The Rise of Radical and Nonofficial Islamic Groups in Russia’s Volga Region
January 23, 2013
In the two decades since the dissolution of the USSR, Russian and Western experts, human rights activists, and journalists have become accustomed to the political violence of the North Caucasus. Terrorist bombings and acts of sabotage in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya are perceived as somehow intrinsic to the region. But a recent tragedy in the Volga region suggests that this sort of violence—and the Islamist terrorists who perpetrate it—may not be confined to the Caucasus. On the morning of July 19, 2012, simultaneous terrorist attacks wounded the Tatarstan chief mufti, Ildis Faizov, and killed Valiulla Yakupov, the former deputy chairman of the Tatarstan Spiritual Board of Muslims (TSBM), a well-known Islamic theologian and public figure and one of the most consistent opponents of what Russian politicians and media refer to as Wahhabism. For the first time, official Islamic religious leaders from outside the North Caucasus became victims of Islamist terrorism. Three months later, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced it had prevented a large-scale terrorist attack in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, planned for the eve of the celebration of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Two people killed in the counterterrorist operation had been suspected of the attacks on Faizov and Yakupov as well as other illegal activity.
With these attacks and counterattacks, the problem of inter-Islamic tensions in the Volga region suddenly became real. To examine this increasingly serious situation, this report sheds light on the ideological sources and resources of radicalism in the Volga region, nonofficial Islamic movements’ support among the regional population, and opportunities for the potential growth of different forms of Islamist activities. It describes the origins of different nonofficial Islamic movements, as well as their post-Soviet development, ideology, and relationship with the authorities and official Muslim clergy. The report also offers practical approaches both for Russian domestic policy and for the U.S.-Russia security cooperation agenda.