May 27th 2010 · Prague Watchdog / Dmitry Shlapentokh · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS

North Caucasus terrorism and the search for funding

North Caucasus terrorism and the search for funding

By Dmitry Shlapentokh, special to Prague Watchdog

Watchers of Russia’s North Caucasus have recently focused most of their attention on the spectacular terrorist attacks in Moscow and the North Caucasus. All of these attacks have demonstrated that jihadist activity is continuing. However, the attempted robbery carried out by jihadists in Bashkortostan which took place at approximately the same time was more or less ignored, as were some related statements by leading jihadists about the importance of funding for the continuation of jihad. This robbery and the associated statements indicated that the proliferation of terrorist activity in the North Caucasus may be deeply connected with the jihadists’ attempts to acquire additional funds, which they badly need. 


Those who study terrorist activity in the North Caucasus and elsewhere usually concentrate on the ideological framework of jihadism and the social conditions that produce it, ignoring its financial framework – at least, that is true of those analysts who make known their findings in unclassified publications. Yet like any other human enterprise, terrorist activity requires funding.  Money is needed to purchase weapons and supplies, and also for travel, including movement out of the country. Other aspects of revolutionary and terrorist activity also require financial backing. Money ensures the support of the “professional revolutionaries", and in our case, the “professional jihadists”.

It would of course be quite wrong to regard those who engage in terrorist activity as out-and- out mercenaries who think of nothing but financial rewards. Many of them not only risk their lives but engage in suicide actions. Still, hundreds or even thousands of jihadists cannot engage in such activity solely on the basis of  ideology. For quite a few of them,  ideological motivations are mixed in varying degrees with other considerations, such as the need to obtain employment. This is usually the case in an environment where there are few opportunities of finding work, and is unquestionably true in the North Caucasus, where the huge subsidies provided by Moscow are mostly purloined by corrupt bureaucracies. Thus, a fair number of those who engaged in jihadism, especially the ordinary rank and file, engage in jihadist activity as a kind of job – not unlike their local counterparts who join the Russian or Kadyrov forces for mainly monetary reasons. Financial reward is also an important motivation for  foreign jihadists, often mercenaries of a kind, who come to the North Caucasus. The situation there is not unique. One of the reasons for the Taliban’s sustainability is the fact that they are able to pay their fighters a competitive wage. Even in the case of suicide terrorism monetary considerations cannot be ignored completely – after a successful terrorist act, a substantial sum of money is paid to the surviving family. This was the case, for example, with the family of the suicide terrorists who killed Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Northern Afghanistan and the deadly enemy of the Taliban and Al-Qaida.


It is now clear to many analysts in the field that North Caucasus jihadism and the common criminality that proliferated in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet regime, with its strong controlling repressive function, were in many ways separate phenomena, all the links between them notwithstanding. The terrorists received money from the North Causcasian diaspora, which was engaged in a variety of criminal enterprises. Yet there was also a division of labor. Most of the criminals,even those who engaged in violent crime, were not  involved in purely terrorist activity as such. Likewise, the jihadists usually stayed away from purely criminal enterprise. Now this situation appears to be changing. And here the  jihadists have begun to follow a model that was well known in revolutionary Russia.

The blending of criminal and revolutionary terrorist activity has a long tradition in Russia. Such activity was widespread during the revolutions of 1905-1907. The gangs who  took part in robberies called them eksy (a shortened form of “expropriations” – an allusion to Marx’s famous dictum that proletarian revolutions would engage in “the expropriation of  the expropriators”, i.e. the proletariat would simply reclaim what had been stolen from the toilers. In revolutionary Russia, the “expropriators” were affiliated with most of the left, including the Bolsheviks. The “expropriators” were engaged not only in robbery, but also in extortion. Later, the sources began to dry up. For this there were several reasons. Firstly,  the authorities, notably Prime Minister Stolypin, practiced relentless repression against terrorists and criminals. Secondly, the “expropriators” degenerated into common criminals and decided not to share their spoils with the revolutionary groups and parties. Now the process appears to be the reverse –  purely criminal activity is blended with politically motivated terror. 

These criminal activities have now become inseparable from the general search for additional funds.  Indeed, it looks as though the lack of funds is emerging as one of the main problems that  prevent the jihadists from expanding their operations.  Doku Umarov, the leader of the virtual “Caucasian Emirate” and of the jihadists, made the point clear in one of his “televised” addresses on the Internet.  In his presentation, made soon after the terrorist attack in the Moscow subway, he said that these attacks would not be the last. The Russians should expect similar attacks in future if they would continued to support their government’s policy in the Caucasus. He said that the attacks were retaliation for the killing of civilians by Russian troops, adding that those who believe  Muslim youth is losing interest in jihad are absolutely wrong. There are many young men who are anxious to join the movement. If their numbers are not swelling at present, it is not because of a shortage of human resources but rather a lack of funds. 

The importance of funding was also underscored by the recently killed Amir Sefullah. In his “televised” YouTube address he said that financial contributions to jihad were absolutely obligatory for those Muslims who did not participate in jihad themselves. This was especially the case for those who had substantial means. And those who refused to carry out those obligations would be severely punished.  Elaborating on this, he said he had recently had a conversation with a wealthy Muslim in the course of which he had demanded that the latter contribute financially to the cause, as this was stipulated by Islamic law.  The man rejected the demand, calling the jihadists “bandits” and said he had already paid his taxes to the government. Sefullah replied that they were not bandits and needed nothing for themselves – in fact they sacrificed everything for jihad. And the fact that the man gave money to the enemies of the Muslims simply made him even more of a sinner – only contributions to the cause of jihad could save him. Sefullah said that not only had the man given nothing to the jihadists but he had even informed the authorities about the meeting. At this point the jihadists had no option but to kill him, so as to send a message to other individuals. The importance of contributing funds to jihadism was emphasized in an article published by Kavkaz Center.


The procurement of funds was extremely important for Russian revolutionaries in the past and remains so for Islamic jihadists in present day Russia. Recently there have been signs that the jihadists’ search for funds may be on the increase, something that is indicated by their active engagement in robberies and their statements in media outlets. This is open to differing interpretations. On the one hand, it may indicate that the jihadists are starved of funds, and that this crippling their activities. On the other, it may indicate the opposite: that the jihadists are in the process of expansion and require additional funds. 

Dmitry Shlapentokh is Associate Professor of History at Indiana University



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