Staunton, September 8 – There is a potentially explosive downside for Moscow to the defeat of ISIS in Syria: More than 5,000 Russian citizens and 5,000 other Russian speakers from CIS countries had been fighting for the Islamic State, and those not killed or captured in the Middle East will likely return to their homelands and possibly continue terrorist activities there.
Anton Chablin of the Svobodnaya pressa portal spoke with two specialists who have focused on what Moscow might do to counter this threat, Rais Suleymanov, a Moscow specialist on Islam who edits Musulmansky mir, and Mikhail Roshchin, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies (svpressa.ru/war21/article/181018/).
Their comments suggest that Moscow is a long way from figuring out what to do and that hundreds if not thousands of ISIS fighters are likely to find their way back to Russia or to other CIS countries, with all the frightening consequences that would likely have.
Russia faces a threat from such returnees, Suleymanov says, even if they are returned under arrest. Such people would quickly fill up Russian prisons and camps and engage in active recruitment there, something Islamist radicals have done in the past. But the greater danger is that they will slip in and then engage in illegal activities.
One approach now under discussion, he continues, is to deprive all those who fought for ISIS of Russian citizenship. That would mean that they would be excluded from returning and, if under arrest, would remain in the custody of Syria or Iraq, states that would then have to decide “what to do with these people according to their own laws.”
Some of these captives may be executed, Suleymanov suggests; others sentenced to lengthy prison terms; and still a third group, seeking the best for themselves, may seek to obtain Syrian or Iraqi citizenship and then move about on that basis.
Roshchin agrees that Russians and CIS country nationals who have fought for ISIS are a danger. He suggests that at a minimum, Russia and the others must put them on watch lists and deny them entrance, although unless all do, some of these people may enter via one country and then move to another, including Russia.
But neither man on this occasion at least acknowledge that many of these fighters may be able to return to their countries the same way they left, by illegal underground means. And to the extent that happens, Moscow and other CIS capitals may not even know they are there until there is a terrorist act.