Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee (NAC) in the North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria has said that a man shot dead by police in the republic's capital, Nalchik, on January 18 had previously fought in Syria.
Russia's Interfax news agency reported on January 18 that "up to two militants" who had barricaded themselves into a residential unit in Nalchik had been "eliminated."
An unnamed official from the Kabardino-Balkaria security forces later named the man as 21-year-old Nalchik resident Alikhan Tochiyev.
Tochiyev was not on the federal wanted list, but investigators had information that he had returned from Syria at the end of 2014, after participating in the fighting there for an unspecified period of time, according to Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Earlier, reports quoted the NAC as saying that one of the alleged militants shot dead by police was a Kabardino-Balkaria resident who had participated in fighting in Syria and had been trained in mines and explosives. The reports said that the gunman had been found by police in the Michurinets garden community in southwestern Nalchik as part of a search operation against criminal gangs in the republic.
The reports cited NAC as saying that the security authorities had discovered firearms, ammunition, and grenades in the country cottage where the gunman had been hiding, as well as "a clandestine laboratory for manufacturing explosive devices, a significant amount of explosives, ready-for-use improvised explosive devices and their actuating mechanisms."
While the news reports did not say which group the man had allegedly fought and trained with in Syria, some of the details provided by the NAC offer a number of possible clues.
The NAC said that the gunman had been sent to the republic by "ringleaders of the banned international terrorist organization, the Caucasus Emirate."
The Caucasus Emirate militant group is based in the North Caucasus and calls for an Islamic state based on Shari'a law in place of the existing republics.
The group also has developed an "official" branch in Syria, known as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA). Led by Salakhuddin Shishani, an ethnic Kist from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, JMA is an Islamist faction based in Aleppo province but with an additional presence in Syria's Idlib and Latakia provinces.
The group, which is independent but fights alongside other Islamist factions including Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, was originally led by another Kist, Umar Shishani, who left JMA to join the Islamic State group in December 2013. Since that time, JMA and the Islamic State group have been increasingly bitter rivals, even though both groups include militants from the North Caucasus and other Russian-speaking areas.
Kabardino-Balkaria Militants In Syria
There is evidence to show that a number of militants from Kabardino-Balkaria are fighting in Syria.
In November, a court in Kabardino-Balkaria sentenced a 22-year-old man to four years in a penal colony for fighting there. The man, named as Murat Nagoyev, is alleged to have traveled to Syria via Egypt and Turkey in October 2012.
Nagoyev pleaded guilty to being in Syria but claimed that he had gone there to protect ethnic Circassian women and children. Syria has had an ethnic Circassian community since the 1860s, and since the Syrian civil war began about 1,000 of the country's Circassians have fled as refugees to Kabardino-Balkaria.
In addition to Nagoyev, reports from October 2014 have said that another Kabardino-Balkaria man has been suspected of involvement in the fighting in Syria. The man, who has not been named, is thought to have also traveled to Syria via Egypt.
The reports of the police shooting of the Kabardino-Balkaria man come amid increasing fears in the Russian Federation about the threat of blowback from Russian nationals returning from Syria.
On January 16, Ilya Rogachev, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department for New Challenges and Threats, warned that IS militants were "spreading out throughout the world and pose a serious threat" to their home countries.
Rogachev also insisted that the number of militants from Russia's North Caucasus fighting with Islamic State was "not as many...as it is acceptable to imagine."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk
NOTE: This article has been updated since it was first published to include the name of the suspected militant and other details regarding his activities.