijan Republic. However, in view of the nature of what is known as Al-Qaeda network, it is quite possible for ideological, financial, and military leaders of various radical Islamist groups to make contacts with the fugitive Chechen rebels. [I personally believe that] no such thing as Al-Qaeda exists in the reality, but it is a common name that they use to describe a network of irregular and haphazard contacts among various Islamist warrior groups.
Q: Can the twin bombings in Boston turn into a new ground for more expanded cooperation between the United States and Russia and turn into another “post-9/11” in this regard?
A: This issue is actually at the core of this scenario. When looked upon from an international viewpoint and through a transregional analysis, it becomes clear that this scenario has been designed to attract Russia’s support for a coalition which is supposed to first work against Syria and then against Iran. After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and at a time that the United States needed a new enemy in its foreign policy, the incidents of September 11, 2001, helped Washington to define a new all-powerful enemy and depict it as the biblical Leviathan. As a result of that scheme, a series of wars started in which the US army, economy, and foreign policy, as well as the entire world got engaged.
This situation continued until the Arab revolutions took place and the political systems in the Middle East moved in the direction of a new development. Syria was the first instance in which the United States failed to topple a government according to its premeditated plan and in the course of a two-year period, which had been set for this purpose. In this case, Russia asked for new, specific and real advantages and China, which is turning into the world’s major economic power, prefers to stay away from any kind of international conflict. In doing so, Beijing has been reluctant to deploy its army and military forces anywhere outside China, even in such potentially flashpoint regions as Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula. Now, this is a time that a major advantage should be given to Russia and what advantage can be bigger than the issue with which Putin has been preoccupied day and night: the Islamist extremism in Chechnya.
By adopting this foreign military policy, the United States will engage Russia in a vast geographical area from Georgia and Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan where the United States military bases are also located. As a result of that engagement, China will be actually besieged by the US bases while on the other hand, Russia will benefit from joint control over the Caucasus region and overlook the military presence of the United States in Caucasus and Central Asia. This will also prompt Russia to announce its final position on Syria. So far, Putin has been following a rather vacillating policy in Syria according to which Moscow took positions which were intermittently pro and against the Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russia used this policy in order to show different green and red lights to the United States in order to get suitable advantages from the Americans and encourage them to pay the price for Russia’s last stance on Syria. Now this price has been paid. The Islamic Republic of Iran will be the next clear and specific goal of the United States. The United States used the Boston bombings in order to buy Russia and pave the way for the suppression of the Syrian government as prelude to mounting pressures on Iran. The United States will be probably the world’s biggest producer of crude oil, and to some extent natural gas, within the next 10 years and this will help it to put even more pressure on the revolutionary currents in the Middle East. At the same time, the United States will be present in what was previously Russia’s backyard in order to escalate pressure on China.
Q: Has the Islamist movement in north Caucasus been ever marked with anti-Shia or anti-Iranian tendencies? If the theory about further expansion of its activities is accepted, what probable effect will it have on Iran's security and national interests?
A: Caucasus, in particular, and the Muslim-inhabited parts of Russia, in general, are perhaps the only places in the world of Islam where some criteria used in other parts of the Muslim world are actually meaningless. One of them, which I have witnessed personally, is the issue of being Shia or Sunni. In many of these regions – which I emphasize I have seen some of them in person – Shias and Sunnis even use the same mosques. In some areas, Sunnis say their daily prayers first and the same mosque is used later (due to differences in prayers time between Sunnis and Shias) by Shias to say their daily prayers. If somebody asked them if they were Shias or Sunnis, they would be surprised and ask, “Does it really make any difference?” According to the existing local traditions, Shias, Sunnis and even Christians have been living together for many long years and have even married one another. However, Wahhabis have recently become very active in some of those regions, so that, in Azerbaijan Republic, we see a weird and strange phenomenon in the form of Wahhabi Shias. Since most Azeri people have not welcomed Wahhabi ideas when they were presented to them overtly, a long-term plan has been carried out in their country by Wahhabi circles as a result of which some Shia beliefs have become inclined toward Wahhabi ideas.
Wahhabism (which is invariably associated with anti-Shia ideas) has no place in North Caucasus and Chechnya because the region has been traditionally under heavy influence of Sufis and there is also the lasting memory of anti-Russian struggles by Naqshbandi Sufis and three of their imams. Wahhabism has been only able to find a foothold in areas which were traditionally dominated by Wahhabi people such as Kizilyurt, which is located to the east of the Caspian Sea. In this area, local clerics as well as Sufi sheikhs have limited maneuvering room while, on the other hand, separatist elements are quite active. On the whole, there is no doubt that the conflict between Shias and Sunnis will find its way into Caucasus as well. Therefore, the Wahhabi ideas will perhaps emerge as the main source of conflict in the entire Islamic world during the forthcoming years.
Today, the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran requires Iran to get more active in cultural and economic terms in Central Asia and Caucasus. At present, the conflict between Shias and Sunnis is underway in regions south, east and west of Iran. The next target is the cultural sphere of Iran, that is, the area which has seen the longest history of Iran's presence and influence. Iran needs to be actively present in this region by taking advantage of private economic sector as well as nongovernmental organizations in that region.
Q: If there is any other specific point on this issue which is worthy of mention, you may say it in conclusion.
A: Activation of think tanks affiliated with Iran and taking advantage of a diversity of ideas when making policies related to Caucasus [should be high priorities on the Islamic Republic of Iran's agenda].
Key Words: Boston Bomb Attacks, Us-Russia Cooperation, Caucasus, Chechnya, Islamist Movement, Al-Qaeda, Hosseini
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Special thanks to Firouzeh Mirrazavi, Deputy Editor, Iran Review.Org
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