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Main Russian IS Recruiter 'Identified In Turkey,' But Who Is One-Legged Akhmet?

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

Among those purportedly recruited by One-Legged Akhmet and his "team" are Russian student Varvara Karaulova (above) and Maryam Ismailova. Karaulova was detained in Turkey and returned to Russia, where prosecutors did not press charges; Ismailova remains at large.

Among those purportedly recruited by One-Legged Akhmet and his "team" are Russian student Varvara Karaulova (above) and Maryam Ismailova. Karaulova was detained in Turkey and returned to Russia, where prosecutors did not press charges; Ismailova remains at large.

Russia's security services claim to have established the identity of the main recruiter of Russian nationals to the Islamic State (IS) militant group, according to the Russian tabloid Life News, which has close ties to the country's security services.

The man in question is a 30-year-old Chechen nicknamed One-Legged Akhmet, Life News reported on August 4.

However, details in the Life News report and in a subsequent August 7 report by the Caucasian Knot blog suggest that the individual in question could be an ethnic Chechen who has previously appeared alongside Russian-speaking IS militants in a video shot in IS-controlled territory.

According to the Life News report, two of One-Legged Akhmet's subordinates -- Yakub Ibragimov, 23, from Chechnya and Abdulla Abdulayev from Makhachkala in Daghestan (aka The Uzbek) -- have already been detained in Turkey.

But One-Legged Akhmet remains at large.

The report did not give a name for One-Legged Akhmet or say where in Chechyna he is from, saying that his name has not been released because security forces from Russia and Turkey are seeking him.

However, the report did provide information about his alleged activities.

One-Legged Akhmet was responsible for recruiting Russian citizens from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the North Caucasus and facilitating their travel from Turkey into Syria, according to Life News.

Among those purportedly recruited by One-Legged Akhmet and his "team" are Russian student Varvara Karaulova and Maryam Ismailova. Karaulova was detained in Turkey and returned to Russia, where prosecutors did not press charges; Ismailova remains at large.

Life News quoted an anonymous member of Russia's law-enforcement authorities who said that Turkish and Russian police had "established IS recruitment and delivery channels for Russians."

"Under their scheme, people are first recruited over the Internet, after which they are met in Istanbul. Then, One-Legged Akhmet and his subordinates produced fake documents in a few days and transported [the recruits] across the Turkey-Syria border," the source was quoted as saying.

Discrepancies?

On July 28, Turkish and Azerbaijani media reported that the authorities in Turkey had arrested three men who were accused of being members of IS. According to these reports, one of the men was named Abdullah Abdulayev and had introduced himself as IS's Emir of Istanbul.

It is not clear whether the Abdulla Abdulayev, referred to as an Azerbaijani in the Turkish media reports, is the same individual that Life News has identified as being from Daghestan.

One-Armed Akhmed

While details of One-Legged Akhmet remain murky, the alleged suspect's name is very reminiscent of that of another notorious IS militant from Chechnya.

Akhmed Chatayev, also known as Akhmed Shishani or One-Armed Akhmed, emerged in Syria in late 2014 or early 2015 alongside leading figures in IS's North Caucasian contingent.

Chatayev was previously granted refugee status in Austria. He was arrested by Georgian forces in 2012 in connection with the Lopota Gorge incident, in which an armed group clashed with Georgian special forces. Chatayev was later released after a court found him innocent. (His lawyers say he lost his arm as a result of torture by Russian security forces, while Russia says he was disabled while fighting in Chechnya.)

An anonymous member of the Caucasian diaspora in Turkey told the Caucasian Knot news website on August 7 that the leader of the Istanbul cell was a Chechen who had been involved in the 2012 Lopota Gorge incident and had lost a leg. However, the source also said that the armed group had been attempting to travel to Syria, which is a theory that has not been advanced previously.

There has also been no official notification from the Turkish government about the detention of a Russian citizen, a Russian consular representative in Ankara told the Caucasian Knot.

Regardless of whether Chatayev is the shadowy individual suggested by Life News, given his links in Europe and the North Caucasus and his associations with senior Russian-speaking IS figures in Syria and Iraq, it is likely that he is involved in recruitment for IS. Certainly, Abu Jihad, the ethnic Karachai with whom Chatayev appears in a video shared by IS earlier this year, is involved in IS recruitment via his work heading IS's Russian-language propaganda outlet, Furat Media.

It is unknown whether Chatayev is still in Syria -- he has not appeared in IS videos for some months -- or whether he is in Turkey.

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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