La Croix: Russian authorities have noted a sharp decrease in jihadist attacks in the Caucasus. Do you share this observation and to what do you attribute it?
Marina Saferova: A few years ago, we feared going to the theater, the cinema, concerts, or simply spending New Years in a village hall, due to the terrorist attacks. The military and police struggle against jihadist groups has reduced the number of attacks (from the 2010s, Editor’s note) and destroys organized cells. Many, who were hiding in the forest, then left to fight in Syria or Iraq. They are known to the authorities, and it is very difficult for them to return. In short, we feel safe today in Dagestan.
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But if the bloody attacks stopped, there would be dormant cells. In the Caucasus, Islamist extremism has taken more underground forms, and therefore more difficult to grasp. But if you wander around the cities of Dagestan today, Islam is no more visible than in Europe.
In light of your fieldwork, what do we know about radicalized people in the Caucasus?
M. S.: If there is no typical profile, we could observe trends. The phenomenon mainly affects the over 30s, from the upper middle and middle classes, and of course their children. Among proponents of a radical Islam, there is the temptation to fall back in family or in a small community circle, which can be accompanied by a rejection of the laws of the Russian federation, without necessarily sliding towards terrorism from elsewhere.
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Conversely, the younger generation, the 18-30 age group, seems much less porous to jihadist discourse, perhaps due to the mistakes of previous generations or the deaths of many fighters who had joined Daesh.
How does the ideology of extremist Islam circulate today in Dagestan?
M. S.: In the 1990s, the arrival of radical foreign imams played an important role in the radicalization of minds. From now on, this no longer goes through the sermons of imams or mosques, with some exceptions.
The methods are ultimately not very different from those used in countries like France. Some radicalize within the family circle, others through friends or acquaintances. It can also go through the couple, and of course the Internet, despite the increased surveillance of the web made possible by a series of laws, including the obligation for content hosts to keep conversations on social networks for six months. We can observe that the followers of a Salafist type of Islam are much less quick to impose their vision of the world outside their community. Let’s add that part of the population seems vaccinated against extremist ideology after the Chechen wars and the failure of Daesh.