Reuters reports: Four years ago, Saadu Sharapudinov was a wanted man in Russia. A member of an outlawed Islamist group, he was hiding in the forests of the North Caucasus, dodging patrols by paramilitary police and plotting a holy war against Moscow.
Then his fortunes took a dramatic turn. Sharapudinov, 38, told Reuters that in December 2012 Russian intelligence officers presented him with an unexpected offer. If he agreed to leave Russia, the authorities would not arrest him. In fact, they would facilitate his departure.
“I was in hiding, I was part of an illegal armed group, I was armed,” said Sharapudinov during an interview in a country outside Russia. Yet he says the authorities cut him a deal. “They said: ‘We want you to leave.’”
Sharapudinov agreed to go. A few months later, he was given a new passport in a new name, and a one-way plane ticket to Istanbul. Shortly after arriving in Turkey, he crossed into Syria and joined an Islamist group that would later pledge allegiance to radical Sunni group Islamic State.
Reuters has identified five other Russian radicals who, relatives and local officials say, also left Russia with direct or indirect help from the authorities and ended up in Syria. The departures followed a pattern, said Sharapudinov, relatives of the Islamists and former and acting officials: Moscow wanted to eradicate the risk of domestic terror attacks, so intelligence and police officials turned a blind eye to Islamic militants leaving the country. Some sources say officials even encouraged militants to leave. [Continue reading…]