The return of ISIS fighters to Chechnya could pose a security challenge for the war-torn Russian republic. The authorities may respond true to form, with repression, but efforts to repatriate women and children stranded in Syria and, in some cases, to reintegrate foreign fighters should not be discounted.
The victories over ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa pose a dilemma for states whose citizens travelled to join the Islamic State’s (ISIS) ranks and who may now seek to return home. These states include Russia, and in particular its republic of Chechnya.
On the one hand, Chechen authorities fear the return of insurgents who fought for ISIS. They worry those militants, most of whom are mortal enemies of Ramzan Kadyrov’s heavy-handed regime, will renew the attacks they mounted some years ago in Chechnya. As has been the case in the past, authorities might not stop at jailing returnees, and might also go after their families, friends or associates, potentially hardening hatred of the regime among a wider circle of people.
On the other hand, some officials and activists in Chechnya are spearheading efforts to bring back women and children stranded in the Middle East after the death or imprisonment of their insurgent husbands and fathers. Those efforts, alongside limited attempts to rehabilitate some former fighters, offer a ray of hope that at least some returnees who renounce ISIS can be reintegrated into Chechen society.
Chechens in Syria
Chechens are fighting on both sides of the war in Syria, due in part to the assertive role of Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen republic, in the Russian Federation’s foreign policy. In 2015, as Russia launched an air campaign to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime, Kadyrov professed his enthusiasm for sending ground forces from Chechnya to fight ISIS.
“ Chechen authorities now have connections in Syria, which appear in some cases to have enabled them to use novel approaches in dealing with the threat of returning ISIS fighters...........
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