The day after a Monday afternoon bombing in the St. Petersburg metro, Kyrgyz security services and Russian investigators have confirmed that the suicide bomber responsible was 22-year old Akbarjon Jalilov (alternative spellings: Akbardzhon, Akbarzhon, Dzhalilov)
At least 11 died in the blast which went off on a metro car which had just left the Tekhnologichesky Institut Station around 2:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. Three people passed away from their injuries and, according to Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, 49 people remain in hospital.
Russian investigators say they found “genetic traces” of Jalilov on the backpack carrying a second bomb located and defused at Ploshchad Vosstania, another metro station in St. Petersburg. Jalilov is believed to have been with the first bomb.
Jalilov was born in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh in 1995. According to 24.kg, Jalilov’s relatives in Osh were questioned by the authorities shortly after the blast. Jalilov and his parents moved to Russia in 2011. Jalilov remained in Russia to “earn money” while his parents returned to Kyrgyzstan. He had been in Osh as recently as March, they said.
Rakhat Sulaimanov, a spokesman for Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee, told TASS that Jalilov had been granted Russian citizenship. The Consulate General of Russia in Osh confirmed to Turmush that Jalilov obtained Russian citizenship in 2011, on the basis of his father’s Russian citizenship.
The motive for the attack, which Moscow is calling a terrorist attack, has not been identified and no group has claimed responsibility.
There are 3 million registered migrant workers in Russia, many of them from Central Asia — not to mention the millions who migrate northward illegally in search of work. Regional analysts like Noah Tucker have argued that Russia’s migrant populations have become fertile recruiting grounds for terrorist groups like the Islamic State. Many of the Central Asians who have traveled to Syria to join various groups were recruited while in Russia. Ryskeldi Satke and Marta Ter have also researched this issue and concluded in a 2015 article for the Eurpoean Council on Foreign Relations that “Migrants from Central Asia are amongst the most susceptible to online recruitment activities owing to numerous factors, including separation from their families, marginalisation and social exclusion in Russian cities.”
Others have cautioned against the risk of stigmatizing Central Asian migrants in Russia.
Last year after an Uzbek nanny brutally murdered the child in her care and brandished the child’s head at a Moscow metro station, IWPR interviewed Vladimir Mukomel, head of the department for the research of migration and integration at the Institute of Sociology of Russian Academy of Sciences. Mukomel noted that “[c]rimes and acts of violence committed by foreign nationals are no more common than those committed by Russian citizens,” but that when migrants and foreigners are mentioned on the news, “it’s most likely in stories of them committing crimes and rapes.”
EurasiaNet, in its analysis of the recent attack, recounted how arrests of Central Asians suspected of radicalization in Russia has become commonplace, but “attribution to groups described as radical Islamist is as arbitrary in Russia as it is in Central Asia.”
Furthermore, EurasiaNet says, “while arrests of suspected Islamic radicals from Central Asia have become commonplace, the numbers are in truth infinitesimally small when measured against the total number of citizens from the region pursuing blameless lives in Russia, where they toil in often miserable conditions to provide for their families back home.”
In Western media, Central Asia is often only mentioned in connection with terrorism. This creates an exaggerated image of the region as a hotbed of terrorism in the Western mind. Regional experts have argued for more nuance in discussing Islamization and radicalization in Central Asia. “It is important that we understand better the nature of religious change in Central Asia in order to put the small minority of genuinely extremist groups in Central Asia in their proper context,” a group of experts stressed in an open letter in earlier this year.
This is not to argue that Central Asia is immune from radicalization, or to deny that there are terrorists from the counties of the region who have carried out attacks. Instead, context does matter: how and where individuals are recruited and their personal motivations are diverse and important. Painting all of Central Asia as a terrorist breeding ground is grossly out of proportion to the issue. Shall we also call France, Morocco, Turkey, and Jordan hotbeds?
Groups like the Islamic State, for obvious reasons, target Muslim populations for recruitment. Russia’s migrant populations — internal migrants from Chechnya and Dagestan and external migrants from Central Asia — are key targets due to their religion and other vulnerabilities. Russia has an interest in letting these individuals be recruited and allowing them to leave for Syria, where they are highly likely to be killed. For Moscow, it has been a problem that solves itself. Will St. Petersburg be a wake-up call or merely a trigger for greater pressure on the millions of Central Asian migrants in the country sans effective action to counter recruitment?
As noted above, the motive behind the St. Petersburg attack has not yet been identified. We can make quick assumptions (ISIS!), but reality may not ultimately match our preconceived notions and is most assuredly more complex.