Suicide Terrorism in the Former USSR

By Bowers, Stephen R.; Derrick, Ashley Ann et al. | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Suicide Terrorism in the Former USSR


Bowers, Stephen R., Derrick, Ashley Ann, Olimov, Mousafar Abduvakkosovich, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The authors examine the spread of radical Islamic terrorist organizations in the territories of the former USSR, and note in particular the role of suicide bombers and the use of Tajikistan as a haven for such terrorists.

Key Words: Terrorism; Suicide bombers; Islamic fundamentalist movements; Jihad, Al Qaeda; Hizb ut Tahrir; Tajikistan; Uzbekistan; Afghanistan; Chechnya; Russian federation.

Introduction

The expansion of extremist Islam into the former USSR has confused the political situation by working with and sometimes engulfing sundry non-religious anti-establishment organizations. Significant ties between Chechen Islamic fighters and Tajik Islamists encourage the use of suicide terrorism in Central Asian regions of the former Soviet Union. In June 2000, five attacks on Russian military bases and a car bombing in Chechnya introduced Russia to the phenomenon. Two years later, Chechen rebels attacked a Moscow theater, demonstrating the rising Arabic influence within terrorism in the former USSR. The murder of legendary Afghan commander Akhmadshakh Masud in September 2001, the July 2004 attacks on the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan, and the August-September 2004 Chechen suicide attacks brought greater attention to the connection.

Tajikistan is being used as a base to expand terrorist influence into Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Russia proper. Because of its proximity to Afghanistan, the country has become a haven for terrorists fleeing the consequences of U.S. military operations. Radical Islamic teachers from the Middle East, skillful in developing motivational themes for extremist movements, have joined the influx. Consequently, many Tajiks have joined members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in terrorist activities; and Hizb ut Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has become a destabilizing influence creating a climate conducive to suicide terrorism.

Suicide terrorism presents a new challenge to Western nations that is not compatible with the strategic and tactical military challenges to which they are accustomed. Any evidence of success by suicide bombers makes the tactic more attractive to Islamic terrorist groups, and this enables recruiters to present it as a weapon capable of overcoming the United States and its allies in Central Asia as well as the Russian presence in the north Caucasus.

In the post-Soviet environment, religious sentiment, superstition and prejudice are manipulated as terrorist recruitment techniques. Activity that is fundamentally positive (e.g., the creation of a value system based on religious motivational themes) can be transformed into the basis for criminal behavior that is shrouded in religious rhetoric. Skilled, educated recruiters transform speculation about religious principles and the nature of an afterlife into themes encouraging self-sacrifice. Extremist religious figures persuade sincere believers that death is God's grace and provides accelerated entry into "paradise."

Circumstances that contribute to the mobilization of religious extremist organizations in the former USSR's Islamic regions lend themselves greatly to suicide terrorism. Indeed, for several years, skilled radical Islamic teachers from the Middle East have been relocating to Tajikistan. Given the proper circumstances, suicide terrorism may be effective as a weapon in religious-ethnic conflict, in cases where the religious element overshadows the ethnic, interstate and cultural factors.

The influx of Islamic teachers from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East combines with the work of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to create favorable conditions for suicide terrorism in the former USSR. There are several existing circumstances that arc likely to be exploited by these Islamic teachers. The most significant are:

- In much of Central Asia there is a very low standard of living, making suicide terror tactics cheap and secure.

- Under the cover of humanitarian activities, Al Qacda representatives began to infiltrate Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya as early as 1989. …

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