Foxall’s piece – an example of how not to write op-eds on ethnic Russians in Islamist insurgency

Read this a few weeks ago “Russia's Homegrown Terror Threat,” Andrew Foxall, The National Interest, January 21, 2014. and even emailed a letter to National Interest editor, but didn't get to post it here until today.
Again, the author writes on a subject he seems to have failed researched properly.

That Slavs convert and join militant Islamists do represent a threat as such converts look less suspicious to Russian patrolmen and have greater chances to deploy undetected. But that doesn’t mean that readers of National Interest should be subjected to reading a piece whose author run suddenly discovers for himself a phenomenon that has been known for years and and analyzed repeatedly.
See my comments in Italics on specific points I disagree with in this article.

  • What makes the recent suicide bombings in Volgograd, in October and December 2013, stand out—and what has been overlooked in much of the reporting of the events—is the prominence of ethnic Russian converts to Islam amongst the individuals who planned and carried out the attacks. That’s not true. Reuters ran a story on Slav converts as early as January 1st ( There have been multiple scholarly and journalistic investigations of Slav converts fighting in NC written in the course of the past ten year at the very least, including papers and op-eds I wrote
  • The bombing in Volgograd on 29 December was carried out by an ethnic Russian, Pavel Pechyonkin, who had converted to Islam in January 2012.  First of all, Pechyonkin’s mother is Tatar, so he is not quite ethnic Russian- he is half-Russian-half-Tatar. More importantly, FSB denied as early as January 6th that Pechyonkin carried out the bombing. (  On January 16th Russian law-enforcement agencies stated that they came to believe the bomber was actually  Asker Samedov of Dagestan. ( The author should have at the very least put in disclaimer, attributing implication of Pechyonkin and mentioning subsequent denial.  These reports had already been published by the time the author wrote his op-ed. 
  • It remains unclear who carried out the attack on 30 December, but it would not be surprising if ethnic Russians were involved. Russian authorities believe it was native of Dagestan Magomed Isayev.  (
  • The involvement of ethnic Russian converts to Islam in the North Caucasian insurgency is a recent development.  The first known examples are Vitaly Zagorudko and David Fotov, who were killed, in 2004, in Stavropol Krai after planning a terrorist attack in the region. Actually, they were not the first. Before them was Pavel Kosolapov who converted to Islam, received training from Arab instructors and was picked by Basayev in late 2003 to head a group to carry out terrorist attacks in Russia. The first attack, which Kosolapov helped to arrange, was the February 6, 2004 suicide bombing on a train traveling between the Paveletskaya and Avtozavodskaya metro stations in Moscow.
  • These cases, however, were the exception rather than the rule. The situation changed after Alexander Tikhomirov (better known as ‘Said Buryatsky’), an ethnic Russian, went to the North Caucasus, in late 2007 or early 2008. Buryatsky was half-ethnic Russian and half-ethnic Buryat,  Hence his nom de guerre –  Buryatsky.
  • Buryatsky quickly began to recruit ethnic Russians into the insurgency, chiefly through his online presence. His message was convincing, if simple: Russia is dying, and only through Islam is your future assured. These recruits carried out a number of high-profile attacks, including that on the Nevsky Express train in 2009, which killed 25 people. Seriously. It were ethnic Ingush who were apprehended, charged, put on trial and convicted of this bombing, not ethnic Russians. (

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