Islamic radicals in Central Asia

>>The two suspected bombers of the Boston marathon were ethnic Chechens raised in Kyrgyzstan

APRIL 21 2013 (The Conway Bulletin) — Snow covered the Almaty street, reflecting the light that poured from the restaurant’s windows. Inside, vodka flowed, dancers twirled and laughter boomed.

This was a typical Chechen wedding party in Kazakhstan on a freezing evening in February. The women wore their hair loose; the men strutted and joked as they tried to impress.

Across Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, a proud, flamboyant Chechen dispora is acutely visible.

Worried that the unruly Chechens would rebel while the Red Army was fighting the Nazis, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin deported roughly 500,000 people from the North Caucasus to Central Asia in 1944.

In 1957, four years after Stalin’s death, the Soviet authorities eased movement restrictions. Many Chechens opted to return home. Many others, though, stayed.

But despite the suspected Boston bombers’ Chechen ethnicity and upbringing in Kyrgyzstan, these communities do not hold particularly radical Islamic beliefs.

Radical Islam is a danger to Central Asia but the risk from Chechens already living within the region is low. Instead, the main danger lies in the flow of radical beliefs from places like Makhachkala — the teeming capital of Dagestan and apparently where the suspected Boston bombers lived after leaving Kyrgyzstan — to poor, vulnerable ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.

In Kazakhstan, which has dealt with several small-scale bomb attacks linked to radical Islam since 2010, the security forces have been combating this flow of radical ideas from the North Caucasus for the last few years.


This story was first published on April 22 in issue 132 of the weekly Conway Bulletin, a newssheet covering Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Click here to sign up for free

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