ISIS Foothold in the Caucasus and What it Means for Georgia
02 July, 2015
ISIS Foothold in the Caucasus and What it Means for Georgia
Last week, the terrorist organization, the so-called Islamic State, became unusually active. It carried out bloody attacks in Kuwait and Tunisia that resulted in more than 60 dead. ISIS members also attacked a gas factory in France, beheaded a man and wounded several others. And ISIS forces attacked the town of Kobani near the Turkish-Syrian border, which is currently held by Kurds with assistance from coalition forces.

As Pankisi locals told the journalists, the Islamic State’s fighters are considered heroes
and celebrities not only by boys, but by girls as well. Two Pankisian girls married ISIS members and left for Syria some time ago, which made them the subject of envy among their peers.

Most importantly for Georgia, ISIS created a province in the Caucasus named Wilayat Qawqaz, according to the Institute for the Study of War. Deutsche Welle reported that the Islamic State has its eye on the North Caucasus, which is predominantly Muslim and part of Russia’s territory. Zones where Islamist activity is expected to emerge include Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and the Republic of Adygea. What danger does this new development pose to the region in general and to Georgia in particular? We took this question to Badri Nachkebia, Head of the Center of Research of Terrorism and Political Violence:
“The emergence of the Islamic State near our borders in any form requires in-depth analysis. If significant sums of money are detected flowing into the Caucasus, it means that Georgia might be facing serious trouble. Do not forget that groups and individuals connected to the Islamic State are already functioning in Georgia. is confirmed by a recent special operation in Pankisi, which resulted in a man suspected of recruiting and trafficking people to Iraq and Syria being apprehended.
And if money starts pouring into the region, it will not remain confined to the North Caucasus alone. It will also inevitably affect regions of Georgia where Muslims live in close-knit communities like KvemoKartli, Adjara, Pankisi Gorge and Abkhazia. In case of the latter, the Gudauta region is particularly vulnerable – emissaries spreading Islamist propaganda have already entered it from Turkey. I do not rule out the emergence of mobile groups in Georgia that would also be tasked with promulgation and recruitment for ISIS. And there is only one step between terrorist propaganda and terrorist attacks.

“Terrorist literature is already entering the country. Weapons will be next!”

There are many places in Georgia for terrorists to establish secret footholds. Therefore, it is absolutely vital to put some serious effort into nipping this issue in the bud. First and foremost, it is necessary to strengthen the Georgian Special Forces’ counter-terrorism division. Secondly, Georgian authorities must analyze possible dangers and draw adequate conclusions before this problem evolves from a potential one to a major one. Terrorist literature is already entering the country. Weapons will be next!”
Several days prior to the aforementioned terrorist attacks, several Georgian and foreign journalists embarked on a trip organized by the Institute on War and Peace Reporting and visited the village of Duisi in Pankisi Gorge to talk with the locals.
Pankisi Gorge is largely inhabited by Kists (Georgian Chechens), most of whom settled there after the First Chechen War. Their total population in the gorge comprises approximately 8,000. In 1999, after the Second Chechen War began, about 12,000 Chechen refugees entered Pankisi Gorge, but most of them have left the country over the years. From those that remain, roughly one thousand are Georgian citizens today.

Despite many blaming unemployment and poverty in the area for radicalization of local youth, residents of Pankisi dismiss this claim, saying that the poor economic state they live in isn’t really different from that of backwater Georgian villages in other regions.

However, many of the Pankisian young peoplereadily embraceWahhabism nowadays, spending a lot of time in a recently built mosque in Duisi, which they themselves geotv.gecall a Wahhabi Mosque. Approximately 80 percent of these young people call themselves Wahhabi Muslims now and zealously uphold the religion’s doctrines, which prohibit them to dance, sing, take photos and otherwise entertain themselves. However, they are very actively pursuing sports activities, such as wrestling and weightlifting. According to locals, they also learn Arabic at the mosque.
Most of the young people to whom the journalists talked have openly admitted that fighting for the so-called Islamic State would be a great honor for them. They claim that they consider it a great honor to leave for Syria and fight alongside their “Muslim brothers”...
As locals told the journalists, the Islamic State’s fighters are considered heroes and celebrities not only by boys, but by girls as well. Two Pankisian girls married ISIS members and left for Syria some time ago, which made them the subject of envy among their peers.
“They dream of becoming heroes,” one of the members of Pankisi’s Elders’ Council told journalists.
Despite many blaming unemployment and poverty in the area for radicalization of local youth, residents of Pankisi dismiss this claim, saying that the poor economic state they live in isn’t really different from that of backwater Georgian villages in other regions. Therefore, they say, despite some of those who want to leave for Syria being motivated only financially, the majority of them are coaxed into joining ISIS through religious radicalism.
Onnik James Krikorian, a British journalist and counter-terrorism consultant commented on what he thinks Georgian authorities should do to tackle the Islamist threat in the country.
According to Krikorian, while punitive measures such asprosecuting recruiters and foreign terrorist fighters that return from Syria are commonplace, preventative measures need to be in place as well.
“That is, Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiatives need to stop radicalization from occurring in the first place and to intervene when an individual is identified as undergoing radicalization. Communities and local civil society organizations are the best when it comes to this. Those undertaking CVE must be credible and trusted.Therefore, what the Georgian government needs to do is, on one hand, encourage civil society and local communities to engage in CVE and, on the other, allow them to do so freely,”he said.
As for the measures of preventing radicalization of young people, Krikorian believes that countering extremist propaganda among local youth needs to be undertaken by those they trust. This means that the necessary effort needs to come from within the community itself – namely, from people who are already in close contact with the young people in question.

Author: Mari Javakhishvili
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