Russia's Supreme Court has ruled that the Islamic State (IS) militant group and Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, are terrorist groups and banned them in Russia.
According to state news agency RIA Novosti, the Supreme Court press service announced the decision on December 29. When the ruling comes into force, anyone participating in either the IS group or Jabhat al-Nusra in the Russian Federation will be prosecuted.
The hearing that preceded the Supreme Court decision was held in closed court, and the court press service did not announce the reasoning behind the court's decision.
However, the decision comes after Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika filed a request to the Supreme Court on November 11 asking that the IS group and Jabhat al-Nusra be designated as terrorist organizations.
The December 29 decision indicates that the Supreme Court accepted Chaika's recommendation. RIA Novosti suggested that Chaika's position was backed by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
The ruling also comes amid growing concerns in the Russian Federation regarding the domestic security threats posed by the IS group, both via a spread of its ideology and by "blowback" from Russian nationals returning home after fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Following the announcement of the court's decision, Russia's Foreign Ministry tweeted that the move was a "step toward Russia's fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2178."
Security Council Resolution 2170, adopted in August, condemns the "gross, systematic and widespread abuse" of human rights by IS and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and calls on member states to take measures to prevent fighters from traveling from their soil to join the groups in Syria.
Resolution 2178, adopted in September, calls on member states to prevent the "recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping of individuals who travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning of, or participation in terrorist acts."
Second Legal Step Against Syria 'Blowback'
The Supreme Court decision is not the first legal step taken by Russia to combat the threat of blowback from militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.
In October 2013, ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia toughened its antiterrorism laws to allow courts to prosecute Russian nationals who fought abroad.
The new bill imposed prison terms of up to six years on Russians who fight in illegal armed groups abroad, and reflected concerns that citizens from the Russian Federation, particularly from the North Caucasus republics, were traveling to Syria to fight in the insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The December 29 Supreme Court decision, however, reflects fears that IS is recruiting and operating on Russian soil.
Split In North Caucasus Militants?
In recent weeks, several individuals and factions belonging to Vilayat Daghestan, a subgroup of the Caucasus Emirate militant Islamist group, announced that they had switched allegiance from the Caucasus Emirate to the IS group. The pledges of allegiance to IS represent the first cases in the Russian Federation where local militants have designated themselves members of the extremist group -- previously, militants traveled to Syria to join IS.
The move is both symptomatic of, and will exacerbate further, a split within the Caucasus Emirate, particularly in the restive Republic of Daghestan. In 2014, investigations into criminal cases connected with extremism in the republic were up 40 percent on the previous year, according to Colonel Eduard Kaburneyev, the head of the Daghestani office of the Russian Investigative Committee (the main federal investigating authority in Russia).
Kaburneyev also noted that, in the first 11 months of 2014, security forces had killed 160 "members of diversionary-terrorist groups" in Daghestan and arrested 200 more.
While it remains to be seen whether the Daghestani militants' pledges of loyalty to the IS group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, will translate into additional terrorist activity in Daghestan in 2015, it is worth noting that the move has already caused discontent among militants in the republic, with the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Ali Abu Mukhammad, releasing a video message on December 28 denouncing those who joined IS as traitors, suggesting that there may soon be infighting between rival groups in Daghestan.
Remembering Volgograd Victims
The move by the Supreme Court to designate the IS group and Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorist organizations also comes as the threat of terrorism, particularly by Daghestani militants, is foremost in the Russian public consciousness, with the city of Volgograd paying tribute on December 29 to the victims of two terrorist bombings that shook the city a year ago, killing 34 people.
On December 29, 2013, a suicide bomber attacked Volgograd's train station; while a day later a second suicide attack targeted a trolleybus in the city.
A video claiming responsibility for the attacks was posted by Vilayat Daghestan on January 19.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk