It is estimated that between 5,000 to 7,000 Russian-speaking jihadists have made Russian the second most popular language of ISIL, after Arabic:
With an estimated 2,400 of its citizens fighting with ISIL, Russia is surpassed only by Tunisia and Saudi Arabia in the number of its nationals in the extremist group’s ranks. It is far ahead of the top four European suppliers of ISIL soldiers: France with 1,800 fighters, Britain and Germany with 760 each, and Belgium with 470.
With an estimated 20 million Muslims (14 percent of the population), Russia is the largest Muslim country in Europe outside of Turkey both in absolute terms and as a share of the population. In 2002, the numbers were 14.5 million and 10 percent respectively. The 40 percent increase since 2002 is due mostly to migrants laborers from Central Asia and Azerbaijan: an estimated 6.5 million migrants in Russian today compared to 360,000 in 2002. Between 1.5 and 2 million migrants have also made Moscow the second largest Muslim city in Europe behind Istanbul.
Often without work permits, marginalized, subjected to abuse and extortion as well as not infrequently racist violence, many of these guest workers understandably turn to their faith as a means to sustain dignity. A Tajik, Kyrgyz, or Uzbek who would not have known the way to the nearest mosque in Dushanbe, Bishkek, or Tashkent becomes a practicing Muslim in Moscow, with at least some falling under the influence of hardline clerics. There are only four mosques in Moscow, and the shortage of space forces thousands of believers to gather in private apartments, where radical preachers feel more secure than in public.
The result: With an estimated 300 to 500 ISIL recruiters in the Russian capital, Moscow has become a key hub and a way station to Syria for fighters from Russia and the former Soviet Union. Between 80 to 90 percent of ISIL fighters from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan have been radicalized and recruited while in Russia as migrant workers. According to Russian sources, all of the 300 ethnic Uzbeks who are members of ISIL were recruited during work stints in Russia — as were 80 percent of the ethnic Tajik fighters, including their leader, Nusrat Nazarov. In response, in January of this year, Russia’s Migration Service issued a list of 333,391 Tajiks barred from entering the country. According to the National Security Council of Tajikistan, 700 Tajiks have left for Syria and 300 have been killed there. Nazarov has claimed that there were 2,000 Tajiks with ISIL.
(Hat tip to T. Greer, who says that he “genuinely learned a great deal” from it.)