Tag Archives: Ramzan Kadyrov

5 Facts About Vladislav Surkov

Vladislav Surkov, the one-time gray cardinal of the Kremlin, played a leading role in shaping the current Russian political landscape during President Vladimir Putin’s first two terms in office.

While Surkov has taken some credit for his behind-the-scenes wizardry, he remains very much a man in the shadows — and he may remain that way after his ouster from the government on Wednesday.

Here are five facts about him:

One of several photos of Surkov and Kadyrov vacationing together that surfaced online several months ago.

Continue reading 5 Facts About Vladislav Surkov


Chechens Now Fighting On Both Sides In Ukraine

Eighteen years after the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord that ended the 1994-96 Chechen war, a veteran Chechen field commander has issued a timely reminder that there are still three sides to the ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the Chechen people.

In a statement dated August 28, Isa Munayev appeals to the United States and “the countries of the democratic world” to provide “comprehensive military assistance” to the Ukrainian people, whom Munayev describes as victims of Russian imperial aggression, just as the Chechens were 20 years ago.

Munayev identified himself in that statement as commander of the Dzhokhar Dudayev international volunteer peacekeeping battalion and a brigadier general of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) of which Dudayev was the first president.

He spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Marsho a week ago, shortly before he travelled to Ukraine to show “international support for the Ukrainian people.” The strength of his battalion, and who is bankrolling it, is not known.

Now in his late 40s, Munayev played a key role in the defense of Grozny at the start of the 1999-2000 war, and continued fighting after the resistance forces retreated south to the mountains, acquiring a reputation for his courage and tactical skills.

In late 2007, however, he distanced himself from ChRI President Doku Umarov following the latter’s abandonment of the cause of Chechen independence and proclamation of a Caucasus Emirate. Munayev left Chechnya soon afterward, but continued to serve until December 2008 as ChRI prosecutor-general.

Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount of the presence on the side of the pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine of hundreds of fighters sent by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov.

Those fighters are apparently primarily volunteers from among the various police and security forces subordinate to Kadyrov, who has consistently denied that there are any “Chechen battalions” in Ukraine, even after the “Financial Times” quoted a fighter named Zelimkhan who said he and his comrades in arms had been sent to Ukraine in mid-May on Kadyrov’s orders.

Kadyrov has admitted, however, that a few dozen Chechen volunteers from among the 2 million (according to his estimate) Chechens living outside Russia have travelled to Ukraine on their own initiative to fight, and that a handful of them have been killed.

Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov similarly said in early June that 25 residents of his republic had travelled to Ukraine to fight, of whom four had been killed. In a subsequent interview, Yevkurov, a former Russian military-intelligence officer, affirmed his readiness to head to Ukraine himself “to defend those who are being humiliated and killed.”

In contrast, both the Defense Ministry and the presidential and government press service of the largely unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia in May denied media reports that the breakaway Georgian region had sent volunteers to fight in Ukraine.

How many “kadyrovtsy” either volunteered or were sent to Ukraine is unclear, but separate, unconfirmed casualty reports suggest the figure may have been as high as 1,000.

From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.
From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.

Between 35-45 corpses were reportedly sent back to Chechnya  in late May, and between 120-150 in August. In addition, Ukrainian military sources claimed to have killed some 200 Chechens near Slovyansk in late June.

Other reports, also unconfirmed, suggest that Kadyrov’s men did not distinguish themselves in battle.

There have been several such reports over the past few weeks that Chechen units fighting under the command of Russian officers in eastern Ukraine have been disbanded and sent home for cowardice and/or desertion, surrendered to Ukrainian government forces, or asked for safe passage to retreat to the Russian border.

Kadyrov immediately rejected as untrue reports that any Chechens had surrendered: he declared that “once a Chechen takes up arms, he doesn’t surrender.”

An unholy alliance is rattling the Kremlin

A high-profile alliance between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leader of the Chechnya region of Russia is starting to fray. And outspoken Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was mysteriously gunned down in front of the Kremlin last month, reportedly knew all about it.

Critics of Putin say that over the past decade the Russian president has empowered 38-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, “to effectively create the Islamic republic that Chechen separatists had dreamed of — albeit one entirely reliant on Moscow for financial support,” The New York Times reported this week.

The Times notes that Putin has allowed Kadyrov to rule the region for eight years while “seemingly turning a blind eye to assassinations, torture and other human rights abuses.” And critics, including Nemtsov, were warning about what happens if the warlord turned strongman’s ambitions for power spin out of Putin’s control.

social mediaKadyrov leads his “Kadyrovtsy” troops in chants of “God is great!” at a rally in the Chechen capital’s new soccer arena.

“I cannot understand what Putin expects when arming 20,000 Kadyrovtsy gathered today in the stadium in Grozny,” Nemtsov wrote in Facebook post in December. “What will happen next? The country is entering a crisis. There is not enough money for anything, including the support of regions.

“And the unspoken contract between Putin and Kadyrov — money in exchange for loyalty — ends. And where will 20,000 Kadyrovtsy go? What will they demand? How will they behave? When will they come to Moscow?”

It seems Nemtsov was on to something.

People initially suspected Kremlin involvement in Nemtsov’s murder, but now five Chechens have been arrested in connection with the killing, and fingers are starting to point at Kadyrov as the possible architect of the hit.

One of the suspects arrested is a former deputy commander from one of Kadyrov’s security battalions, which operate independently of federal authorities. Kadyrov praised the deputy as a “real Russian patriot” after he was arrested and implied that he wasn’t guilty of taking a hit out on Nemtsov.

Moreover, four people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that Putin was furious when he learned about what had happened.

REUTERS/Pavel BednyakovThe covered body of Boris Nemtsov, with St. Basil’s Cathedral, right, and the Kremlin walls, left, in Moscow, February 28, 2015.

Putin is “dealing with a significant internal challenge: It’s extremely unlikely he ordered Nemtsov’s killing, but it was clearly an inside job,” Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider earlier this month. “Dealing with that is surely his top priority.”

Radio Free Europe noted that on March 16 — the day Putin reappeared from a mysterious 10-day absence from public view — a law enforcement official told Interfax that Nemtsov’s murder had been reclassified from a “contract killing” to a “hate crime.”

That designation all but squashes the investigation into who ordered the hit on Nemtsov. So while it’s possible that the Kremlin’s investigation might have ended up implicating Kadyrov in the murder, now it seems that possibility has been taken off the table.

In any case, Nemtsov supporters are now saying the investigation has “exposed a dangerous rift between the chiefs of the security services in Moscow and the brash Chechen leader,” The Times says.

Kadyrov putin
REUTERS/Maxim ShemetovParticipants hold a cartoon depicting Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as they attend a “Russian March” demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow, November 4, 2012.

‘The FSB hate Ramzan’

“The F.S.B. [the post-Soviet successor to the KGB] hate Ramzan because they are unable to control him,” Alexey Malashenko, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told The Times. “He does whatever he wants, including in Moscow. Nobody can arrest members of his team if there is no agreement with Putin.”

Some experts think that Nemtsov’s murder fits this context.


“Putin had to make a choice. Either feed Kadyrov to the FSB-men, or give up the FSB to Kadyrov,” political analyst Leonid Volkov wrote on Facebook. “It’s a difficult and unpleasant choice … And he chose the one and only thing he could choose: Kadyrov.”

An unnamed source close to the Kremlin told Bloomberg of another theory about Nemtsov’s murder: that rogue FSB agents killed Nemtsov in the hopes of implicating Kadyrov, whose increasingly audacious actions have become a pain for officials in Moscow.

“Putin has become a hostage to his own policy of radicalizing supporters so they can spring to action whenever he needs them,” Alexander Baunov, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Bloomberg. “His authoritarianism is sliding into decentralized terror. His backers think he’s much more radical than he really is and are acting without clear orders.”

By giving Kadyrov the power to kill extremists in Chechnya in order to stabilize the region — as well as cover to assassinate perceived critics in the capital — Putin may have inadvertently created a monster that the Kremlin can’t contain.

moscow solider russia rally
A policeman stands in front of participants of an “Anti-Maidan” rally against the 2014 Kiev uprising, which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, in Moscow, February 21, 2015.

Nemtsov’s supporters say Russian propaganda implicity encourages violence against Putin critics, according to Bloomberg. The Kremlin reportedly approved a rally in Moscow during which tens of thousands of people demanded that Putin’s critics be “purged.”

What happens next?

It’s unclear whether there will be ramifications for whoever ordered the hit on Nemtsov. Or how the murder is rattling the Kremlin.

While Putin was absent from public view, Kadyrov reaffirmed his undying loyalty to the leader in an Instagram post, writing: “I will always be his faithful companion, regardless of whether he is president or not. To give one’s life for such a person is an easy task.”

Radio Free Europe points out that this could have been a veiled threat: “I am loyal, Kadyrov seemed to be saying. But others may not be. And taking me down carries risks.”

Ramzan Kadyrov: Chechen warlord accused of brutal rule

People walk past burnt out kiosks at a street market close to a destroyed building housing the housing the local media known as the Press House, in central Grozny, on December 4, 2014. Heavily-armed gunmen attacked a police post killing several officers before storming a building housing the local media and a school in the capital. AFP PHOTO/ELENA FITKULINA

When Chechnya’s ruler Ramzan Kadyrov ordered his security forces last week to open fire on any Russian policeman who appeared on his territory without prior approval, he openly stated a rule that many of his subjects have suffered under for several years: inside the North Caucasus republic, he, and he alone, is master.

Even though war officially ended six years ago, the Chechen republic continues to be one of the most violent places in Russia.

Gleaming Grozny City Rising From Ruins...GROZNY - JANUARY 20: General view of downtown in Grozny the Russian region of Chechnya on January 20, 2015. The new Grozny City development is the centerpiece of a transformation that has changed the capital of Chechnya from the charred wreckage that was left after the wars of the 1990s and remained until only a few years ago. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Six years after the war, the capital city may have been rebuilt but the Chechen republic remains one of the most violent places in Russia

Local residents and human rights advocates accuse the former warlord of imposing a brutal rule. There are frequent disappearances and killings and no avenues for redress.

“This is a kind of island which lies outside of the reach of Russian law. It will be done as Kadyrov or those close to him say,” says a Chechen human rights activist who asked to remain anonymous because his group has been the target of attacks.

He added that Russian president Vladimir Putin had “given our republic as a fiefdom to Ramzan. He is now the only lord and father. He submits to nobody but Putin, and Putin doesn’t want chaos here.”

The conflict in Chechnya began when the republic tried to secede from Russia after the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. Over the course of two brutal wars which ended with the suppression of this secessionist cause, the insurgency has morphed into a jihadi uprising and spread all over the North Caucasus.
Since a group of Islamist insurgents launched an armed attack in downtown Grozny last December, the regime is cracking down even harder. In the Naursky district north of Grozny, seven young men were abducted in December.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov prays as he visits a recently rebuilt district in the Chechnya's capital Grozny, on May 1, 2012. Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a 35-year-old former Chechen rebel, took power in 2004 and has described Islamic law as superior "to the laws of the Russian federation." AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/GettyImages

  • Born October 1976, his father was Akhmad Kadyrov, who as chief mufti declared jihad against Russia during first Chechen war.
  • In the first Chechen war of 1994-96, Mr Kadyrov fought against Russia together with his father.
  • At the beginning of the second Chechen war in 1999 he and his father sided with Moscow. After restoration of federal government in 2000, Mr Kadyrov became chief bodyguard for his father, who became head of the Chechen republic.
  • After his father’s assassination in 2004, Mr Kadyrov became deputy prime minister and in 2006 prime minister.
  • In February 2007, Russian president Vladimir Putin installed Mr Kadyrov as head of the Chechen Republic, replacing Alu Alkhanov.

Family members of two of them say they know who took them and which police station they were taken to, but their lawyer was told that they had been taken elsewhere.

Several more disappeared from Groznensky, a rural district surrounding the regional capital. They have yet to be found.

Other small groups of young men have been abducted from areas all over the country.

Separately, security forces rounded up the relatives of those involved in the December 4 attack, burnt down their houses and expelled them from the country.

In February, three people were killed in an explosion in an industrial area of Grozny. According to two local human rights activists, the authorities said the three were suicide bombers, arrested their relatives, held them for two days and on the third day expelled them from the republic.

The police have also gone after anyone whose contact was found on the phones of the alleged suicide bombers. Five are still unaccounted for, and two died while under arrest.

They were buried in secret and their families have been forbidden from talking about their deaths. But according to local human rights workers, the two died from torture during questioning.

“Kadyrov has total carte blanche to do inside the republic whatever he wants. Everything is allowed,” says Sergei Babinets, a member of a joint mobile group of Russian human rights organisations which rotates activists through Chechnya.

“If he wants to burn houses, he burns houses. If he wants to conduct mass cleansings, he conducts mass cleansings. If he wants to kill someone, he kills someone.”

Those who speak up almost always pay a high price. After the Joint Mobile Group criticised violence against the families of suspected insurgents, their office in Grozny was torched.

A month later, masked men stormed the office of Memorial, another rights group in the Chechen town of Gudermes and intimidated staff there.

The climate of fear further undermines the constitutional and legal institutions of the Russian state in Chechnya.

“There is a huge number of torture cases where people know who took the victim away and where the victim is being held. But the investigator in charge of the case does not call the perpetrators for questioning, does not detain them, and does not pass the case on to the prosecution. Judges never call these perpetrators as witnesses,” says Mr Babinets.

“They have told us directly: if I call this [policeman] for questioning today, they’ll come for me tomorrow. The judges, prosecutors, investigators are just afraid.”

According to Mr Babinets, not a single case of torture or abduction on which his group filed a complaint has been taken up by a Chechen court since the group started work in 2009.

The dysfunctionality of the legal system has encouraged many Chechens to seek help abroad. There is a rising tide of complaints about torture and disappearances to the European Court of Human Rights.

While the court often struggles to find enough evidence of torture, it has awarded damages to Chechens whose family members disappeared in the hands of the security apparatus.

In this context, Moscow tidies up after Mr Kadyrov.

Mr Babinets says the fines included in the Strasbourg court’s rulings against the Grozny authorities are always paid — by the federal government in Moscow.

“But the remaining parts of the verdicts, which often call for a proper investigation, are never implemented,” he adds.

Increasingly Chechens consider emigration. The republic records a net outflow of its people, according to official migration statistics, which are believed to under-report outward migration. Those who fear the Chechen authorities try to leave Russia altogether because they do not feel safe in Moscow either.

There are no reliable statistics on how many have left, but a Chechen refugee wave that hit Germany in 2013 is seen by most experts as a good indicator.

Berlin received more than 15,000 applications for political asylum from Russia that year, more than four times the total a year earlier. According to German officials, more than 90 per cent were from Chechnya.

“Of course we want to live where our ancestors lived, and die where our ancestors died,” says one man from the Chechen village of Alkhazurovo who applied for foreign passports for his entire family last year. “But there is a point where it is better to leave.”

The Secret Life of an ISIS Warlord

Abu Omar al-Shishani has a fierce, gorgeous Chechen bride. He learned intelligence operations from the U.S. And his older brother may be the real genius of ISIS.

PANKISI GORGE, Georgia—The mother of martyrs, a woman in her fifties, is delicately beautiful and visibly in pain. She covers her hazel eyes and sobs over a photo album as the call to prayer echoes throughout the Georgian village of Jokolo, just south of the Chechen border.The mother’s story involves one of the most notorious jihadists in the world, a man who served in intelligence units trained by Americans and the British, a man who is the face of the ISIS conquests, and a man who took her late son’s wife for his own bride.

The mother, Leila Achishvili, tries hard to maintain her poise, even as she discusses the death of both of her boys, Hamzat and Khalid Borchashvili. She is halfway through a box of tissues. Her story has just begun.

The eight-mile-long Pankisi Valley is notorious even in the infamous Caucasus as a lawless corridor for smuggling weapons, drugs, and jihadists into Chechnya, just a few miles to the north and the east. It is also one of the few places in Georgia where the sorrowful beauty of the call to prayer still can be heard.

These days Pankisi feels closer to Syria than to the nation of Georgia, to which it belongs.

Among the younger generations, radical versions of Sunni Wahhabism have replaced the traditional moderate Sufi Islam of Pankisi’s Kist majority. There is rampant unemployment, and many of these disillusioned young Georgian jihadists now make their way west to Syria via neighboring Turkey. They are inspired by local legend and ISIS commander Abu Omar al-Shishani, who made the same journey only a few years before.

Stories and rumors circulate—whispers of his massive villa, his fiefdom and private harem, his 40 personal guards, his armored cavalcade of SUVs, and now his stunning and fierce Chechen warrior wife. For these young men, their Pankisi native son has already become part Josef Stalin (another native son of Georgia) and part rock star of the media-savvy Islamic caliphate. But according to his father, Abu Omar al-Shishani is a mirage: It’s his older brother who is running the ISIS show.


The name that Abu Omar al-Shishani grew up with was Tarkhan. And because we are here in his hometown talking to the people who once loved him, and perhaps still do, we’ll use that name, too.  Tarkhan’s father, Temur, a grizzled, eccentric, well-read old Christian with a bitter sense of self-irony, tells his sons’ story in an extensive—almost bizarre—interview with The Daily Beast at his small gray house in the village of Birkiani, where his boys grew up.

“I am like a hobo,” the old man declares. “My son is one of the founders of Islamic caliphate and I’m here, dying in poverty! Look! Look where I live!” According to Temur, his son even invited him to Syria. “He told me, ‘Dad, come with me. You’ll live like you are in paradise.’ I told him, ‘Save your paradise for yourself, I prefer my home here.’”

Despite Tarkhan’s fame as a holy warrior, the father doesn’t see him as particularly pious, his mother came from a Muslim family, but he didn’t show much interest. The old man claims that, in fact, before Tarkhan went to prison, he wasn’t religious at all. He supposedly warned his older brothers about the dangers of fanatical Islam, especially his brother Tamaz, who was fighting in Chechnya:

“‘Be citizens of Georgia,’ Tarkhan would say to Tamaz, ‘You are in a war, you may fight there, but do not pick up their beliefs.’ And now look what happened! Do you see how a man can change?”

Like so many of the world’s most brutal dictators, military leaders, tyrants, and jihadists, it appears Tarkhan was trained by the very best: the United States government. According to his father and former colleagues, Tarkhan worked for an elite “Spetsnaz” Georgian military-intelligence unit—at least until he caught tuberculosis, lost his job in the intelligence unit, was then framed by that same intelligence unit, and went to jail in 2010 for weapons possession.

Tarkhan’s father claims that his son worked, specifically, for the ministry of interior’s KUD or “Kudi,” basically the domestic-intelligence and special-operations service in Georgia, officially called the Constitutional Security Department. The agency was notoriously brutal. When asked if it was true that his son Tarkhan was trained by the United States, Temur says, “Of course they did. They trained all of the Georgian army back then… My boy was just 19 when he went to the army… This KUDI, where he was working, it was an intelligence and reconnaissance unit.”

The United States government has been overtly training and funding Georgian troops for more than a decade. This is no secret. Last month, when U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Georgia, he also visited U.S. Marines at the Krtsanisi National Training Center outside Tbilisi, where the leathernecks continue to train Georgian troops as they have for more than a dozen years.

The Daily Beast has learned that a young clean-shaven Tarkhan joined the U.S-funded Georgian army in 2006. He rose quickly. He was recruited into a newly created “Spetsnaz” intelligence unit and he carried out reconnaissance on Russian tank brigades during the 2008 Georgia/Russia War. Levan Amiridze, Tarkhan’s friend and military colleague, with whom he would later spend time in prison, confirmed that officers in the “secret services” of the ministry of defense were routinely trained by both U.S. and British instructors. So there is little doubt that the ISIS commander from Pankisi was either trained by the Americans or by the officers whom they had trained.

Yet despite Tarkhan’s American guidance and combat experience, Tarkhan’s father doesn’t see his son as any kind of military mastermind. Temur views his youngest boy as a kind of victim. Over the course of the interview, the father sketches a relationship that his two sons have gone to great lengths to create and to conceal in their command of ISIS troops in Syria.

“Tarkhan is 27, not more—a child! Tamaz is his teacher. Tamaz ruined everything I had,” says the father of these holy warriors. “Tamaz is everything, the main actor; Tarkhan is nothing.” It was Tamaz who went off to fight in Grozny during the gruesome Chechen rebellion against Russia in the 1990s and early in the last decade. It was Tamaz who took his whole family to Syria. “They are together. Tamaz is his mentor. He survived that huge Grozny war and came back alive. [But] in Syria, Tamaz doesn’t show himself.”

And there we have it. The conspicuous, red-bearded jihadist Tarkhan, a.k.a. Abu Omar, one of the most wanted terrorists on the planet, may well be a figurehead for his older brother, the mastermind behind the Chechen operatives running ISIS offensives in Syria and Iraq.

If this is true, it explains why, unlike the rest of the top ISIS commanders, Tarkhan allows himself to be photographed extensively. They are creating the illusion that he is the “head of snake”—while the real architect of ISIS’s Syria operation, Tamaz Batirashvili, remains in the shadows.

The two brothers have similar features, the same nose, same red beards, yet we are told that Tamaz doesn’t typically wear military fatigues. He dresses simply, in a gown with a scarf on his head. They play two very different roles, but according to a local in Pankisi, “It’s instantly recognizable that they are brothers.” The tactic is quite clever in the terrifying game of illusion and terror that is so essential to the mystique and the conquests of the self-declared caliphate.

The importance of Tamaz is not just a figment of the old man’s imagination. The elder brother’s military prowess and importance to Georgian intelligence was also confirmed by a former Georgian military official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name.

There were much more professional and experienced men in the group from the Pankisi who worked with the Georgian spy agency.

“Tarkhan was the only newbie,” says this source. “We only recruited him because we were interested in his brother—Tamaz and his friends, who were ‘real wolves,’ experienced soldiers, and veterans of the Chechen wars. We had certain interests toward them.” Georgia’s Anti-Terrorism Center, or ATC, allegedly ran some jihadists out of Pankisi to fight against Moscow’s troops in Grozny, a charge the Georgian government has always denied.

But when Tarkhan got sick with tuberculosis and was ushered out, the government gave him no pension or medical assistance. He grew increasingly angry, and then the government went after him, charging him with arms possession—just as it had done with his older brother years before—and throwing him in jail.

“I don’t know whether he really was involved in weapon smuggling, but most of his friends, including those who were arrested with him, presumably really were doing this,” said the same former official. “Some even were drug addicts. And Tarkhan was thought to act as a fixer, getting them in touch with people from Pankisi who wanted to buy weapons.”


The home of Leila, the soft-spoken mother of martyrs, is warm and elegant, a far cry from the tiny cottage of the boisterous Temur, Tarkhan’s father. Yet Leila’s hearth is also the childhood home of two Wahhabi jihadists who left Pankisi to join Tarkhan’s fight in Syria. Leila’s sons, Hamzat and Khalid Borchashvili, also have not returned. And there is this curious connection as well: Leila and Temur have the same daughter-in-law.

Her name is Seda Dudurkaeva, although now she goes by the name Aisha. With big brown eyes, long lashes, and voluptuous features, she was once one of Chechnya’s most desired brides. Seda is the daughter of Asu Dudurkaev, who was a minister in the government of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov—who fired him because he could not “control” his fanatical daughter.

Kadyrov, who is very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a strong supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, announced the dismissal of the minister on his absurdly active Instagram page in late November last year: “Dudurkaev, as the leader of one of the most important structures, has no moral right to speak with subordinates about morality and patriotism and religion.

His own daughter is in the ranks of the Wahhabis and bandits, who are shedding the blood of civilians, and blowing up Islamic shrines in Syria.”

The conspicuous red-bearded jihadist Abu Omar, one of the most wanted terrorists on the planet, may well be a figurehead for his older brother, the mastermind behind the offensives in Syria and Iraq.

Seda, the Chechen beauty, first went to Syria to marry Leila’s son Hamzat, and Leila’s sobs grow deeper as her story progresses. She says that when her two sons were just boys she sent them to live with her former husband in Austria. She thought he could provide better for them, and she wanted to get them away from the increasingly radical atmosphere in Pankisi. She remembers Hamzat coming home one day when he was only 12 years old wearing the kind of robes affected by the Wahhabi extremist. “I thought in Europe they would abandon Wahhabi teachings,” she say. “I was wrong.”

Fifteen years later, when Hamzat returned from Austria to Pankisi, he was well-educated, with an engineer’s diploma from a university in Vienna, and he could speak five languages. But he took all these skills to Syria, to fight alongside Tarkhan, now known as Abu Omar al-Shishani.

“Hamzat became his interpreter and he would travel everywhere with Abu Omar, never leaving his side and respecting him enormously,” Leila says. But she heard from him only rarely. “I begged him to call me via Skype,” she said. “It’s shameful for a mujahedin to disobey his mother’s wish.”

“I used to not sleep at night, waiting for Hamzat’s Skype call. One night he finally did. Suddenly there on the screen was my son wearing a black scarf on his head with ‘Allah u Akbar’ written in Arabic. When I saw him, I cannot express the feeling I had,” she said. “I asked him: ‘For God’s sake… For Allah’s sake, take me there with you to Syria, I just want to hug you, nothing more.’”

Hamzat agreed to let her visit. “I asked him what to bring with me,” she said. “He told me to bring natural Georgian honey and churchkhela [a traditional Georgian candy made with dried grape must and nuts] for Abu Omar al-Shishani, which he loves very much. I knew Abu Omar,” said Leila. “He grew up here in Pankisi and for some time he worked in Georgia. I took everything that my son liked and missed. And I went to Turkey by bus.”

Leila is reluctant to talk about her son’s wife—the girl who fled from her wealthy father, a life of luxury, and traveled to Syria to marry a mujahedin. She says Seda and Hamzat met online, and that the girl left her guarded house to visit Hamzat, who had been wounded and was in hospital being treated. She acknowledges that someone helped Seda get to Hamzat in Syria, although Leila declines to say if it was friend or a relative.

President Kadyrov, who famously persecutes Wahhabis in Chechnya (along with many others), declared it “a matter of honor” and “a priority” that Seda, who now calls herself Aisha, return to the land of her birth. And the Chechen government’s search for the ex-minister’s daughter eventually led to Leila. “They contacted me and told me to bring that girl back—saying ‘She doesn’t belong with the likes of you,’” Leila recalls.



The mother of martyrs went to Syria with two objectives: to see her son and to convince the girl to return to her family. She was a worried mother navigating safehouses and borders, clandestinely making her way to a rebel stronghold in Syrian territory to retrieve a Chechen princess.

“One man was supposed to meet me in Turkey and see me off to Syria,” she remembers. “Without talking, he took me to the car, gave me a cellphone, and someone spoke to me in poor Russian, asking, ‘Are you Abu Abdula’s mother?’ I said that I was. He asked again, whether I really was the mother of the man who recently married a woman from Chechnya. Again I confirmed. We went to a big building, full of wounded people, refugees from Syria.

“I went downstairs and entered a large room,” she continued, “where I saw about 10 tables with computers and men with long beards. What can I say—they looked very frightening! A group of young boys from Chechnya again asked me: ‘Are you Abu Abdula’s mother?’ Even they knew him.” She had no idea at the time how famous her own son had become in jihadist circles after appearing on YouTube calling on the whole Muslim world, especially athletes, to take part in jihad.

“Then a man came and took us to a bus station,” Leila recalled. “They paid for our tickets. I did not spend a single coin. From there they took us to the Syrian border.” And finally she saw her son, who was no longer the boy she knew: “He was gaunt and armed with all kinds of weapons. He was not the boy I raised. Then they took me to the car surrounded by armed men with cars, who seemed to protect them. They had cars full of guns, in case something happened. When I climbed in, the girl [Seda] was there too.” According to Hamzat, the car belonged to Tarkhan. “He said that these and some other cars were brought from Iran and that he was the only person who had access to this car.”

Apart from his wheels, Hamzat was living with few comforts and little cash. “He did not even have $100 to give me,” said Leila. “He told me: ‘Mom, sorry, I’m dedicating my life to Allah and I am extremely sad that I cannot give you money because I don’t have any.’ He had just one gown that his wife would wash. He used to wear that all the time.”

Leila said her daughter-in-law did not seem to mind. “They were a loving couple,” she said. Seda told her that she was in Syria by her own free will. “She did not complain about anything. I was astonished. She was such a beautiful girl, like an angel. She said that she was freer and felt a spiritual freedom there. As it befits a Muslim woman, in front of me she was shy. I would speak to my son. I told him that her people were calling me and saying that his wife should return home and that they would take care of her. But she said that she was going to stay and die there.”

At night, Leila was awakened frequently by airstrikes. She begged her son on her knees to leave Syria with her. “I asked him why he needed to die, here in a foreign country. He told me that he was strongly following Allah’s path and he was going to sacrifice himself to the God.”

Leila also met with Tarkhan, who came to visit her:  “I was taken to a room full of men where I was told that Omar al-Shishani would come the next day and we would meet separately. I needed to give him the churchkhela that he loved very much. So the next day he came and we sat and spoke for an hour. We did not speak about anything special. He just wondered how the neighbors were and about Pankisi. He told me that he loved and respected my son, Hamzat, very much—how he was a ‘devout and exemplary Muslim.’”

Leila marvels at the reverence with which Tarkhan was treated. In her eyes he was just a boy from Pankisi: “I asked what kind of a position he held and why he was so heavily protected—why people were visiting him to get his advice and consultations or telling him their plans. I was told that he was like a second Bin Laden. He was seen this way.”

Four days after Leila returned home from Syria, she received a call from her younger son, Khalid. He informed her that Hamzat had “become a shahid,” a martyr, and he was dead. Leila desperately begged and pleaded with her youngest son not repeat the mistake of his brother, but Khalid replied: “I have been dreaming about this since my childhood.”

“When I heard these words, my heart froze,” the mother of martyrs told us there at her house in Pankisi. “After four or five weeks, I noticed that people were trying to hide something from me. My worst fear had come true: My Khalid was now dead too. They say he was shot by a sniper. But no one saw him dead or alive. Only his wallet was found. Seda, the widow of Hamzat, sent me the money she found in Khalid’s wallet. She said that it belonged to me.”


Leila Achishvili says she believes that after Hamzat was killed, Seda was ready to leave Syria and return home, but “Abu Omar did not let her go and today she is his wife.” Partly this is tradition as old as the history of warrior Islam.

“If a shahid’s wife loses her husband, she should not stay alone without care. This is their rule and according to it now someone else had to marry her. Suddenly Seda found herself with Tarkhan, whom my son trusted and at whose side he used to stand!”

Inevitably there have been rumors and suspicions that Tarkhan might have arranged Hamzat’s death, much as King David in the Bible arranged the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. But there is nothing to substantiate those stories. There is simply too little information.

When asked how exactly Hamzat died, Leila seems uncertain: “As I was told, my son died together with a man from Chechnya. Probably they were returning from the battle together. His car was blown up. He was alive when he was sent to Turkey, but he died there in the hospital.”

Later Leila tried to return to Syria again, to find her sons’ graves, but she was told that she had “no business left” there. The message came from Tarkhan himself.

Now the battlefield is changing. Tarkhan boldly claims that next he will bring the fight to Putin. ISIS has its sights set on the North Caucasus. After years of President Kadyrov’s reign in the Chechen Republic, ISIS may indeed find a niche as it did in Syria.

But the Georgians who trained the red-bearded ISIS commander will not welcome his return at this point, no matter how the jihadists might hurt Putin’s cronies. Indeed, some in Tbilisi fear that the Kremlin will act first and use the radicalization in the Pankisi Gorge as a reason to carry out an anti-terrorist operation there—simply put, another Russian invasion of Georgia.

The tiny valley is becoming a big problem. There is a feeling in the air that Pankisi is about to reach its tipping point. Unemployment and the lack of opportunities for young men are taking their toll. The Gorge has always been a hotbed of radicalism and arms smuggling, but now it is fast becoming a shahid factory.

The red-bearded jihadist posing frequently for the camera gives the ruthless campaigs of ISIS a glamorous allure, and so far the tactic seems to be working. This “holy war” expends young men faster than mortar rounds. And the brothers Tarkhan and Tamaz know that the ones who survive will return to their homeland soon enough as ruthless battle-hardened jihadists—as “real wolves.”

Yet for the mothers and fathers of this radicalized generation, there is only loss and uncertainty. In this valley so far away from Syria, questions loom like mist drifting off the Caucasus. Leila has lost both of her sons. In a different way, Temur, the father of Tarkhan and Tamaz, also has lost his. With grave sincerity Leila asks,

“What is the purpose of this war? With whom are they fighting and for what or why are they killing each other?  Still today I cannot find an explanation for why these little children are dying.”

Warlord Doku Umarov’s brother behind Grozny attack — Death Toll in Grozny rises to 20

Kadyrov said that the time when parents weren’t held responsible for the actions of their sons and daughters is over.

GROZNY, December 5. /TASS/. Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that Akhmat, a brother of late warlord Doku Umarov, was behind the terrorist attack in Grozny on December 4.

“There is evidence that Doku Umarov’s brother has financed, organized and so bears responsibility for the attack,” Kadyrov told reporters on Friday. “Russia’s law enforcement agencies must demand his extradition from Turkey.”

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that a total of 11 militants have been killed in a special counter-terrorism operation in the republic's capital Grozny.

Kadyrov said Umarov’s brother had deceived eleven militants who infiltrated Grozny. They were told that their goal was to reach Grozny and to open fire as another 400 gunmen who were allegedly staying in the city would join them.

Kadyrov said that all eleven militants were killed in the operation and later identified.

Kadyrov’s relative killed

Umar Kadyrov, a close relative of Chechnya’s head Ramzan Kadyrov, was killed in the anti-terrorist operation in Grozny, Kadyrov wrote on his page of a social network on Friday.

“The events in Grozny echoed with pain in the hearts of all Chechens and millions of Russian citizens,” he said. “I deliberately refrained from speaking about a heroic death of my close relative Umar Kadyrov who was only 22. But he lived a bright life for Allah, for Islam and for his people.”

Families of militants to be expelled from Chechnya

Family of a militant who commits a murder will be expelled from Chechnya without the right to return, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on one of his official pages in social networks.

“If a militant in Chechnya kills a policeman or any other person, the militant’s family will be immediately expelled from Chechnya without the right to return. Their house will be pulled down together with the foundation,” Kadyrov said, noting that he would not allow anybody to spill blood in Chechnya.

Earlier on Friday, Kadyrov held a meeting with ministers, regional administration chiefs and the heads of internal affairs departments where he put up an extremely tough but fair condition.

Kadyrov’s strong reaction must have come in the wake of the Thursday’s terrorist attack in Grozny.

A group of unidentified gunmen moving in three cars attacked a traffic police checkpoint in Grozny in the early hours on Thursday.

After that, the terrorists sneaked into the local Press House where the editorial offices of the republic’s newspapers, Internet publications and federal media outlets are located.

Chechen law enforcers blocked the Press House building and launched a security operation in central Grozny. As a result, 11 terrorists were neutralized.

10 police killed, 28 injured in Grozny anti-terror operation

RIA Novosti/Said Tsarnaev

Ten police officers were killed and 28 injured during an anti-terrorist operation in the Chechen capital, Grozny, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee has reported. The operation prevented major terrorist attacks planned in the city, the committee said.

“In the course of the counter-terrorist operation 10 local police officers were killed and 28 were wounded, having shown bravery while on civilian and military duty,” the National Anti-Terrorist Committee said in a statement.

RT’s video agency RUPTLY has obtained exclusive video of the last hours of the operation.

The footage from the location shows a building on fire, with emergency services trying to put out the flames.

The cameraman is at the scene of the fierce shootout between the security forces and the assailants. The close-up shows the shots hitting the building, and then intensifying.

Later, shoulder rockets are used in the violent fighting, with people ducking and wincing at the sounds of incessant shooting.

The incident started after midnight when a group of armed men traveling in three cars attacked a police checkpoint outside Grozny. Then the gang proceeded into the city and occupied the Press House building in the city center.

At 8 am, the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on his Instagram page that he was personally supervising the anti-terrorist operation and that it was “entering its final phase.”

Still from Ruptly video

RT’s sources in the area say sporadic gunfire is still being heard.

Investigative measures are ongoing, the committee reported.


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