The second in a series on the terror threat to the Olympics.
Published on November 25, 2013
On February 7, 2014 the 22nd Winter Olympic Games will begin in Sochi, Russia. An estimated 6,000 Olympic athletes and 1,650 Paralympic athletes will take part. Another 25,000 volunteers will be in attendance along with 13,000 journalists. Estimates are that 75,000 people a day will visit Olympic sporting venues, while 3 billion people worldwide will watch the Games on television. Residents of Russia's major cities will be able to follow events on special giant television screens at Live Sites in city centers.
It will be an amazing, worldwide event. And, it will also, unfortunately, likely also feature one very important, uninvited guest, Doku Umarov, Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, a radical Islamic proto-state in the Northern Caucasus.
Umarov was born in 1964 in Chechnya. He graduated from the Oil Institute in Grozny with a degree in engineering circa 1986. By the early 1990's he was, like many migrants from the economically depressed Caucasus, in Moscow making his living from a mix of legal and illegal employment. By the early 1990's Umarov was back in the Caucasus hiding out from the law and apparently wanted by Russian authorities for murder.
In 1994 the first Russian Chechen war broke out, and Umarov became a foot soldier. By the end of the conflict in 1996 he had been promoted to brigadier-general and was in command of a regiment. He had also won two awards for valor.
Umarov began the second Russian Chechen war in 1999 as a field commander. He was wounded in the face but recovered and returned to active service. Later he was apparently injured by a landmine but survived that as well. Throughout the conflict he was directly involved in numerous combat operations and heavy fighting. He was reported killed on numerous occasions, but all such reports proved unfounded. Two of his brothers died in fighting against the Russians, but Umarov survived. By the end of the war he was President of the separatist Chechen government.
As Umarov's importance and fame grew, Russian efforts to neutralize him increased. A number of raids were launched by Russian special forces against him specifically. All failed. Numerous members of his family, including his father, his brother, his wife and his children, were kidnapped and held hostage by Russian operatives in an effort to force him out of hiding. All such efforts were unsuccessful.
Umarov is still standing, and he has set his sights and those of the Caucasus Emirate, the entity he now heads, on the Sochi Olympics.
The Emirate, declared by Umarov, is an Islamic entity in the Northern Caucasus, which purports to unite all the ethnicities resident there, not just the Chechens, in jihad against the Russians. Its goal is the establishment of an independent nation under sharia rule. In declaring the establishment of the Emirate in 2007 Umarov proclaimed solidarity with his "brothers" in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Palestine and declared that anyone who attacked Muslims anywhere was an enemy of all Muslims.
Since its creation in 2007 the Emirate has been responsible for the deaths of over 2000 Russian citizens. At the express direction of Umarov, it recognizes no distinction between government and civilian targets. There is, in its view, no such thing as civilians or non-combatants. In Umarov's own words, "For me there are no civilians in Russia. Why? Because a genocide of our people is being carried out with the Russians' tacit consent' So why should we regard these people as a civilian population?"
In 2008 Umarov reactivated the Riyad-us Saliheen suicide attack group, which had been inactive for several years prior to that. The express purpose of this group was to stage attacks deep inside Russia, well outside of the Caucasus region and protected by heavy security. Umarov was again explicit in this regard, declaring, "Blood will no longer be limited to our [Caucasus] cities and towns. The war is coming to their cities."
Umarov has been true to his word. His operatives, particularly, female suicide bombers known as Black Widows, have been spectacularly successful.
On March 29, 2010 two female suicide bombers killed themselves and 38 others when they detonated explosives inside the Moscow subway. The first explosion occurred at 7:56 am on a train at the Lubyanka Station. The second explosion occurred at 8:38 am on a train in the Park Kultury Station. Both explosions were caused by suicide belts detonated by the bombers using their own cell phones. The devices were packed with metal nuts, bolts and screws to act as shrapnel and enhance the lethality of the attacks. That attacks were explicitly timed so as to coincide with the morning rush hour.
In the aftermath of the attack the Russian Interior Ministry announced that security would be boosted nationwide to prevent future attacks.
It did not matter. In the next year, Emirate operatives carried out at least another fifteen bombings on Russian soil. This included an attack on September 9. 2010 in which a car bomb in the central market in the city of Vladikavkaz killed 17 people and injured another 160.
On January 24, 2011, Umarov's fighters took things a step further. They entered the Moscow airport, penetrated supposedly airtight security and detonated a device in the international arrivals area. At least 36 people died and 180 were injured. The dead included numerous foreign nationals in addition to Russian citizens.
Umarov is not simply another violent jihadi. He is a highly skilled field commander with literally decades of operational experience behind him. He is also heir to a tradition of anti-Russian hostility that almost defies comprehension.
In the 1850's, when the Russian-Chechen conflict was already 130 years old, author Leo Tolstoy, wrote of the vicious nature of the hostility and the utter contempt that Chechens felt for Russians. "It was not hatred, for they did not regard those Russian dogs as human beings; but it was such repulsion, disgust and perplexity at the senseless cruelty of these creatures, that the desire to exterminate them ' like the desire to exterminate rats, poisonous spiders, or wolves ' was as natural an instinct as that of self-preservation."
Umarov has promised to utilize every means at his disposal to prevent the 2014 Winter Games from taking place and has characterized this objective as a religious duty. The Russians have dismissed his words as empty threats and promised to kill or neutralize him before the Games begin. The other nations who will be sending athletes to Sochi have seemingly accepted Russian assurances and decided to participate in the Games.
How all this will play out remains unclear as does Umarov's ability to make good on his threats. History suggests, however, that killing Umarov is easier said than done and that he is not one to make idle boasts. The Russians may not want to admit it, and the rest of the world may wish it were not so, but the fact remains. There may be one very ugly, and very dangerous uninvited guest at these Olympics.