In late January, the Islamist group of Ansar al-Sunna, based in Iraq, assumed the responsibility for the December terrorist attacks in Volgograd when 34 people were killed and more than 70 were injured. (Ansar al-Sunna – “followers of the Sunnah” in Arabic – is a belligerent Islamic group in Iraq fighting against the Iraqi government. It has the bases in the northern and central Iraq and includes Kurdish militants and Arab radicals from various countries. Established in September 2003, it was intended to coordinate activities against the occidental coalition forces headed by the U.S.).
One of the extremist websites on the Internet has published a video, where two suicide bombers – Suleiman and Abdurrahman — where indicated as performers of the “operation”. It was alleged that the militants were going to carry out new terrorist attacks during the Sochi Winter Olympics. The extremists holding machine guns made statements against the background of photos taken in places of the terrorist attacks in Volgograd. In addition, there was footage of unknown people making explosives, than driving a car with an object similar to a fuse. The militants were threatening with new explosions against the background of the statements by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov concerning the death of Doku Umarov, who appealed for terrorist attacks in Sochi.
However, some experts believe that there is nothing but the name that links this group with Iraq. Moreover, in fact, this is a group from the North Caucasus that adopted this name, and its video message is addressed to the citizens of Central Russia. After all, even the background soundtrack is sung in Russian, which is quite unusual for such videos. Perhaps, not only the Russian language, but also the name of the group was selected because of this fact. In addition, as everyone well understands that once, this video originally appeared on the website of Dagestani Islamists, it is quite possible that this is a Dagestani phenomenon. Anyone can exclude that this new group has been created to strike and carry out terrorist attacks in Central Russia.
Although, the external track of the terrorist attacks in Volgograd cannot be ignored, as well as the threats to commit terrorist acts in Russia during the Sochi Winter Olympics. All the more so, as Moscow continues to support B. Assad in the armed conflict in Syria, which fact causes the growing irritation of the Wahhabi Arabia monarchies, primarily Saudi Arabia. It is no mere chance that the following words sounded in the message of militants of the Ansar al-Sunna: “If you hold the Olympics, you will get a present from us … you and all those tourists who will come to it. It will be done for all the Muslims, shedding their blood around the world every day – be it in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, around the world – this will be our revenge”.
Naturally, Russian authorities consider the threat of terrorist attacks in Sochi as very serious one, given the current tensions in the North Caucasus. However, can the situation in the North Caucasus really frustrate the Olympic Games? Probably it can not, unless there is an external intervention through funding and arming of several groups of radical Islamist militants from the Salafi organizations supported by Riyadh. However, if these are arrested by Russian security services and give testimony, then Saudi Arabia will face the threat of sanctions under international conventions on the fight against international terrorism and terrorist sponsorship. Moreover, even the U.S. will not be able to help in this situation, given the bitter experience of the events of September 11, 2001. That is why, today the loud statements of radical Salafis are most likely just propaganda, which is perfectly exemplified by the everyday curses by the leader of Al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri and threats from leaders of radical Islamists in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and the Sahara and Sahel region.
Unfortunately, modern society (first of all Russia and Western countries) is extremely vulnerable to terrorist aggression and attacks on human life. Large crowds and large-scale international events, which include the Olympic Games, open rather wide opportunities for individuals or small, but determined groups, if they want to make resounding attacks. However, security agencies also do not sleep, working not only on preventing, but also on early detection of any attempts to organize attacks, no matter who is behind them – just single persons or extremist groups, generously sponsored by other states.
Unfortunately, Wahhabism and Salafism continue to spread across the North Caucasus and the Volga Region, as well as in major cities of Central Russia, where there are large Muslim communities. And then there was the head of Saudi intelligence services Prince Bandar who, according to media reports, almost openly offered President V.V. Putin in July and December 2013 to help in the fight against Caucasus Islamists in exchange for Russian participation in plans to remove the current Syrian regime. Nevertheless, Russia continued to support Bashar Assad.
It is worth recalling that Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan headed Saudi intelligence services in 2012, and before that, he had served as ambassador to Washington for nearly 20 years. In those years, he was nicknamed “Bandar Bush” because of his close relations with the Bushes and the neoconservatives. He is the heir of the Sudairy Clan in the royal family of Al Saud (that competes with the Twaijri Clan, to which the current King Abdullah belongs) and, in fact, holds considerable power in Saudi Arabia, being the Secretary of the National Security Council of KSA at the same time. It was he who conducted the country’s extremely aggressive policy against Iran, Shiites and any democratic movements in the Arab States. In 2012, he openly admitted that he was behind the creation and support of the Islamist militant movement of Dzhabhat en-Nusra, that is one of the main opponents of the most radical type of B. Assad’s regime.
We must not forget here that, in fact, Prince Bandar continues the longtime course of Saudi Arabia: because of the alliance with the United States, it was aimed at countering the Soviet Union before the 1990s, and then it was aimed at isolating Shiite Iran by creating the Sunni “sanitary cordon” in the Muslim republics of the Central Asia and the Caucasus, which gained independence or became a platform for separatist movements. The political, financial and material support of Islamist movements in the North Caucasus (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, etc.) from Saudi Arabia is a long proven fact.
However, Saudi Arabia cannot threaten Russia. Taking into account the advanced age of its rulers (the King is 89, the royal prince is younger a little), and the internal problems of the kingdom, the rulers of Riyadh should have been more careful with Moscow. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, a suicide bomber blew up a bus in southern Russia, that killed several people, and a little later two bloody terrorist attacks in Volgograd were a concrete support of Prince Bandar’s “forecasts” shortly before the Geneva-2 conference and the Olympic Games.
Thus, it turns out that the head of Saudi intelligence services, according to his own admission, has a certain influence with Caucasian Islamists and, therefore, can encourage them both to keep calm and to act. However, if it is true, Bandar is running a great risk. After all, Saudi Arabia is an active participant of the conflicts in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon), where the interests of the Shiite Iran and the Wahhabi oil monarchies of Arabia conflict in one way or another. Tehran is well aware of the hostile environment of the Wahhabi and Sunni countries that are political and military allies of the West. Under these conditions, it is seeking to get out of isolation through forming an alliance with Russia and the Shiite Arab states and movements. Today, this particularly evident against the background of growing radical sentiments, promoted by the actions of Saudi Arabia and Qatar monarchies. All this leads to the formation of the so-called “Shiite Arc”, uniting Iran with Syria, Iraq and the Lebanon “Hezbollah”.
Saudi Arabia is trying to counter this Shiite alliance with the Sunni axis consisting of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf Countries, Jordan and Turkey, and to neutralize Syria through supporting the armed uprisings of the Sunni extremists and Salafis there, which has been openly supported, financed and armed by Saudi special services of Prince Bandar for a long time. However, the Saudis should be cautious, lest the Arab “revolution” should reach the kingdom itself, and its conservative allies, because of these games. Therefore, Riyadh should think twice in what way it must behave in relation to the Sochi Olympic Games and restrain the impulses of Caucasian Islamist terrorists, not to fall into the ranks of those who will be in the terrorist camp, with all the consequences that come with it.
Pyotr Lvov, PhD in Political Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.