Law enforcement agents in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia's North Caucasus have said they foiled a "recruitment channel" that was sending female militants to Syria.
Police in the republic said on April 9 that they had arrested a woman in the capital Nalchik who was planning to travel to Syria to join militants there after "marrying" an extremist via instant message.
The woman, who was born in 1997 and is from Moscow, was on the Federal Wanted List, according to the RIA Kabardino-Balkaria news agency.
The woman had allegedly planned to travel with her husband, a 25-year-old resident of Kabardino-Balkaria, to Syria.
According to RIA Kabardino-Balkaria, a local law enforcement official said the woman had "professed a Salafi current of Islam," a term used in the Russian Federation to indicate an extremist version of Islam.
The woman had "carried out a Muslim wedding over WhatsApp [an instant messaging system for smartphones] with a 25-year-old resident of Kabardino-Balkaria. The woman said that they had decided to travel to Syria together to participate in jihad," the law enforcement source said.
Karbardino-Balkarians In Syria
It is not clear which militant group the woman was allegedly planning to join. Online evidence shows that militants from Kabardino-Balkaria are fighting in at least two factions in Syria: the Islamic State (IS) group and the Chechen-led Islamist group Jaish Al-Muhajireen Wal-Ansar (JMA). JMA considers itself to be the Syrian branch of the North Caucasus militant group, the Caucasus Emirate.
In February, the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Kabardino-Balkaria said that a total of nine individuals from the republic had died fighting in Syria since the armed insurgency began in 2011.
The FSB said that a further 12 people from Kabardino-Balkaria had returned home from Syria, out of a total of around 80 people from the republic who are thought to be fighting in the war-torn country.
A 22-year-old resident of the republic, Murat Nagoyev, was sentenced to four years in prison for fighting in Syria in November 2014.
The Kabardino-Balkaria man admitted going to Syria but denied that he had participated in the armed conflict, saying that he had gone there to help protect the country's ethnic Circassian women and children.
A second man from Kabardino-Balkaria is also known to have gone to fight in Syria after traveling there via Egypt.
'Jihad Bride' Recruitment
The Kabardino-Balkaria law enforcement agent who spoke to RIA Karbardino Balkaria said that there is an "active channel" of recruitment for women who are sent to join militants in Syria. The recruiters are "wives and widows of active members of the armed underground" in Kabardino-Balkaria.
"Currently, search operations are being carried out to establish all the individuals involved in organizing the channel for the transfer of women to Syria," the law enforcement official told RIA Kabardino-Balkaria.
Online evidence, primarily from social media networks comprising men and women who have already joined militant groups in Syria as well as those who support them outside the country, shows that there are active, informal groups encouraging Russian-speaking individuals to join them in the Middle East.
In recent weeks, evidence has emerged to suggest that the Islamic State (IS) group has stepped up its efforts to recruit Russian-speaking men and women.
Via social media, "Islamic State sisters" have put out messages in Russian urging women in the Russian Federation to come to Syria and join them.
It is not only Russian-speaking members of the IS group who are attempting to recruit people to join them in Syria, however.
Individuals from other Russian-speaking factions -- which are mostly but not exclusively made up of North Caucasus militants -- are also engaged in informal, unofficial recruitment efforts.
Among those who are putting out recruitment messages is an individual who goes under the name Abu Rafik or Abu Rafik Abdul Mukaddim Tatarstani, and who is currently with militants from Seyfullakh Shishani's jamaat, an Uzbek-led Russian-speaking group in Jabhat Al-Nusra.
In a recent message via the Russian social networking site VKontakte, Abu Rafik told potential militants planning to travel to Syria from Russia that they were allowed to shave off their beards and "dress in not-so-short trousers" in order to avoid arousing suspicion.
However, unlike IS militants, who have insisted that it is a religious duty for women to come to Syria, Abu Rafik has a different interpretation of the ideology of "jihad." Rather than encouraging women to come to Syria, Abu Rafik cautioned that female "wannabe militants" should be careful.
"Syria is a battlefield, a hot spot where rockets and missiles are flying about, not a peaceful place...But women are coming etc., maybe they have their parents' consent or maybe they came with a male guardian e.g. a husband. Don't do anything stupid, sisters," Abu Rafik warned in a recent post.
A woman claiming to be Abu Rafik's wife is also active on social media, and promotes Abu Rafik's posts about jihad as well as past calls for supporters to send money to help fund Russian-speaking militants. While she and Abu Rafik frequently exchange messages of love via public posts on social media, it is thought that the "jihadi bride" is located in Moscow, not in Syria.
The differences in attitude to the recruitment of women by Russian-speaking militants from IS and those from other rival groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra demonstrates the divergent interpretations of Islam and "jihad" professed by militants in these groups.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk