A court in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria is set to open proceedings on November 24 against a 22-year-old man accused of fighting with militant groups in Syria.
The man, named as Murat Nagoyev, is alleged to have traveled to Syria in October 2012 to participate in the armed conflict against the Syrian government. The authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria claim that Nagoyev traveled first to Egypt and then to Turkey, and that he had received a cash payment of $3,000 to participate in the fighting.
If Nagoyev did travel to Syria in October 2012, he would have been among one of the first waves of North Caucasian fighters to go to Syria. Reports of “Chechen” fighters (often a shorthand for militants from anywhere in the North Caucasus) began to appear in the summer of 2012, with the first news report of Umar Shishani -- now the Islamic State’s military commander in Syria -- appearing in September 2012. It is likely that Nagoyev joined other North Caucasians in Aleppo Province, who congregated around Umar Shishani and his faction, Kataib al-Muhajireen.
The Russian media has not reported when Nagoyev returned home to Kabardino-Balkaria.
The news of Nagoyev’s trial comes after several reports that citizens of Kabardino-Balkaria are fighting in Syria, and that at least one has even returned and joined militant groups in the Northern Caucasian republic, possibly including Islamic State.
In June, Chechen analyst Mairbek Vatchagaev reported that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in Karbardino-Balkaria had killed several militants in counterterrorist operations in the republic, one of whom was Adam Khabizhevich Shigalukov, an ethnic Kabardian (CIrcassian) also known as “Emir Adam.” According to Vatchagaev, Emir Adam was well-known for having fought both in Chechnya and in Syria, and the FSB had placed him on the federal wanted list for his alleged participation in the fighting in Syria.
“This means that the authorities failed to prevent the return of a participant in the war in Syria, which is a bad omen for the FSB. If one person managed to make it into Russia, dozens of other militants hardened in the Syrian fighting might also come back,” Vatchagaev wrote.
Since June, reports have emerged of other residents of Kabardino-Balkaria taking part in the fighting in Syria, including a convert to Islam. That man, a 31-year-old resident of the republic is -- like Nagoyev -- alleged to have traveled to Syria via Egypt and Turkey. That he was fighting in Syria became known after his mother went to Syria to try to bring her son home. The man was later named as “Roman,” a Christian who later converted to Islam and changed his name to Ramazan.
There are historic links between Syria and Kabardino-Balkaria. There has been a Circassian community in Syria since the early 1860s, when the Russian-Circassian war of 1864 forced them to migrate from their homelands.
Since the advent of the Syrian civil war, many ethnic Circassians have tried to flee Syria. According to the Circassian Repatriation Organization, over 1,000 refugees from Syria have resettled in Kabardino-Balkaria. However, there have been complaints that the government of Karbardino-Balkaria has not treated the Syrian Circassians well.
Some of Syria’s ethnic Circassians have joined in the fighting in the civil war. An apparently recently formed Islamist group, Jamaat Junud al-Qawqaz (Soldiers of the Caucasus), has emerged in Latakia Province (where several ethnic North Caucasian groups have congregated).
-- Joanna Paraszczuk