Georgia – A Transit Corridor for ISIS?

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June 28, 2016 

Антон МардасовAnton Mardasov

Translated by Kristina Kharlova

The “Caliphate” has created a terrorist homebase for attacks in Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus

Islamic state created a special purpose brigade tasked with carrying out terrorist acts in Europe, Central Asia and North Caucasus. Georgia is in the area of interest of the brigade — it plays the role of a transit country for militants. Terrorist attacks on its territory are not ruled out. This was recently reported by Georgian newspaper “Rezonansi”.

According to the publication, the unit includes 600 to 700 people, mainly foreign nationals, “so it’s easier for them to move to a different country.” The unit is personally curated by one of “Vice-Caliphs” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mastermind of the “European terrorist jihad”, the Syrian Abu Mohammed al-Adnani.

As noted by military analyst, an expert on combating terrorism Vakhtang Maisaya, al-Adnani has already instructed his assistants to produce analytical reports and develop a strategy for conducting hybrid warfare. He says that details will be known later, as well as how they will execute their strategy, transfer militants, etc.

In this regard, we note that on June 20th the foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov acknowledged that the extremists who carried out the attacks on gun shops and military base in Aktobe on June 5, followed al-Adnani’s orders. 

In another article, “Rezonansi” reported that “in different regions of Georgia, ISIS cells are already operating, which at this stage are engaged in indoctrination of the population. As stated by Caucasus expert Mamuka Areshidze, in the framework of a hybrid war the “Caliphate” activated emissaries in different countries of the world, including in Georgia. And for the last four months they have been particularly active.

Earlier media reported that  militants of the “Islamic state” are serving in Georgian army: in an interview with Israeli Channel 9 senior lieutenant of the armed forces of Georgia Davit Nemsadze talked about his acquaintance with one of these fighters — a Chechen from the Pankisi Gorge.

We will remind that on January 26th the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov said that “Islamic state” uses the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia as a training base. The same was reported by one of the generals of the Syrian army Walid Abaz. According to him, ISIS is interested in attracting Chechen fighters from Georgia, because they have combat experience.

How true is the information published by Georgian journalists? Or is the local media trying to draw attention to Georgian issues? Note that only according to official figures, today 100 fighters with Georgian passports are fighting for the “Islamic state” in the Middle East. The vast majority of them are the natives of the Pankisi Gorge, the area which is difficult to control by Georgian authorities and international organizations. The rest are from the Autonomous Republic of Adjaria.

President of the Scientific society of Caucasian studies, IMEMO RAN expert, Alexander Krylov said that, indeed, there is evidence that ISIS is active in different regions of Georgia.

— This applies to the Pankisi Gorge, Adjaria, where the Muslim population has dramatically increased  and the Kvemo Kartli region, densely populated by the Azerbaijani people. There are established relations with the “Islamic state” and not only — there are plenty of other radical organizations, joined by people from the Caucasus.

The problem is that if the situation in the Middle East deteriorates, the “Islamic terrorist international” needs somewhere to move. Naturally the radicals will select those states where there is a basis for the promotion of their ideas, with high social inequality, and weak security forces. Such states just are the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Georgia is one of the potential countries, where militants could settle, and then act. Americans did much to turn Georgia into a training center for the Syrian “moderate” opposition, which in Syria immediately joined the ranks of ISIS and other radical groups.

In this regard, the Georgians have a strong reason for concern, given that the country is in a poor state and security issues there are quite acute. If the Islamists really decided to use Georgia not just as a transit corridor, but also as their own territory (and this is confirmed by many Russian Caucasus experts), then it would be extremely difficult to oppose them. By the way, the Islamists consider Caucasus as part of the so-called “Caliphate”.

And it is quite easy to infiltrate into the territory of Georgia. Border control on the border with Georgia is rather symbolic. Radicals can enter Georgia from Turkey, with passports or illegally, crossing the border a few kilometers from the border crossing. Moreover, it is easier if security services provide cover.

As you know, with help of the Turkish MIT (National intelligence organization  Milli Istihbarat Teşkilatı) in the early 2000s, several thousand refugees from Chechnya crossed the territory of Georgia through the Chechen section of Russian-Georgian border, among whom were the militants of Ruslan Gelayev. Note that Eduard Shevardnadze’s government confidently reported that there are no militants in the Gorge, and there are only refugees, and Russia is forging an information war, accusing Tbilisi in the patronage of the Chechen separatists… This cooperation with the Turks continued under Mikhail Saakashvili. The position of the current Georgian leadership is more cautious, but the old ties with the militants remain, and now Georgians will reap the fruits of the foreign policy of the previous administration.

The leader of the party “Free Georgia” Kakha Kukava believes that to some extent the “Rezonansi” is exaggerating the danger, but is sure that the authorities and security services have something to hide from Georgian public.

— Take a few of the events that occurred at different times. In 2012 on the border of Georgia and Russia in the course of a special operation 11 militants who took hostages in a border village were killed. From 2013 to 2014, Georgian and Turkish security services have helped the natives of Akhmet district, populated by Muslims of Chechen origin, to cross the border to travel to Syria. In September 2014, former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the possibility of creation in Georgia of a regional training center for moderate Syrian opposition — the initiative to open the camp was offered by Tbilisi.

These events  are not connected at first glance. But in fact, they are an indirect proof that the Georgian security services in conjunction with the American CIA and Turkish MIT are helping ISIS. Of course, nobody knows what is the scale of such cooperation, but there is no doubt that it is a fact. Although this is contrary to the Constitution and the interests of Georgia.

What is in it for Georgian leadership? In my opinion, for one reason — to prove their loyalty to Washington and Ankara. The thing is that the party of Mikhail Saakashvili “United National Movement” accuses the ruling party “Georgian Dream — Democratic Georgia”, behind which to this day is Bidzina Ivanishvili, in that it is looking up to Russia. In my opinion, Ivanishvili needs to prove to Washington that he is no less pro-American than Saakashvili, otherwise the country will face a new revolution. So he’s doing things from which even Saakashvili refrained: from gay parades to the actions of intelligence services.

Chief editor of the magazine “Problems of national strategy” of RISS Azhdar Kurtov believes that in the future Georgia will inevitably face the “Islamic state”.

— It will happen for several reasons. First, the Georgian leadership back in 90-s, following Russophobic policy, made so many mistakes that they are still paying the price. I mean that Georgia was already a transit country for terrorist operations. Just the transit was conducted through Georgia from Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries to the territory of the Russian North Caucasus. Then these channels were used for militants, cashflows and arms, and their entry into Russia was provided. These channels were closed, transit was carried out with help of the Georgian intelligence services, but since the power in Georgia has changed several times, it is possible that these channels can reopen.

Secondly, Georgia is a difficult state in religious terms: in addition to the Pankisi Gorge there are other regions inhabited by Muslims – Ajara and the regions with Azeri minority. Adjara, as you know is bordered by Turkey, which historically considers it part of its own territory. Saakashvili has done a lot in order to facilitate the transit of goods and people through the Turkish-Georgian border. And this removal of barriers has facilitated opportunities for illegal entry. That is, this area may be well considered by the Islamists as a base.

Third, a significant number of militants, natives of Georgia, are fighting in Syria and Iraq on the side of the “Islamic state”. And it’s not even that they can bring home their combat experience, but that the growth of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is now under question – the “Caliphate” is slowly losing territory, and it is possible that the militants have a backup plan if they are ultimately kicked out of the Syrian and Iraqi territories, they can move their operations to homeland, where they know the terrain and have connections.

True, in Georgia today there are many representatives of U.S. intelligence. But, by and large, the US could care less about Georgia’s fate –  they have already achieved the mission of its separation from Russia. Another thing is that Georgia is still not a NATO member, but it is generally a difficult task that may not even be raised initially. It is quite possible that Americans can use such countries for some covert operations. After all the States have used Romania, Poland and Ukraine to create secret prisons, when they fought with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And Georgians agree to any kind of cooperation — they are still happy to send their military to Afghanistan (to date, 870 Georgian soldiers are in Afghanistan participating in NATO mission “Resolute Support” — “SP”), although their contingent there periodically incurs losses.

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