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Militants in Syria Give Russia Something to Think About

Sporting a North Face cap and a thick red beard, Omar Abu al-Chechen might be northern Syria’s most recognizable rebel leader. Except he isn’t from Syria; he’s from the Caucasus, the troubled region in Russia home to decades-long insurgencies that pit Moscow against determined Islamic militants.

“Truly today there is a chance to establish (an Islamic state) on Earth,” al-Chechen said in a video posted to a jihadi forum recently.

Al-Chechen is joined in Syria by dozens, “possibly 100,” fighters from the Caucasus. They are some of the best rebel fighters, participating in or even leading high-profile assaults on well-defended regime bases. They are also closely allied to the Al Nusrah Front, which the US considers to be the same organization as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Their presence in Syria is one of the reasons Moscow supports Butcher Assad: al-Chechen and his colleagues are a common enemy. His group claims responsibility for a suicide bombing at the Domodedovo Airport in Moscow in January 2011 that killed 37 people, as well as suicide bombings in the Moscow subway network in 2010 that killed 40 people.

They have also promised to attack the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a city on the Black Sea coast in southern Russia, very close to the nerve center of Russia’s homegrown Islamic insurgency. Russia has never been very good at dealing with this insurgency. With al-Chechen and his Syria-hardened fighters promising to attack the Olympics in Sochi, Russia is in for a nightmare security headache.

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