A court in Saransk, the capital of Russia's Republic of Mordovia, has charged in absentia a 43-year-old man believed to be fighting alongside Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.
Russian media reports said that a criminal case had been opened in November 2014 against Abdulkhai Ramazanov, who is from the Belozerye village in Mordovia's Romodanovsky district.
According to a statement put out on March 23 by the court's press service, Ramazanov had become radicalized at least five years ago.
Ramazanov, the court said, had allegedly left Russia for Pakistan on February 3, 2009. There, he studied Arabic and "the radical teachings of Islam," according to the court.
In November 2013, Ramazanov allegedly went to Syria, where he joined "one of the illegal armed groups that aim to overthrow the legitimate government and establish a theocratic state -- the global Islamic caliphate. The man purchased an automatic weapon and is involved in military actions against the standing army," the court said.
According to the Vsar.ru website, Ramazanov had been a founding members of a local Muslim religious organization called Ramadan in his home village of Belozerye.
In Syria, the Mordovan joined militants in "one of the north western provinces of Syria" -- likely a reference to Raqqa province, where IS has its de facto capital -- according to Vsar.ru.
If Ramazanov returns to Russia, he faces a prison sentence of up to ten years.
Ramazanov's name appears on a list posted on the Federal Financial Monitoring Service of 3,748 Russians against whom there is evidence of involvement in extremist activities or terrorism.
The court's move to place Ramazanov in arrest in absentia comes after the Moscow District Military Court sitting in Saransk on March 5 sentenced the Mordovan man's relative, 55-year-old Ravil Abdullov, to five years' imprisonment in a penal colony and a 200,000 ruble fine for financing militants in Syria.
The prosecution said that Abdullov, a local businessman, had raised money at the request of his nephew, 33-year-old Abdulkarim Yanglichev, who is fighting alongside militants in Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra. Abdullov conducted fundraising activities from February 23 to April 2, 2014 and sent the sum of $1,335 to his relative in Syria to purchase automatic weapons, the court found.
Abdullov was arrested by agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) on June 4, 2014 and remanded in custody. During his trial, Abdullov asked the court to acquit him, saying that he had raised the money out of a desire to help a relative who found himself in a foreign country without financial support.
The trials of Abdullov and Ramazanov show the complex networks of support between Russian-speaking militants in Syria and their relatives and friends at home in the Russian Federation. Russian-speaking militants from various groups in Syria, including the Chechen-led faction Jaish Al-Muhajireen Wal-Ansar and the Russian-speaking group in Jabhat Al-Nusra (JMA) have openly solicited cash via social networks, including using the Visa QIWI Koshelek (wallet) money transfer service.
One curious phenomenon that the trials have revealed is how two men from the same small village can end up fighting in opposing factions. If Ramazanov is indeed fighting alongside IS and his relative Yanglichev is fighting alongside Jabhat Al-Nusra (JAN), the two men are on opposite sides of an ideological struggle for supremacy in Syria. While there have been no reports of Russian-speaking militants in IS and JAN's Russian-speaking faction Seyfullakh Shishani's jamaat fighting each other, a rift has developed between the two groups.
The head of Russia's federal security service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, said last month that there are over 1,700 Russians fighting alongside militants in Syria, including the Islamic State group.
-- Joanna Parasczuk