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Daghestani Targeted In Antiterror Op Is IS 'Accomplice,' Russian Authorities Claim


A Daghestani man found in an apartment raided by police in an antiterrorism operation on March 31 is an accomplice of the Islamic State (IS) militant group, Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee (NAC) has said.

Both the raid and the allegation that the target was a member of IS come amid a crackdown on militants in the North Caucasus.

Russian special forces raided a house in the Daghestani town of Khasavyurt in the morning of March 31, according to Interfax, who cited an anonymous law-enforcement source.

Although Interfax's first report said that it had yet to receive official confirmation of the Khasavyurt raid, a slightly later report by the news agency quoted an NAC spokesman as saying that the house targeted by police had belonged to 25-year-old Shakhban Gasanov.

"According to preliminary data, the previously convicted Shakhban Gasanov, born in 1990, was hiding in the apartment. After he was released from prison in October last year he went into hiding and led the 'Kizlyar' gang, and then swore allegiance to the Islamic State international terrorist organization," NAC told Interfax.

According to NAC, the March 31 raid was ordered after the security authorities in Daghestan received intelligence that "an active member of the armed underground in the North Caucasus" was present in the five-story apartment block on Khasavyurt's Datuyev street.

The NAC said that Gasanov was involved in a number of "terrorist crimes" including the assassination of law-enforcement officers and extorting large sums of money from businessmen. Gasanov was also plotting to "intensify terrorist activities in Daghestan," NAC added.

The storming of Gasanov's apartment came after Russian security forces began counterterrorism operations in Khasavyurt and the Khasavyurt district on March 16.

Indeed, NAC noted in its press statement that the raid had been conducted within the framework of that ongoing counterterrorism operation.

Over the past few weeks, Russian officials have stepped up rhetoric around the dangers posed by IS, especially in the North Caucasus.

Experts and rights groups say that a series of counterterrorism operations launched this month in Daghestan are a direct result of warnings made by Russian security authorities about the threat posed by IS to domestic security.

The increased talk about the "IS threat" is partly based on genuine fears. Russian nationals are fighting in Syria and Iraq alongside IS and could pose a danger if they return home, while in December and January a number of militants from the North Caucasus-based Islamist insurgent group the Caucasus Emirate transferred their allegiance to IS, raising concerns that a branch of IS had emerged on Russian soil.

However, in emphasizing the "IS threat" and blaming external actors for radicalizing Russian nationals, Moscow has been able to play down the threat posed by the North Caucasus's home-grown insurgency, while providing security authorities with a reason to conduct raids against suspected militants in the region.

Regardless of whether the threat posed by IS to domestic security in the North Caucasus is exaggerated or real, Russia has been laying the groundwork for those counterterrorism operations for the past several months.

In late December, Russia's Supreme Court declared IS to be a terrorist organization, paving the way for the Russian authorities to prosecute Russian nationals allegedly connected with the group.

Since then, a number of officials, including Sergei Melikov, the Kremlin's presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District; Vladimir Makarov, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's antiextremism department; and Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Kremlin's Security Council have all made public comments about the domestic security threat posed by IS and the need to counter that threat.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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