Terrorist talks worth risks if they can save a life – Ingush leader

Head of Russia's Republic of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Yevkurov told RT it is important to perceive terrorists not as monsters, but as victims lured into joining terrorist groups. The reasons that motivate them are different though.

RT: A counter-terrorism operation was completed recently in the Republic of Ingushetia [located in the North Caucasus], in which one of the militants' leaders was exterminated. How did the operation go, and what stage have you reached in this counter-terrorism campaign?

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov: I'll abstain from commenting on how the operation went. Our counter-terrorism operations are run by the security agencies, so I try not to interfere with them too much.

We have done a serious amount of work over the past two years and have achieved significant results – we can say that now. The situation is quite stable and peaceful, and our security services are currently working on two tasks: they force the militants to surrender, either arresting them or exterminating the ones who put up any resistance.  

RT: When people lay down their arms and return to society, the community has difficulty fully accepting both them and their families. What can be done to facilitate these people's re-integration?

YY: I'll put it this way. It wasn't exactly an order, but it was a very strict imperative I gave to the citizens of all villages and towns, including Ali-Yurt and Surkhakhi, where I had a meeting with the local authorities. I told them to make sure that people call on these families, to make sure they get invited to community events, and to make sure that they are accepted, not pushed away. People have the option to turn themselves in, offer sincere repentance and give a deposition.   And if there is insufficient evidence to convict them we give them jobs, and I have instructed these people's employers to assign them supervisors to both observe them and facilitate their interaction with other people, with their new colleagues, in order to prevent them from feeling like outcasts or outsiders.

RT: Our channel recently interviewed the leaders of Dagestan and the Chechen Republic, and we asked them the same questions – what can be done with regard to these people, how do you ensure their security? And they basically gave the same answers as you did now. However, the number of terrorist attacks over the past two years has dwindled in Ingushetia, as opposed to the other republics. What makes your approach different?

YY: No, I can tell you that both I and president Kadyrov, as well as President Magomedov and other leaders like President Kanokov, we are all people, and one cannot say there are dramatic differences between us. We all live in the Caucasus. We all share an understanding of its traditions, customs, and the conditions we live in. And that is why we often share the same ways of thinking and approaches. Another thing is that we keep in touch and share our experiences, and pick up from each other the things we need most. I don't think that they've been doing less work there, I'm pretty sure it's not the case. Yes, I can confirm that the level of terrorist activity in my republic has decreased significantly. It has also dropped in the Chechen Republic. But the fact that something is still going on in Dagestan or Kabardino-Balkaria doesn't mean they are doing less work – I can say that the leader of Dagestan in fact works more than anyone else on these issues. They have a very powerful framework for both counter terrorism and for giving militants a chance to turn themselves in to the authorities and ask for mercy and help. But nations with larger territories and larger populations also have more militants and larger problems, and it takes time to solve them.

RT: My question was about the approach because, for example, President Kadyrov said he'd never agree to have talks with the terrorists, while President Magomedov said he is ready to do it. Would you be willing to negotiate with terrorists?

YY: I have always said and will keep saying that I will have talks. If my negotiations can help save at least one life, I will negotiate even if it means risking my life, because that's my duty. Regardless of who we're dealing with – a terrorist or a militant – they are people and people need to be talked to. The key thing here is that they are people, no matter whether some say that they're non-people or monsters. And as people, they all have their heads, their brains, and their soft spots. And if we try to identify these soft spots, stir their minds and make an effort to win them back from the underground, they will help us get even more people out of there. But more importantly – they will no longer be a threat to society; they will no longer want to kill or want to commit crimes.

RT: What terrorist groups are still there on the republic's territory? And who is helping them? Who supplies them with arms?

YY: There's the Imarat Kavkaz made up by Doku Umarov's group, it is out there. And then there has been speculation that it has connections with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations across the world. As for assistance, indisputably it comes from abroad. Funding sources come from abroad, for example to Doku Umarov, who divides them between armed groups. And it’s obvious that many criminals and their allies have become legal members of society. They have become businessmen and there is a tiny financial flow coming from them too. Finances also come from armed assaults which are targeted at businessmen and bankers.

In 2010, a bank robbery resulted in the theft of 40 million rubles. This money was later found in the hands of members of armed groups. Another source of finance is racketeering.    

RT: Deputy Prime Minister Khloponin said that the problem is not in the number of militants, but in the fact that they constantly replace the missing members. There are many questions about the new recruits. Are they a product of problems in society, or are they motivated by ideology?  What makes young men join the ranks of the militants?

YY: We now say that the main reason is unemployment. But when we analyze the situation in the republic, we see that among those militants killed, arrested or wanted, many had a job or studied at university. They were not poor or unemployed. So this reason is obviously not the main one.

Secondly, there is a religious factor. But many militants come from families where the parents were abusing alcohol or were drug-addicts. Their parents were not religious. So this explanation does not fit either. They do not know the simplest canons of Islam. They even do not know how to pray in the right way. So again, it does not fit.  Now, if we take romanticism as a factor – the chance to enter and experience a new and clandestine environment – that really exists. There have been such cases. Last year, for example, two militants laid down their arms. They told us that the first battle, the first combat experience shattered their romantic notions about conflict and they wanted to step back.

And there are other reasons too. Some of these young people are disturbed by organizations and websites that promote the activities of bandit leaders and militant groups. They look at these images and truly believe that the government may be so atrocious and ruthless as to kill its own people and annihilate religion. As a result, people get embittered and join the militants.

And then there is the experience many of them have when they get caught. The first time a militant gets caught, he is immediately exposed to torture and battering – allegedly of course. And when such information is spread, they start to believe it is better to go into the woods with a weapon in their hands and fight, than surrender or even sit and wait for the police to come for them.

Some of them are simply blackmailed – they get shown some photos. I’m only telling you the facts.

RT: Blackmailed with what?

YY: With photos showing a friendly embrace between them and one of the bandits, when they were together at a meeting or party. There was an example recently. The guy who laid down arms is now alive and well and has got a job. So this guy had found himself next to Said Buryatsky at the table. He didn't recognize the man, of course. Said Buryatsky had simply been invited to the same house, the boy was part of this criminal circle without knowing it. And then a photo was taken. When the boy showed the shot to his relatives, they got anxious as they instantly recognized the terrorist. They told him, "What have you done?! No one is going to believe that you are not an acquaintance of Buryatsky." And he really didn't know Buryatsky, had never seen him and therefore didn’t recognize him. And of course, his relatives tried to persuade him that nobody would ever believe he didn't know Said Buryatsky personally, because there was evidence – he had stood beside the man and talked, and smiled to him. And the guy was lucky that we, or his relatives, managed to convince him there was a real threat. Otherwise the boy might have been killed or arrested. And he turned out to be a strong personality, he wasn't scared. Many get scared and think it's the end of everything. They think they will be tortured, their nails torn out, hands and legs twisted and broken. Young people have a certain fear of atrocities attributed to the secret services, because this is how they are presented to the public, and terrorist masterminds provide a lot of vivid details. As I said, it's blackmail – and this is just one example among many.   

The other factor that motivates people is revenge. But there are very few cases of militants who get involved out of revenge – that is to say someone close to him gets killed, and they take up arms to avenge the death.

But you see, it's difficult to pinpoint a single reason, there are always several. One of the possible reasons is ideology – when certain ideological concepts are poured into people's minds, especially of those who live in suburban areas. There is the unresolved issue of refugees. The suicide bombers who were involved in the explosions in Vladikavkaz and at the Chermensky checkpoint were marked by the ideology I am talking about. On the other hand, there is a view that these suicide bombers were used against their will, as they say expertise has shown they had been drugged with psychotropic substances. It is another form of converting people into terrorists. And we have a mixture of all the reasons I’ve mentioned. But the major factor is still the current vogue, so to speak, the popularity of this dirt, of participating in the activities of a terrorist group. And I hope this will pass, as any evil public fancy does.

RT: You are absolutely right, terrorism is not confined to the North Caucasus, it's a global problem. Terrorist Number One worldwide was killed not long ago. Has Osama Bin Laden's death changed the level of terrorist activity? What do you think about it?

YY: Of course I am positively glad it happened. I think it’s a lesson to those who have deluded themselves into thinking they are gods on this earth – people who are simply vicious. How can they freely give orders to kill innocent people!

And even if the victims were guilty of something! A person like that should be held responsible for what he has done. And as for this idea that he’s “terrorist number one” – what about all the other bandits who have committed so many crimes? Do they rate second, third etc.? It's wrong to give them numbers. If someone stages a terror attack in the US, he is immediately proclaimed terrorist number one. If he strikes Russia, he's no terrorist at all and isn't even a member of a terrorist group. It is also true for those who are in hiding in Belgium, Great Britain, Norway and Turkey. They are very real terrorists. There should not be any double standards in this sphere. They all are terrorists, members of a connected terrorist network, everyone should realize that.