The Islamic State (IS) group's Al Hayat media wing has released a video message by an apparently ethnic Russian militant.
The video, released on November 2 via social media and jihadi forums, is titled "A Message From Brother Abu Muhammad Ar-Rusi" ("Abu Muhammad the Russian"). Professionally made, it is in Russian with English and Arabic subtitles.
Abu Muhammad, who speaks Russian without an accent, says that his message is directed to "Muslims who understand Russian." He criticizes those who accuse IS of "atrocities" even though they have "abandoned jihad." While IS has been accused of spilling blood, Abu Muhammad says that the Prophet Muhammad did the same.
"Allah's Messenger [the Prophet Muhammad] (peace be upon him) killed 700 people after one of the battles. He killed 700 people. This is our prophet and this is our religion," he says.
The video does not provide any further details about Abu Mohammad Ar-Rusi. There are a small number of references to a "scholar" with this name on Arabic-language blogs, and a person by this name is also linked to an Islamic channel on the "walkie-talkie" social network Zello, which is popular among Russian-speaking Islamist groups including those affiliated with IS. It is not possible to verify whether this is the same Abu Mohammad Ar-Rusi as the man appearing in the IS video, however.
IS's choice of Abu Muhammad Ar-Rusi -- an ethnic Russian -- to make this video rather than a Chechen or Dagestani is likely not coincidental. IS's Al Hayat media wing, created in May, has released a number of recruitment and propaganda videos showing militants from various ethnic groups, a strategy designed to show that there are no ethnic barriers to joining IS, and that fighters from Western countries can easily join the group. IS's first video for example, released on June 19, shows Western militants who explain why they left their homes to join IS and fight in Syria.
IS have now been able to show that they have a Russian militant, possibly a convert to Islam, in their ranks.
While the presence of Russian-speaking militants mostly from the North Caucasus, and from former Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, is well-known, there have been very few reported cases of militants identifying as ethnic Russians fighting in Syria.
In August, ShamToday, the media wing linked to Russian-speaking foreign fighters in IS, released a video of a militant named AbuZarr ar-Rusi, who was killed in Syria (the video has since been removed from YouTube). There are also reports of ethnic Crimean Tatars and one Ukrainian fighting in Syria.
The appearance by an ethnic Russian in an IS propaganda and recruitment video aimed at Russian-speaking Muslims will likely cause concern in Russia regarding the radicalization by IS of ethnic Russians.
Moscow has expressed fears that Russian-speaking militants in Syria could return to the Russian Federation and commit terror attacks.
With regard to the threat posed by IS, Russia has focused attention -- at least publicly -- on militants from the North Caucasus and on the potential for radicalization by IS of foreign labor migrants from former Soviet republics, with security authorities carrying out a wave of arrests in Moscow last week of Azerbaijani men with alleged links to IS.
However, there have been concerns in Russia about domestic terror threats from ethnic Russian jihadists for some years. The October 21, 2013 Volgograd bus bombing that killed seven people and injured at least 36 others was carried out by a Daghestani woman married to an ethnic Russian named Dmitry Sokolov, who had converted to Islam and fought in the North Caucasus, and was suspected of organizing the bus bombing. Sokolov was killed in a shootout with Russian security forces in November 2013.
In an attempt to clamp down on IS-related propaganda in Russia, the security authorities closed down several pro-IS pages on the Russian social-networking site VKontakte in recent weeks. However, many more pages and accounts are still active -- and IS videos like this recent one are easily available on a network of social media sites and forums, including Russian-language websites run by IS.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk