Russia: why studying Alexander Tikomirov is important

WaPo runs a very interesting peace on the figure of this Chechen terrorist, called the “the Che of Islam“. A convert to Islam, in only two years he became a simbol for Chechen terrorists. He was killed on March 2nd and was considered behing the Nevsky train bombing. He had nothing in common, at first sight with Chechenya (he was from Siberia) but he ended being the “odious terrorist”. That’s why is interesting, because it tells us that nearly anyone can change to the “dark side”:

Alexander Tikhomirov / Said Buryatsky

How the schoolboy whom neighbors called Sascha became the tech-savvy militant known as Sayid Buryatsky remains a question wrapped in rumor and speculation. But the outline of Tikhomirov’s journey from the Siberian steppes to the mountains of Chechnya provides a sense of the challenge that radical Islam poses in Russia and the speed with which the insurgency in the nation’s southwest is changing.

In less than two years with the rebels, Tikhomirov became their most effective propagandist, drawing in young Muslims with his fluent Russian, colloquial interpretations of Islam and mastery of the Internet. When security forces gunned him down last month at age 27, the guerrillas immediately cast him as a martyr.

Even in death, he remains influential. The rebel leader Doku Umarov has vowed fresh attacks in the Russian heartland by the brigade of suicide bombers that Tikhomirov helped revive. And he remains a digital legend, with his writings and videos preserved on the Web and his DVDs sold outside mosques across the former Soviet Union

… An Uzbek preacher named Bakhtiyar Umarov moved to his city about the time he converted, and Tikhomirov studied with him, acquaintances said. After Umarov caused a stir by trying to build a mosque, Russia deported the preacher to Uzbekistan, where he was jailed on charges of “terrorist propaganda.” But his defenders insist that he is a moderate and could not have radicalized Tikhomirov.

In his late teens, Tikhomirov moved to Moscow, where he attended an Islamic college that the authorities later closed in a crackdown on suspected extremism. He then traveled to Cairo, where he studied Arabic and attended lectures by Muslim scholars, one of whom he cited years later to justify violence in the name of Islam. 

… Russia’s traditional Islamic leaders have tried to steer young people toward moderate views, but a severe shortage of mosques, due in part to state limits, has made that difficult. In Moscow, six mosques serve as many as 3 million believers, the largest Muslim population of any city in Europe.

Aslam Ezhaev, director of an Islamic publishing house, said Tikhomirov voiced frustration with Muslim officialdom and eventually returned to Buryatia, where he took a job as a warehouse guard and offered to translate Arabic books for him.

Ezhaev suggested that Tikhomirov start a podcast for his Web site, Radio Islam. Tikhomirov proved be a talented preacher; his lectures were an immediate hit.

Ezhaev said he opposed violence and forbade Tikhomirov to discuss jihad. “It was easy for him to stay within the limits,” he said. “I didn’t see any signs of fanaticism.”

Well, it seems he was already a fanatic. Ezhaev says that “he opposed violence and forbade Tikhomirov to discuss jihad”. Why?

“While I am alive,” (Tikhomirov) wrote in December, “I will do everything possible so that the ranks of Riyad-us Saliheen are broadened and new waves of mujaheddin go on to martyrdom operations.”

On March 2, when security forces surrounded him and other fighters in a village in Ingushetia, Tikhomirov recorded a final sermon on his mobile phone, officials said. The authorities recovered the phone, along with a 50-liter barrel of explosives.

Photo | The Telegraph.

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