EXTREMISTSJihadists, Far-Right Extremists Vex Russia–Ukraine War

By Adil Rasheed

Published 28 March 2022

Jihadist militants from Chechnya have been helping Russia in its war in Ukraine, but the influx of jihadist militants does not constitute the bulk of foreign fighters who have joined the war. It is feared that the pro-Ukraine ‘International Legion’ is infiltrated by far-right extremist groups who support Ukraine’s own far-right organizations. One expert warns that the war “will almost certainly attract far-right extremists, who have long viewed [Ukraine] as an ideal training ground to gain combat experience for the eventual ‘race wars’ they anticipate waging back home.”

In his 1975 thriller novel Harry’s Game, Gerald Seymour came up with the now famous phrase, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.1 But there is currently a lot of confusion even among transnational foreign fighters entering the Russia–Ukraine conflict, as to whose freedom fighter or terrorist they should or should not become.

For instance, Chechen Islamic scholar Salakh Mezhiev has pronounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine a ‘jihad’, which should be fought “for the Koran, for God”, in order to save Islam and Russia against the ‘filth’ of NATO forces.2 On the other hand, Syrian jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib has reportedly declared that “The Chechens fighting with the Russian army are apostates. They have departed from the religion of Islam, even if they claim to be Muslims who fast and perform the five daily prayers. They are siding with an enemy who openly shows enmity against Islam. Volunteering in the Russian army is blasphemy and apostasy, let alone participating in a destructive war against Ukraine”.3

Adding to this confusion is the bizarre statement of Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Dr Yasser Al-Naggar, who says that medieval Islamic jurist Ibn Hazem had allowed Muslims to join both sides of a war fought among infidels. Thus, Muslims are allowed to join either side of the Russia–Ukraine war, to pit one set of infidels against the other.4