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Posts tagged ‘North Caucasus’

Putin Vows to Annihilate ‘Terrorists’ After Suicide Bombings.


Image: Putin Vows to Annihilate 'Terrorists' After Suicide Bombings

VOLGOGRAD, RussiaPresident Vladimir Putin on Tuesday vowed to annihilate all “terrorists” following two deadly bomb attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgograd that raised security fears ahead of the Winter Olympics.The uncompromising remarks in a televised New Year address were Putin’s first public comments since suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in attacks less than 24 hours apart on a railway station and a trolleybus on Sunday and Monday.

But after two decades of violence in the North Caucasus, Islamist militants continue to pose a threat beyond their home region. Russia’s Olympic Committee chief said no more could be done to safeguard the Games since every measure possible was already in place around Sochi, beneath the Caucasus mountains.

The bombings just ahead of Russia’s biggest annual holiday followed another suicide bus blast in Volgograd in October and came little more than a month before the start of Games on whose success Putin has staked his personal reputation.

“We will confidently, fiercely and consistently continue the fight against terrorists until their complete annihilation,” he said in remarks from the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, where he met victims of severe floods.

Acknowledging “problems and serious tests” in 2013, including the Volgograd bombings, he vowed to ensure the security in the year ahead, when Russia stages the Winter Olympics from Feb. 7-23.

Putin, who came to power when Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation on New Year’s Eve 14 years ago, won popularity early in his presidency by crushing efforts to forge an independent state in Chechnya but he has been unable to stop Chechen and other Islamist militants across the North Caucasus.

Police detained dozens of people in sweeps through Volgograd on Tuesday but there was no indication any were linked to the attacks, for which no one claimed responsibility.

Mourners laid flowers at the site of the bombing that tore the bus apart and left residents fearing further violence.

“I’m frightened,” said Tatyana Volchanskaya, a student in Volgograd, 400 miles northwest of Sochi. She said some friends were afraid to go to shops and other crowded places.

SOCHI SAID SECURE

Putin ordered tighter security nationwide after the blasts, but Russian Olympic chief Alexander Zhukov said no additional measures would be taken at Sochi: “As for the Olympic Games, all necessary security measures have been foreseen,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying on Monday.

“Additional measures will not be taken in Sochi as a result of the terrorist act. Everything necessary has been done as it is.”

Putin has staked his prestige on the Games in Sochi, which lies at the Western edge of the Caucasus mountains and within the strip of land the insurgents want to carve out of Russia and turn into an Islamic state.

Insurgent leader Doku Umarov has urged militants to use “maximum force” to prevent the Games from going ahead.

Russia drove separatists from power in Chechnya in a war that boosted the popularity of Putin, a former KGB officer.

But the insurgency that spread across the North Caucasus region in the aftermath of that conflict has persisted despite Putin’s repeated, strongly worded pledges to eliminate the militants whose attacks have cast a shadow over his rule.

As prime minister in 1999, he vowed to wipe the militants out and in 2010, after female suicide bombers killed 40 people on the Moscow metro, he ordered police to find those who had directed the attacks and “scrape them from the bottom of the sewers.”

Less than a year later, in January 2011, a bomber from the North Caucasus killed 37 people at a busy Moscow airport.

The rail station bombing in Volgograd was the deadliest attack outside the North Caucasus since then, killing 18 people. Citing unnamed sources, Interfax said the suspected attacker was an ethnic Russian convert to Islam who moved to Dagestan where he joined militants early in 2012.

Investigators said they believed a male suicide bomber was also responsible for Monday’s morning rush-hour blast.

PUTIN’S LEGACY

Volgograd — formerly Stalingrad — is a city of a million and a transport hub for an area of southern Russia that includes the North Caucasus.

A car bomb killed a prosecutor’s assistant in Dagestan on Tuesday and two people were killed in a bomb blast there late on Monday, authorities said.

In Volgograd, more than 5,000 police and interior troops were mobilized in “Operation Anti-terror Whirlwind”, Interior Ministry spokesman Andrei Pilipchuk said. He said 87 people had been detained after they resisted police or could not produce proper ID or registration documents, and that some had weapons.

State television showed helmeted officers pushing men up against a wall. But there was no sign any were linked to the bombings or suspected of planning further attacks.

Itar-Tass news agency said police were focusing on migrant workers from the Caucasus and ex-Soviet states — groups that rights activists say face discrimination from police.

The success or failure of the Olympics will form a big part of the legacy of Putin, 60. He secured the Games for Sochi in 2007, during his first stint as president, and has not ruled out seeking a new six-year term in 2018.

Intended to showcase how Russia has changed since the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991, the Games have also been a focus for complaints in the West and among Russian liberals that Putin has stifled dissent and encouraged intolerance.

This month, Putin freed jailed opponents including oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot punk band in what critics said was an effort to disarm Western criticism and improve his image.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

At Least 14 Killed in Russia Bus Explosion; 2nd Attack in Two Days.


MOSCOW — A bomb ripped apart a bus in Volgograd on Monday, killing 14 people in the second deadly attack blamed on suicide bombers in the southern Russian city in 24 hours and raising fears of Islamist attacks on the Winter Olympics.

President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his prestige on February’s Sochi Games and dismissed threats from Chechen and other Islamist militants in the nearby North Caucasus, ordered tighter security nationwide after the morning rush-hour blast.

Investigators said they believed a male suicide bomber set off the blast, a day after a similar attack killed at least 17 in the main rail station of a city that serves as a gateway to the southern wedge of Russian territory bounded by the Black and Caspian Seas and the Caucasus mountains.

A Reuters journalist saw the blue and white trolleybus — a bus powered by overhead electric cables — reduced to a twisted, gutted carcass, its roof blown off and bodies and debris strewn across the street. Windows in nearby apartments were blown out by the explosion, which investigators called a “terrorist act.”

“For the second day, we are dying. It’s a nightmare,” a woman near the scene said, her voice trembling as she choked back tears. “What are we supposed to do, just walk now?”

The bomb used was packed with “identical” shrapnel to that in the rail station, indicating they may have been made in the same place and supporting suspicions the bombings were linked, said Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the investigators.

Health Ministry spokesman Oleg Salagai said 14 people were killed and 28 wounded in the bombing on Monday.

“There was smoke and people were lying in the street,” said Olga, who works nearby. “The driver was thrown a long way. She was alive and moaning. . . . Her hands and clothes were bloody,” he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

On Sunday, investigators initially described the station bomber as a woman from Dagestan, a hub of Islamist militancy on the Caspian, but they later said the attacker may have been a man. In October, a woman from the North Caucasus blew up and killed seven people on a bus in Volgograd.

The city has held a place in Russians’ sense of national identity since, when known as Stalingrad, its Soviet defenders held off German invaders to turn the course of World War Two.

Chechens and other North Caucasus militants have also staged attacks in Moscow and other cities in the past.

SECURITY

Putin, who has not spoken publicly since the attacks, ordered a federal committee that coordinates counterterrorism efforts to step up security nationwide including in Volgograd, and to report to him daily, the Kremlin said.

The violence raises fears of a concerted campaign before the Olympics, which start on Feb. 7 around Sochi, a resort on the Black Sea, 700 kilometers (450 miles) southwest of Volgograd.

In an online video posted in July, the Chechen leader of insurgents who want to carve an Islamic state out of the swathe of mainly Muslim provinces south of Volgograd, urged militants to use “maximum force” to prevent the Games from going ahead.

“Terrorists in Volgograd aim to terrorize others around the world, making them stay away from the Sochi Olympics,” said Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

The International Olympic Committee expressed condolences to those affected by the attacks and said “we have no doubt that the Russian authorities will be up to the task” of providing security at the Games.

“Unfortunately, terrorism is a global phenomenon and no region is exempt, which is why security at the Games is a top priority for the IOC,” a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In power since 2000, Putin secured the Games for Russia and has staked his reputation on a safe and successful Olympics, even freeing jailed opponents including oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot punk band to remove a cause for international criticism at the event.

Putin was first elected after winning popularity for a war against Chechen rebels, but attacks by Islamist militants whose insurgency is rooted in that war have clouded his 14 years in power and now confront him with his biggest security challenge.

Police said additional officers were being deployed to railway stations and airports nationwide after the bombing at the Volgograd rail station on Sunday, but the attacks raised questions about the effectiveness of security measures.

The police force in Volgograd, a city of a million people on the west bank of the river Volga, has been depleted as some 600 officers were redeployed to Sochi to tighten security around Olympic sites, a police officer told Reuters.

More attacks can be expected before the Olympics and cities in southern Russia where the Games are not being held are easier targets than Sochi, said Alexei Filatov, a prominent former member of Russia’s elite anti-terrorism force, Alfa.

“The threat is greatest now because it is when terrorists can make the biggest impression,” he said. “The security measures were beefed up long ago around Sochi, so terrorists will strike instead in these nearby cities like Volgograd.”

TENSIONS

The attacks also threatened to fuel ethnic tension, which has increased with an influx of migrant laborers from the impoverished Caucasus and Muslim Central Asian nations to cities around Russia, including Volgograd, in recent years.

“They need to be chased out of here. It has become a transit junction — there are all these non-Russians, both good and bad,” said Olga, a saleswoman at a store near the mangled bus. “We’ve plenty bandits of our own. Why do we need others?”

Police were checking documents of people in Volgograd, with a focus on migrants, said Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

Volgograd will be one of the venues for the 2018 soccer World Cup, another high-profile sports event Putin has helped Russia win the right to stage, and which will bring thousands of foreign fans to cities around Russia.

The first Olympics in Russia since the 1980 summer Games in Moscow, Sochi is a chance for Putin to show how the country has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

He has faced criticism in the West and from Russian activists who say he has smothered dissent and encouraged discrimination against homosexuals since starting a third term as president in 2012.

Sunday’s attack was the deadliest to strike the ethnic Russian heartlands since January 2011, when a male suicide bomber from the North Caucasus killed 37 people in the arrivals hall of a busy Moscow airport.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Female Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 15 at Russian Train Station.


MOSCOW — A female suicide bomber blew herself up in the entrance hall of a Russian train station on Sunday, killing at least 15 others in the second deadly attack in the space of three days as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics.

President Vladimir Putin immediately ordered law enforcement agencies Russian to take all necessary measures to ensure security after the attack.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, but it came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.
A federal police spokesman, Vladimir Kolesnikov, said security would be stepped up at train stations and airports following the blast, the second deadly bombing in Volgograd in just over two months.

The state Investigative Committee said the bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector just inside the main entrance of Volgograd station. Footage shown on TV showed a massive orange fireball filling the hall and smoke billowing out through shattered windows.

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the nation’s top investigative agency, said that 13 people and the bomber were killed on the spot and two victims died later at a hospital. Russia’s Health Ministry said about 50 people were injured, and Markin said 34 were hospitalized, many in grave condition.

A police officer was among the dead in the explosion and three others were wounded.

“We heard a loud bang from behind, saw a bright flash and fell on the floor,” local resident Svetlana Demchenko, who witnessed the explosion, was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The bomber “became nervous” when she saw a police officer standing by the metal detector and detonated the device, according to the investigative committee.

“The number of victims could have been much higher if not for the system of barriers that prevented the suicide bomber from getting through the metal detector and into the waiting area, where a large number of passengers had gathered for reasons including delays of three trains,” the committee said.

Numerous ambulances were parked outside the station, and several motionless bodies were placed on the pavement.

Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, is a city of around 1 million people, about 430 miles northeast of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics — a major prestige project for President Vladimir Putin — will open on Feb. 7.

It lies close to Russia’s North Caucasus, a strip of mostly Muslim provinces plagued by near-daily violence in a long-running Islamist insurgency. Umarov urged militants in a video posted online in July to use “maximum force” to prevent Putin staging the Olympics.

An attack by a female suicide bomber killed seven people in Volgograd on Oct. 21. On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk, 170 miles east of Sochi.

The station was busier than usual, with people traveling home for the New Year holidays.

“I heard the blast and ran toward it,” a witness, Vladimir, told Rossiya-24. “I saw melted, twisted bits of metal, broken glass and bodies lying on the street.”

Sunday’s attack was the deadliest to strike Russia’s heartland since January 2011, when Islamist insurgents killed 37 people at a Moscow airport.

Umarov, who had claimed responsibility for the 2010 and 2011 bombings, ordered a halt to attacks on civilian targets during the mass street protests against President Vladimir Putin in the winter of 2011-12. He reversed that order in July, urging his men to “do their utmost to derail” the Sochi Olympics which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.”

It wasn’t immediately clear where Sunday’s bomber came from, but officials in Dagestan were checking whether the attacker could come from the region, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Chechnya has become more stable under the steely grip of its Moscow-backed strongman, who incorporated many of the former rebels into his feared security force. But Dagestan, the province between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, has evolved as the epicenter of the rebellion, with near daily attacks on police and other officials.

© 2013 NewsmaxWorld. All rights reserved.

By Newsmax Wires

Putin: Foreign Rivals Use Radical Islam to Weaken Russia.


Image: Putin: Foreign Rivals Use Radical Islam to Weaken Russia

UFA, Russia — President Vladimir Putin accused foreign rivals on Tuesday of using radical Islam to weaken the Russian state, a day after a suicide bombing blamed on a Muslim woman.”Some political forces use Islam, the radical currents within it . . . to weaken our state and create conflicts on Russian soil that can be managed from abroad,” Putin told Muslim clerics at a meeting in the Russian city of Ufa.

He was speaking about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of Volgograd, where the female suicide bomber from Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus killed six people on a bus on Monday.

Putin did not say which foreign rivals he was referring to and portrayed Russia as a force for peace in the Middle East at what he said was a time of meddling by other countries.

He has often accused countries, including the United States, of trying to interfere in Russia’s affairs since he secured a six-year third term as president last year.

Speaking after race riots in Moscow this month, Putin also urged the clerics to help Muslim immigrants adapt to life in Russia to reduce the likelihood of violence.

“They need to hear your voice,” he said. “Otherwise they become the objects of propaganda by various fundamentalist groups.”

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Russia Foils Islamist Plot to Attack Chemical Arms Facility.


MOSCOW — Russian authorities said Tuesday they had foiled a plot by Islamist radicals to bomb a chemical weapons facility and had arrested two suspects from the North Caucasus, where Moscow is battling an Islamist insurgency.

Militants have previously carried out deadly bombings in Moscow and other parts of Russia outside the mostly Muslim North Caucasus, but specific allegations of plots to attack sites holding weapons of mass destruction in nuclear-armed Russia are almost unheard of.

Authorities believe the suspects planned to build a bomb and attack the Maradykovsky chemical weapons storage and disposal facility in the Kirov region, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of Moscow, the Federal Investigative Committee said.

“The suspects planned a terrorist attack . . . that could have risked killing hundreds of people,” it said in a statement.

It said the men had traveled north to the remote Kirov area from Moscow to plan the attack and it identified them as followers of Wahhabism — an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia and which has become a derogatory term for Islamist radicalism in Russia.

Investigators found bomb components and “literature with extremist content” in an abandoned house in the area where the suspects, aged 19 and 21, were living, the committee said.

It said the suspects were natives of the North Caucasus, a mountainous southern region not far from the Black Sea city of Sochi, where Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics in February. The region is some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Kirov.

Insurgent leader Doku Umarov, a Chechen, has urged fighters to use “maximum force” to stop the Olympics taking place.

President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on the Games and ordered authorities to boost security in the North Caucasus, where the Islamist insurgency is rooted in two post-Soviet wars pitting Chechen separatists against the Kremlin.

After suicide bombings that killed dozens in the Moscow subway in 2010 and at a Moscow airport in 2011, Umarov called for more attacks on infrastructure in the Russian heartland, but no other major attacks have occurred outside the North Caucasus.

Russia inherited the Soviet Union’s declared stockpile of 40,000 metric tonnes of chemical weapons.

In 1997, Moscow ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires member states to declare and dispose of all chemical weapons and production facilities.

Russia and the United States had pledged to destroy their chemical arsenals by 2012 but both missed the deadline. They have recently led diplomatic efforts to ensure Syria starts destroying its own chemical weapons stockpile.

As of March 2013, Russian authorities had destroyed more than 90 percent of the chemical weapons at the Maradykovsky facility and were disposing of stocks of the nerve agent soman, according to the Kirov regional government website.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Boston Bomb Trail: Answers in Russia’s Islamist South.


Russian Christians
A secret believer in North Caucasus, identified only as ‘Ramza,’ and his wife spend a few quiet moments reading the Bible and praying. (CBN News)

Chechnya, Dagestan, and North Caucasus are places most people have probably never heard of before April’s Boston Marathon bombings. The two brothers suspected of carrying out the attacks—Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—lived in this violent area of Russia before moving to the United States.

Recently CBN News discovered radical Muslims are still fighting for control of the region.

In a small three-bedroom house on the outskirts of town, a secret believer in North Caucasus identified only as “Ramza” and his wife spend a few quiet moments reading the Bible and praying.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he told CBN News, “I’m not a political person, never have been, never want to be. My focus is on loving people.”

He is among a handful of Christians secretly sharing the Gospel in one of Russia’s most dangerous places.

“I’ve been arrested many times,” he said. “I’m constantly watched by the Russian police and radical Islamists, but I will never stop preaching. This is my home.”

For nearly two decades radical Muslims have fought Russian forces almost daily to take over the region for Islam. Their goal is to turn five Russian republics, including Chechnya and Dagestan, into one huge Islamic emirate.

“People of North Caucasus have historically practiced a traditional form of Islam, but that’s changed as more people embrace a radical form of Islam,” Ramza told CBN News.

Boston Marathon Bombers’ Training
The Tsarnaev brothers were born and lived in the North Caucasus before moving to the United States.

In 2012, older brother Tamerlan spent six months in Dagestan. He made regular visits to a local mosque in the capital city. CBN News tried to get an on-camera interview with the Imam, but he refused.

Tamerlan reportedly met two known Islamic terrorists at the mosque, both of whom were later killed in shoot-outs with Russian forces. Investigators have yet to establish if Tamerlan received any training or had links to known jihadist networks operating in the region.

Chechnya was once the epicenter of the Islamist battle. Russia fought two brutal wars against Chechen fighters in the 1990s. They tried to stop them from Islamizing the province.

Alena Muzraeiva was only a year old when the first war started.

“As I grew older I heard the stories from my parents of how horrible it was back then,” she recalled. Tens of thousands were killed. Hundreds of thousands of Chechens were displaced.

“I remember my parents and I crossing the border to a neighboring province once the bombs started falling,” a young Chechen told CBN News. The war left the province in ruins. The capital city, Grozny, was decimated.

Billion-Dollar Overhaul of Grozny
Several years ago Grozny was described as the most destroyed city in the world. This is not the case anymore. The Russian government has been pouring in billions of dollars. In fact, today Chechnya receives the most money out of all 85 provinces.

The evidence is everywhere: streets are rebuilt and walls once riddled with bullet holes are gone. New apartments are going up, while skyscrapers rise to the skies.

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined the changes happening this fast,” a resident of Grozny said.

The Kremlin-imposed leader of Chechnya has ruled with an iron fist, cracking down severely on radical Islamists in the province. “He has managed to keep them under control for now,” one male resident of the city said.

Rising Islamic Anger
But beneath the surface, Chechens too scared to talk on camera, spoke of a rising anger against the ruling authorities.

Jihadists who once fought on the streets of Grozny have now taken the fight to the neighboring province of Dagestan.

In May, a female suicide bomber attacked the central square in the capital, injuring dozens. The bombers are called “black widows” because many are the widows of Islamic radicals killed by security forces. More than a dozen black widows have carried out suicide missions since 2000.

CBN News recently visited Dagestan’s capital city of Makhachkala. Back in 1999, a group of radical Muslims attempted to turn Dagestan into an emirate ruled by Islamic Sharia law. The Russian army stepped in and quickly stamped that out. But since then, this province, which is home to about 2.5 million people, today has some 3,000 mosques and growing.

Secret Christians
Sasha, another secret Christian believer, lived next door to two Islamic insurgents killed during a police raid.

CBN News has taken similar precautions to protect his identity. Sasha says he actively shares the Gospel with Muslims in the North Caucasus, but it isn’t easy. He was twice beaten by Muslims.

“I always thought God would protect me as his son, but then I understood that if we have the honor to believe in our Savior then we also have the honor to endure things that he went through in some ways,” Sasha told CBN News from a secret location.

“When we are persecuted and feel physical pressure in our lives then we in reality start to understand and feel how close God is to us,” he said.

The provinces of the North Caucasus are one of the least-evangelized places on earth. The rising Islamic fervor has prevented many Russians from even visiting the region.

But Ramza, Sasha and other believers who work quietly in the shadows claim it’s a risk worth taking to make the name of Christ known.

“Only Jesus can change lives and bring the hope people are looking for,” Ramza declared.

“Only Jesus can change lives and bring the hope people are looking for,” declared Ramza

Mayor of Russian Home to Tsarnevs Held on Murder Charge.


MOSCOW  — The mayor of the capital of the troubled Russian region of Dagestan has been detained on suspicion of organizing the murder of a senior state investigator, the Investigative Committee said on Saturday.

Car bombs, suicide bombings and murders of officials are common in Dagestan, home to a deadly mixture of Islamist insurgency rooted in two post-Soviet wars against separatist rebels in neighboring Chechnya, and booming organized crime.

Said Amirov, 59, mayor of Makhachkala since 1998, and 10 others were detained in connection with the murder, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement. Amirov was transported to Moscow for further questioning, he said.

Armored personnel carriers and helicopters were used during the arrest of the official, said the Lifenews.ru website which has close ties to law enforcement agencies.

An ethnically mixed, mostly Muslim region between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, Dagestan has become the most violent province in the North Caucasus, where insurgents say they are fighting to carve out an Islamic state out of southern Russia.

The main suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings in the United States, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, lived in Dagestan with his family about a decade ago and visited the region last year.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Putin: Boston Bombing Shows Russia, US Must Work Together.


Image: Putin: Boston Bombing Shows Russia, US Must Work Together

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual call-in show on Russian television entitled “Conversation with Vladimir Putin” in Moscow on Thursday, April 25, 2013.

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the Boston bombing proved his tough line on insurgents in the North Caucasus was justified and that Russia and the United States must step up cooperation on security.

After receiving almost 2 million questions from the Baltic Sea to Russia’s far east, Putin used his annual “hotline” dial-in to present the image of a man still in control a year into his third term and not afraid of criticism at home and abroad.

“If we truly join our efforts together, we will not allow these strikes and suffer such losses,” he said in the phone-in, which critics say is looking increasingly outdated as he fields often predictable questions from loyal factory workers, airforce pilots, and struggling mothers.

But this time he made sure there were some critical voices in the audience, with former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin taking him to task over economic decline. Putin shrugged off his criticism by jokingly calling him a “slacker.”

Looking stern and occasionally shifting forward in his chair to make a point, Putin took questions on issues ranging from pensions and roads to the ethnic Chechens suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings.

He avoided criticizing the U.S. failure to prevent the bombings despite Russian concerns about the brothers, but he took the chance to justify using heavy force against Islamist militants who oppose Russian rule in the North Caucasus.

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“We have always said that action is needed and not declarations. Now two criminals have confirmed the correctness of our thesis,” the former KGB spy said.

Putin, who first asserted his authority by crushing a Chechen independence bid in a war over a decade ago, has long said the United States underestimates the security threat posed by the Islamist militants and rejected international accusations that Moscow’s use of force in the region has been heavy-handed.

His remarks underlined his intention to use heightened concern over security to win closer cooperation with the United States in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics next February.

The Olympics are a pet project for Putin and intended as a showcase of what Russia can achieve. A fatal attack on the Games would put those efforts in doubt.

PM’S DISMISSAL UNLIKELY

Putin, 60, was taking part in his first phone-in with the Russian public since returning to the presidency last May after four years as prime minister.

The phone-in, broadcast nationwide, has been an almost annual event since 2001 — he did not do one last year.

Critics say the format has become outmoded and shows Russia has not moved with the times under Putin, who is accused by the opposition of being out of touch and allowing the country to stagnate economically and politically.

But Putin, whose approval rating still hovers above 60 percent, spoke fluently and looked at ease as he reeled off figures and answered questions — all of which he appeared to expect — as he sat at a desk behind a laptop in a suit and tie.

One of his aims was clearly to show he has reasserted his grip on power, which was undermined just over a year ago during the biggest street protests since he first rose to power.

The protests have since dwindled and the opposition remains disjointed although critics accuse him of violating human rights with a clampdown on dissenters.

Putin also used the call-in to play down suggestions that he disagrees with his government over economic policy and show he will not respond to calls to dismiss Dmitry Medvedev, the long-time ally whom he replaced as president last year.

There has been speculation for months in the media and among political analysts that Putin could make Medvedev a scapegoat if Russia’s economy continues to slide towards recession.

But in response to a question, Putin said: “There is no division between the government and the president, or the presidential administration [on the economy].”

He acknowledged there may be many complaints about the government’s work but, indicating it needed time to prove itself, he said: “The people have only been in their jobs about a year.”© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Militants from Russia’s North Caucasus join “jihad” in Syria.


MOSCOW/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Flanked by almost 20 men with rifles, Omar Abu al-Chechen kneels on a carpet and delivers a rousing speech urging fellow Muslims to support the ‘jihad’ against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Dressed almost entirely in black, the militant from Russia’s Chechnya region declares an Islamist state is within reach. Fellow fighters from the brigade of foreign militants he leads translate his Russian words into Arabic.

His recently distributed video highlights the role militants from the volatile North Caucasus region now play in Syria’s civil war, fighting a government that has been backed by Russia and staunchly protected by President Vladimir Putin.

It also puts in focus the security risks they may pose for Russia if they return to the Russian region, which borders the area where Moscow plans to host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Jihad needs very many things. Firstly it needs money. Much is dependent on money today for jihad,” said al-Chechen, his nomme de guerre, the leader of what rebels and websites call the Brigade of Migrants, an opposition group of foreign fighters.

“(We) have missed many chances, but truly today there is a chance to establish (an Islamic state) on Earth,” he said.

Syrian rebels confirmed separately that he is in Syria and the leader of the brigade. His real name was not clear.

While Moscow has been one of Assad’s main protectors, members of an Islamist insurgency involved in daily clashes in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus and their compatriots have trickled into Syria to fight for the rebels.

“This is the first time that a mass number of Chechens have taken part in military actions abroad,” said analyst Mairbek Vatchagayev, based in Paris, adding that claims were made that Chechens had fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan or in Iraq, but no definitive proof had been given.

Syrian soldiers and analysts say there are dozens, and possibly 100, fighters in Syria from the North Caucasus, a region where militants wage daily violence to establish an Islamic state.

The bloodshed there is rooted in two wars that Moscow fought with Chechen separatists after the Soviet Union’s fall and these fighters could pose a security risk for Russia if they return to the North Caucasus.

The region is close to Sochi, the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountain resort city where Moscow will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, a sworn target of Russia’s Islamist insurgents, led by Russia’s most wanted man, Doku Umarov.

Although analysts say many of the militants who are battling Assad’s troops are students who studied in religious schools outside Russia, others have gained skill and experience, something the Syrian rebels praise them for, in fighting the separatist wars in Chechnya in 1994-96 and 1999-2000.

“They are very significant, in some areas they are leading the fighting and some of them are leaders of Brigades. They are experienced fighters and also they are fighting based on ideological belief, so they do not want anything in return,” said a Syrian opposition source in touch with rebels in Syria.

One Syrian opposition source said the Chechens are the second biggest force of foreigners after Libyans who joined the Syrian uprising after overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddafi.

A rebel source said 17 fighters from the North Caucasus were killed in fighting outside Aleppo last month.

Foreign fighters were also present in Chechnya’s first war in the mid-1990s.

BACK TO RUSSIA

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said there are no Chechens fighting in Syria, a statement analysts attribute to his loyalty to Moscow.

Russia has used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Assad from three resolutions meant to pressure him to end violence that has killed 70,000 in the nearly two year-long conflict. Having fighters from Russia fighting against him is sure to be an embarrassment for Putin.

Facing its own home-grown insurgency, and with the Winter Olympics planned for next year, Russiais likely to ensure that anyone from the North Caucasus fighting with the rebels is prevented from entering Russia when the violence in Syria ends.

“Russia will look carefully at where they go to make sure they don’t come back into Russia … they won’t be successful trying to get back into the North Caucasus,” said Vatchigayev.

Putin has told security forces to be on high alert to protect against attacks before and during the Games, for which Russia has estimated a price tag of some $50 billion.

Calling itself the Caucasus Emirate, Umarov’s Islamist militant group has promised to attack the Games. It claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January 2011 that killed 37 people and also said it was behind near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Moscow subway that killed 40 people in 2010.

It is unclear whether any of the North Caucasus fighters in Syria have the blessing of Umarov to fight in Syria. Last year Umarov appeared in a video telling Syrian militants that they were in the prayers of the Caucasus Emirate.

The presence of foreign fighters in Syria, many of them espousing a more firebrand form of Islam, has troubled many Syrians who see the fight as a secular war to oust Assad.

“We call all brothers from all the countries, please, my brothers we do not need men. Stay in your own countries and do something good inside your own countries. If you want to help us just send us weapons or funding or even pray for us but you do not have to come to Syria,” said Brigadier Selim Idris, head of a rebel military command.

“(Those) who are entering the country have a negative impact on the revolution, because we need the help from (Western and regional) countries. Please understand this issue,” he said.

(Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Jon Hemming)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Thomas Grove and Mariam Karouny | Reuters

‘Secret Believers’ Fight Spiritual War on Islamic Grounds.


Dagestan church
While radical Russian Muslims are fighting to take over Dagestan for Islam there are secret Christians engaging in a different type of war, a spiritual one. (CBN)

While radical Russian Muslims are fighting to take over Dagestan for Islam there are secret Christians engaging in a different type of war, a spiritual one.

They are risking their own lives to capture Muslim souls one at a time.

In southern Russia, on the Eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, sits Dagestan, the most dangerous province in the country. Muslims fight Russian forces almost daily to take over the province for Islam.

Yet, away from the front lines, a small band of Christians secretly shares the gospel among Muslims.

A Dangerous War

One thousand miles from Moscow, Russian forces are in a 20-year fight against an Islamic rebellion. There are murders, assassinations, and bombings in the province virtually every day.

Ultraconservative Muslims want Islam to rule this corner of the country known as the Northern Caucasus. Dagestan is heart of the insurgency.

In 1999, a group of radical Muslims attempted to turn Dagestan into an emirate ruled by Islamic Sharia law. The Russian army stepped in and quickly stamped that out.

But since then, this province, which is home to about 2.5 million people, has some 3,000 mosques and counting.

There’s a segment of the society, especially among youth, that’s become more radicalized. They want to follow a pure form of Islam.

According to polls one in three Dagestanis back stoning of adulterers and chopping off thieves hands.

On a recent afternoon, CBN News met up with “Roman,” a pastor of an underground church. They meet in small, discreet home groups, because many of those who attend are converts from Islam.

CBN News agreed to conceal their identities for protection.

“How open are the Muslims in Dagestan to hearing about Jesus Christ?” CBN News asked.

“I have to say that there are some who are open and have heard about Christ but we have to be very careful,” Roman said.

“How dangerous is it to be a Christian today in Dagestan?” CBN News asked.

“For some believers it could mean death. For others it means enduring daily persecution or harassment,” Roman said.

Secret Believers

On July 15, 2010, a gunman killed Roman’s close friend Artur Suleimanov. Forty-nine-year-old Suleimanov led the biggest protestant congregation in Dagestan. Local media had accused him of actively converting Muslims.

“I wondered if I was next on the list. To be honest, I wanted to leave the city immediately and not come back,” Roman said.

But three years after his friend’s death, Roman said he’s more determined than ever to share the love of Christ.

“I get routine threats from Muslims. This is life,” he said.

Dagestan is more than 90 percent Muslim. No one knows for sure how many secret evangelical Christians there are. Believers say the church in Dagestan is focused in two areas: discipleship and church planting.

Fifty people attend Roman’s congregation. Tweny-two of them are full-time church planters.

“Sometimes my wife jokes that we won’t have a church left since everyone’s being sent out,” he said. “I don’t want to build a church and fill it up with people. Once someone has accepted the Lord, we disciple then send them out.”

Valentine, one of the church planters, serves in a remote village close to the Chechen border.

“Over the last six or seven years the villages have become breeding grounds for radical Muslims. Young people are recruited from here and join the militant ranks. We try to reach them before that happens,” Valentine said.

Another believer was severely beaten when he tried sharing the gospel with a Muslim girl.

“Nothing is going to stop the work of the Holy Spirit here. Just as God loves the Chinese, Americans, Germans, he has great love for Dagestan, Chechnya, and the whole Caucasus,” one secret believer said.

In the Shadows

Oksana, another secret believer, teaches at a Muslim school. She can’t openly talk about Christianity, but when students ask about her faith, she has an answer.

“When I came to the school I was told by the students that they hated Christians. But their hearts have changed,” she said. “The only thing I can do is live out my Christian life in humility and love and leave the rest to God.”

Dagestan and the Northern Caucasus is one of the least-evangelized places on earth. The rising Islamic fervor has prevented many Russians from even visiting the area.

But for Roman, Valentine, and other believers who work quietly in the shadows, it’s a risk worth taking to make the name of Christ known.

“We minister to drug addicts, we have an outreach to young people, and we are training the next generation of church leaders. This is our strategy,” Roman said. “We may not see the fruits of all our labor immediately, but we are called to lay the foundation, to till the soil, for future generations.”

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

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