(Members of The Islamic State, wearing the standard issue GOST uniform of the Russian special forces (Spetsnaz), a division of the GRU)
While many in the media and some in our nation’s think tanks continue to promote the notion that ISIS’ existence has something to do with so-called “sectarian warfare” and religious struggle, the reality of ISIS and its genesis tells another story.
In October of last year, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek national claiming ISIS allegiances murdered eight civilians in Manhattan when he drove onto a bicycle path/pedestrian walkway. Many failed to notice that counts 1-8 of Saipov’s 22 count indictment charged him with “Murder in Aid of Racketeering with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death on each count.” The idea of charging so-called Islamists for crimes usually associated with organized crime may at first seem surprising, but it’s an indication that law enforcement is, increasingly, adapting to the new reality of a nexus between terrorism and global organized crime.
In fact, the Islamic State has re-shaped thinking about regional geopolitics in the Middle East, as its sources of funding become more apparent to the West.
To be clear, ISIS’ funding network consists of deeply-rooted ties with European organized crime:
Source: Examining the Nexus between Organised Crime and Terrorism and its implications for EU Programming, Tuesday Reitano, Colin Clarke and Laura Adal, CT MORSE (Counterterrorism Monitoring, Reporting and Support Mechanism)
Understanding the Chechen and Russian intelligence influence among ISIS’ leadership provides additional clues. For example, the ISIS militant pictured in the top right image of this article has been identified as a Russian mercenary named Anatoliy Zemlianka:
But the roots of ISIS require additional deeper examination in order to be fully understood.
Some may recall the Chechen militant, Shamil Basayev, who was blamed for the infamous Moscow apartment bombings. As Marius Laurinavičius writes in his excellent analysis of ISIS, Do traces of KGB, FSB and GRU lead to Islamic State?:
The fact that the famous Shamil Basayev, Ruslan Gelayev and some others Chechen terrorist commanders began their career notonly fighting on the Russian side during the Georgian-Abkhaz war, but were directly trained by the special forces of Russian military intelligence (GRU), was basically never even denied in Russia.
The traces of GRU agents were not a secret as well.
Even Yuri Drozdov, the legend of Russian secret services, former KGB General-Major and a longtime chairman of the board at ‘S’, in his interview for fontanka.ru in 2011 publicly admitted that all this information about Basayev was true. According to Drozdov, Basayev was ‘one of the leaders of a special military division’.
Also undenied is the fact that Basayev’s incursion into Dagestan and house bombing afterwards contributed, to say the least, to Putin’s coming to power. The Western world has less and less doubt that this was all a well-executed, although seemingly unthinkable, operation of Russian secret services.
In August 1999, Basayev led an attack into Dagestan, using weapons from GRU stocks in Moscow, not jihadist stores in Chechnya, reigniting conflict with Moscow. Six weeks later, Basayev would be blamed for the apartment bombings in Moscow that killed three-hundred people.