The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, has spoken out against the Islamic State (IS) group, saying that the extremist militants are "devils" and were assisted by Western intelligence services. Kadyrov also accused IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of being a CIA operative, and called on the self-appointed caliph to apologize for killing his fellow Muslims.
Speaking in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on October 21, Kadyrov echoed Moscow's claims that IS had been supported by the West. "I would ask that they not be referred to as ‘Islamic State.' These are devils, whose aim is to make a lot of money. They are carrying out Western orders and are deliberately murdering Muslims," Kadyrov said.
However, the Chechen leader went beyond Moscow's line that IS owed its existence to Western policy, saying that the West had supplied IS with weapons. "Where did these thugs get airplanes, or the means to arm tens of thousands of people? Where does it all come from? Definitely they are being helped by people in high positions," the Chechen leader added.
Kadyrov said that IS leader Baghdadi, was "recruited by the CIA."
"Baghdadi should take off his mask and openly say that he is a CIA operative, that he was recruited. If he really considers himself a true Muslim, he should openly admit that he is killing his faith brothers, he should apologize to his co-religionists and disband his gang. Only then can there be peace. Otherwise, they need to be destroyed," he concluded.
Beyond the rhetoric, however, the Chechen leader was expressing very real concerns about the radicalization of Chechnya's young population, and the threat of blowback from Chechens fighting in Syria.
Hundreds of ethnic Chechens have left to join the "jihad" in Syria, with many fighting for IS.
Fresh evidence has emerged, for example, that a Chechen faction is among the IS militants involved in the attack on the Syrian town of Kobani, and there are frequent reports of Chechen nationals reported to be fighting in Syria.
Some of those Chechen jihadis -- mostly those from factions outside the Islamic State group -- have maintained links with the anti-Russian North Caucasus insurgency. One of the largest Chechen-led factions in Syria, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, considers itself the Syrian branch of the Caucasus Emirate, the North Caucasus militant group responsible for many suicide bombings and attacks in Russia.
The rise of extremist Islam in Chechnya and the lure of the Islamic State group poses a direct threat to Chechen (and Russian) national security but also to the Chechen nation-building project.
Kadyrov, who sees himself not only as a political leader but also the leader of Chechnya's national-religious community, has promoted a traditional form of "Chechen Islam" -- Sufism -- both as part of a national identity narrative that incorporates traditional dress, behavior codes, and kinship systems, and also as a bulwark against the Salafist form of Islam that is practiced by members of the North Caucasus insurgency, as well as by other extremist factions like Islamic State.
One very visible sign of Kadyrov's program of institutionalizing "Chechen Sufism" is Grozny's Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque, the largest mosque in Russia. Opened in 2008 in the presence of Kadyrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the mosque is home to one of the Prophet Muhammad's relics.
In his October 21 anti-IS remarks, Kadyrov touched on his fears surrounding the radicalization of Chechen youth by extremist Islamic movements, noting that Grozny had embarked on a program of outreach to combat the influence of violent "Wahhabism" and prevent Chechens from joining IS.
"In order to prevent any possibility of young people joining this organization, we are reading sermons, we are carrying out educational work in schools, universities, and various forums. We are explaining to young people that members of the Islamic State group are terrorists and devils. You cannot join them and kill your fellow Muslims," Kadyrov said.
The Chechen leader said that the Internet was playing a large role in attracting young Chechens to extremist forms of Islam. "Every home has the Internet. Anyone can go listen to Wahhabi sermons," he said.
Russian-language pro-IS groups proliferate on social networks, including on Russia's VKontatke where -- despite a mass banning of pro-IS accounts last month -- there remains an extensive network of accounts and groups sharing pro-IS material. Various Chechen and Russian-speaking figures in IS, notably Umar Shishani's close confidante, Abu Jihad, also give regular sermons that are distributed via these networks and via the social "walkie-talkie" service Zello.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk