Russia captures rebel leader

Russia has announced the capture of one of the main
rebels in the Islamic insurgency in the south as it seeks to crack down on
spiralling violence ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ali Taziyev,
known by his nom de guerre “Magas”, has been detained by special operations
forces from the FSB, Russia’s
security service. The FSB released video footage showing masked troops loading
a bearded and dazed Taziyev into a helicopter. A website that acts as a
mouthpiece for the rebels claimed he had been drugged. It said the arrest was a
“serious loss to the mujahideen, but it would not alter the situation and stop
the jihad”.

Arrest

The arrest has
stunned observers of the conflict between Moscow
and Islamic militants – from senior leaders to foot soldiers, rebels are nearly
always killed in shoot-outs or raids. Analysts said the arrest could signal a
new approach.

“They have
realised that [killing] doesn’t really stop insurgency,” said Simon Saradzhyan,
a security expert at Harvard
University. “It’s like a
hydra. You cut off a few heads and new ones grow. Any killing in the north Caucasus, or any other closely knit society where
vendetta exists, generates the desire to kill in revenge.”

Taziyev was
the military commander of the Caucasus Emirate, a far-reaching group born out
of the separatist wars that ravaged Chechnya
following the fall of the Soviet Union. Ultimately
led by Chechen rebel Doku Umarov, it hopes to form an Islamic caliphate across Russia’s southern,
mainly Muslim, republics. After a six-year respite, during which it limited its
attacks to the troubled south, in March the group claimed responsibility for a
twin suicide attack on the Moscow metro that killed 40 people.

Olympics

The increase
in attacks could not have come at a worse time for Russia. The country is struggling
to prepare for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi,
which is dangerously close to its troubled Caucasus region, just 250 miles from
Grozny, the
Chechen capital.

Earlier this
month the chief of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, said intelligence officials
were aware that rebels were planning to disrupt the Olympics. “Threats from
al-Qaida were the reason for the cancellation of the Dakar 2008 road race,” he
told Russian news agencies, referring to the cancellation of the Paris-Dakar
rally. “Militant leaders have clearly expressed their intention to play out a
similar scenario on the eve of the 2014 Olympics.”

He said rebels
were continuing to seek to acquire nuclear, as well as biological and chemical,
weapons. Chechen rebels forged ties with al-Qaida in the late 1990s and Russian
leaders insist that they form the backbone of the movement.

The continued
instability in the region poses the greatest challenge to the Kremlin’s
assertion that Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, has brought widespread
stability to Russia.

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