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Special Purpose Islamic Regiment

The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) was a radical Sunni militant group operating in the North Caucasus.

AT A GLANCE

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Overview

Brief Summary of the Organization's History.

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Organization

How does a group organize? Who leads it? How does it finance operations?

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Strategy

How does a group fight? What are its aims and ideologies? What are some of its major attacks?

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Major Attacks

What are the group's most famous attacks? What are some key attacks in the group's evolution?

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Interactions

What is the group's relationship with the community? How does it interact with other groups?

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Maps

What is the group's relationship with other militants over time?

Key Statistics

1996 First Recorded Activity
1996 First Attack
2003 Last Recorded Activity

Contact

mappingmilitants [at] lists [dot] stanford [dot] edu

How to Cite:

Mapping Militant Organizations. “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Stanford University. Last modified August 2018. <https://internal.fsi.stanford.edu/content/mmp-special-purpose-islamic-regiment>

Overview

Brief History

    Overview
  • Overview
  • Narrative

Overview

Formed1996
Disbanded2003
First AttackDecember 17, 1996: The SPIR claimed responsibility for the killing of 6 foreign Red Cross workers at the Red Cross hospital in Novye Atagi, the home village of CRI President Maskhadov (6 killed, unknown wounded).
Last AttackOctober 23, 2002: The SPIR collaborated with Riyadus-Salikhin and the IIPB to attack Moscow's Dubrovka Theater. The groups held over 800 people hostage and threatened to kill them if the Russian Federation did not recognize Chechnya's independence. Russian security forces were able to free the hostages; however, around 130 hostages, all of the attackers, and SPIR leader Movsar Suleimanov Barayev were killed during the rescue attempt (170 Killed, unknown wounded).
UpdatedAugust 14, 2018

The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) was a radical Sunni militant group founded in 1996, during the inter-war period of the Chechen Wars. The group sought to use its Islamic connections and militant tactics to liberate Chechnya from Russian authority and establish an Islamic caliphate encompassing the North Caucasus, parts of Azerbaijan, and Abkhazia in Georgia. The SPIR worked with the other Chechen militant groups to lead joint operations against the Russian Federation. It notably contributed to the shift in the Chechen insurgency from a secular, nationalist movement to one dedicated to Islamic jihad. In October 2002, the SIPR collaborated with the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade and Riyadus-Salikhin to hold over 800 people hostage at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow. Like the other groups in the area, the SPIR received financial assistance and personnel from Al Qaeda. In 2003, the group was allegedly absorbed into the armed forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Narrative

The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) was a radical Sunni militant group founded in 1996, during the inter-war period of the Chechen Wars. The group sought to use its Islamic connections and militant tactics to liberate Chechnya from Russian authority.[i] At its peak, the SPIR had over 1,000 fighters who were also members of other Chechen resistance groups, such as the International Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade (IIPB) and Riyadus-Salikhin. During the Second Chechen War, SPIR collaborated with these groups to fight against the Russian Federation. In addition, it trained recruits and conducted joint operations with financial assistance from Al Qaeda (AQ).[ii]

The SPIR's original goal of Chechen independence shifted as a result of increasing jihadist influence and AQ’s financial backing. It aimed not only for independence, but for the creation of an Islamic caliphate encompassing all of the North Caucasus, Abkhazia in Georgia, and parts of Azerbaijan.[iii] The group employed kidnappings, bombings, suicide- and vehicle-based attacks, in addition to extortion and contract killings to achieve its goals.[iv] These tactics contributed significantly to the lawlessness in Chechnya in the interwar period, which saw the rise of Salafi Islam and the increasingly religious character of the previously secular, nationalistic movement for Chechen independence.

Despite sharing the goal of achieving an independent Chechnya, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment developed a conflictual relationship with the secessionist government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (CRI). Members of the moderate Chechen group rejected the Islamic fundamentalism of the SPIR. In 1998, SPIR leader Arbi Barayev refused to comply with CRI President Maskhadov’s order that the SPIR disband. SPIR militants and Maskhadov’s forces clashed repeatedly, and Barayev allegedly organized a mass uprising against the CRI government in 1998.[v]

The SPIR conducted its largest attack in October 2002. The SPIR, in conjunction with the IIPB and the Riyadus-Salikhin, took over 800 people hostage in the Dubrovka Theater and threatened to kill them if the Russian Federation did not grant Chechen independence. Russian security forces managed to free the hostages, though around 130 hostages died in the rescue attempt. Movsar Barayev, the SPIR leader and Arbi Barayev’s successor, also died during the attack.[vi]

In March 2003, the UN Security Council designated the SPIR, alongside the IIPB and Riyadus-Salikhin, as supporting or participating in the activities of Al Qaeda.[vii] After the mid-1990s, the SPIR relied on AQ for financial support, ideological backing, and personnel. Osama bin Laden and AQ allegedly sent millions of dollars per month to fund efforts by Islamic militant groups in the region to create a unified Islamic caliphate in the North Caucasus.[viii] This relationship was allegedly reciprocal; Arbi Barayev is reported to have sent groups of SPIR fighters to Afghanistan in 2001 to train and fight with AQ brigades. The extent of Chechen militants’ involvement in Arab conflicts has not been verified.[ix]

The SPIR experienced a decline in activity and membership after the Dubrovka Theater incident and the death of Movsar Barayev. According to the Kavkaz Center, an anti-Russian news site affiliated with North Caucasus militant groups, the SPIR and the IIPB were absorbed into the armed forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 2003.[x]



[i] Caglar, Armond. “SPIR, Chechen Terrorist Organization, and Al-Qaeda Connection.” Center for Defense Information, 01 May 2004. Web. 15 Aug. 2012; “In the Spotlight: The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Center for Defense Information, 02 May 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[ii] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2016). Global Terrorism Database [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd.

[iii] Caglar, Armond. “SPIR, Chechen Terrorist Organization, and Al-Qaeda Connection.” Center for Defense Information, 01 May 2004. Web. 15 Aug. 2012. 

[iv] Caglar, Armond. “SPIR, Chechen Terrorist Organization, and Al-Qaeda Connection.” Center for Defense Information, 01 May 2004. Web. 15 Aug. 2012; “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR).” Country Reports on Terrorism 2005, US Department of State, April 30, 2006. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[v] Ter, Marta. “The Caucasus Emirate, the Other Russian Front.”  Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, Nov. 2015. Web. 07 Aug. 2018; “In the Spotlight: The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Center for Defense Information, 02 May 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[vi] Leung, Rebecca. “Terror In Moscow.” CBS News, 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 15 July 2012.

[vii] “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR).” UN Security Council, 07 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Aug. 2018.

[viii] Abbas, Hassan. “State Department Blacklists Three Chechen Groups.” The Jamestown Foundation, 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[ix] Abbas, Hassan. “State Department Blacklists Three Chechen Groups.” The Jamestown Foundation, 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[x] Bale, Jeffrey. “The Chechen Resistance and Radiological Terrorism.” Nuclear Threat Initiative, 01 April 2004. Web. 31 May 2012; Kemoklidze, Nino, et al. “Many Faces of the Caucasus.” Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 64, no. 9, Nov. 2012.

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Arbi Barayev (1996 to June 23, 2001)
  • Movsar Suleimanov/Barayev (June 23, 2001 to October 26, 2002)
  • Khamzat Tazabayev (October 2002 to February 24, 2004)

Leadership

This section describes various leaders, their deputies, and other important officials in the militant organization.

Arbi Barayev (1996 to June 23, 2001)

Barayev was the founder of the SPIR. He fought for the Chechen separatists during the First Chechen-Russian War. In 1998, the CRI stripped him of his title as Brigadier General as he was thought to have undermined the authority of President Maskhadov. He was considered a martyr after Russian security forces killed him in 2001.[i]



[i] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2016). Global Terrorism Database [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd.

 

Movsar Suleimanov/Barayev (June 23, 2001 to October 26, 2002)

Barayev, formerly Movsar Suleimanov, was Arbi Barayev's nephew and successor. He was allegedly one of the primary organizers of the Dubrovka Theater crisis and died on the final day of the attack.[i]



[i] Vernidoub, Artyom. “Who Is Movsar Barayev?” GAZETA.RU, 24 Oct. 2002. Web. 15 July 2012; “In the Spotlight: The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Center for Defense Information, 02 May 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

Khamzat Tazabayev (October 2002 to February 24, 2004)

Tazabayev, also known as Abu Sabur, was the successor to Movsar Barayev. After the SPIR was integrated into the armed forces of the CRI, it is unclear how much leadership Tazabayev maintained over the regiment. He was killed by Russian forces in 2004.[i]



[i] Moore, Cerwyn. “The Radicalisation of the Chechen Separatist Movement: Myth or Reality?” Prague Watchdog, 16 May 2007. Web. 15 July 2012.

 

    Name Changes
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Name Changes

There are no recorded name changes for this group.

Size Estimates

2001: 800 fighters (Center for Defense Information)[i]



[i] “In the Spotlight: The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Center for Defense Information, 02 May 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

Resources

The SPIR relied on AQ for financial support, ideological backing, and personnel. Osama bin Laden and AQ allegedly sent millions of dollars per month to fund efforts by Islamic militant groups in the region to create a unified Islamic caliphate in the North Caucasus.[i]



[i] Abbas, Hassan. “State Department Blacklists Three Chechen Groups.” The Jamestown Foundation, 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

The SPIR operated primarily in Chechnya but reportedly also had bases in northeastern Georgia. The group’s most famous attack, on the Dubrovka Theater, took place in Moscow.[i]



[i] “In the Spotlight: The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Center for Defense Information, 02 May 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment was a radical Sunni militant group that sought to use its Islamic connections and militant tactics to liberate Chechnya from Russian authority and establish an independent republic. The group also sought to establish an Islamic caliphate based on Wahhabism, encompassing the North Caucasus, parts of Azerbaijan, and Abkhazia in Georgia.[i] The SPIR was strongly influenced by the goals of its Al Qaeda financiers and the Saudi militant Omar Ibn al-Khattab, leader of the IIPB.[ii] The SPIR played an important role in shifting the Chechen insurgency from a secular, nationalist movement to one dedicated to Islamic jihad.



[i] Caglar, Armond. “SPIR, Chechen Terrorist Organization, and Al-Qaeda Connection.” Center for Defense Information, 01 May 2004. Web. 15 Aug. 2012. 

[ii] National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2016). Global Terrorism Database [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd.

 

Political Activities

There are no recorded political activities for this group.

Targets and Tactics

The SPIR targeted Russian forces, affiliated groups, and civilian targets. The organization employed kidnappings, bombings, suicide- and vehicle-based attacks, in addition to extortion and contract killings to achieve its goals.[i] These tactics contributed significantly to the lawlessness in Chechnya in the interwar period, which saw the rise of Salafi Islam and the increasingly religious character of the nationalistic movement for Chechen independence.



[i] Caglar, Armond. “SPIR, Chechen Terrorist Organization, and Al-Qaeda Connection.” Center for Defense Information, 01 May 2004. Web. 15 Aug. 2012; “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR).” Country Reports on Terrorism 2005, US Department of State, April 30, 2006. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks
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Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing, but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

  1. December 17, 1996: The SPIR claimed responsibility for the killing of 6 foreign Red Cross workers at the Red Cross hospital in Novye Atagi, the home village of CRI President Maskhadov (6 killed, unknown wounded).[i]
  2. December 1998: The SPIR tortured and brutally executed 4 foreign telephone engineers from the UK and New Zealand. SPIR militants were allegedly responsible for abducting the civilians earlier in October (4 killed, 0 wounded).[ii]
  3. December 9, 2000: The SPIR conducted an attack on a Russian military convoy in Alkhan-Yurt, Chechnya (20 killed, 17 wounded).[iii]
  4. June 16, 2001: The SPIR allegedly executed a local mayor appointed by the Russian government in the village of Gekhi (3 killed, unknown wounded).[iv]
  5. October 23, 2002: The SPIR collaborated with Riyadus-Salikhin and the IIPB to attack Moscow's Dubrovka Theater. The groups held over 800 people hostage and threatened to kill them if the Russian Federation did not recognize Chechnya's independence. Russian security forces were able to free the hostages; however, around 130 hostages, all of the attackers, and SPIR leader Movsar Suleimanov Barayev were killed during the rescue attempt (170 Killed, unknown wounded).[v]


[i] Hoffman, Davied. “Gunmen kill aid workers in Chechnya.” The Washington Post, 18 Dec. 1996. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[ii] Parsons, Robert. “Chechen president orders kidnap crackdown.” BBC News, 13 Dec. 1998. Web. 06 Aug. 2018; Cockburn, Patrick. “Chechen who killed Britons is murdered.” The Independent, 26 June 2001. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[iii] “In the Spotlight: The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Center for Defense Information, 02 May 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[iv] “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR).” UN Security Council, 07 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Aug. 2018.

[v] Leung, Rebecca. “Terror In Moscow.” CBS News, 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 15 July 2012; “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR).” UN Security Council, 07 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Aug. 2018.

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relations with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/Listed

  • UNSC “ISIL (Da'esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List”: March 4, 2003 to Present.[i]
  • U.S. State Department Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO): February 28, 2003 to Present.[ii]
  • U.S. State Department Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL): December 2004 to Present.[iii]


[i] “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR).” UN Security Council, 07 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Aug. 2018.

[ii] Abbas, Hassan. “State Department Blacklists Three Chechen Groups.” The Jamestown Foundation, 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[iii] “Terrorist Exclusion List.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, 29 Dec. 2004. Web. July 2012.

 

Community Relations

The SPIR allegedly clashed with mainstream Chechen society, as its radical Sunni ideology conflicted with the moderate Sufi Islam followed by most Chechens.[i]



[i] “In the Spotlight: The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment.” Center for Defense Information, 02 May 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

Relations with Other Groups

The SPIR was associated with other prominent militant groups in the North Caucasus, notably Riyadus-Salikhin and the International Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade. The SPIR worked with these groups to conduct attacks against the Russian Federation; several SPIR members were also affiliated with these organizations. The SPIR provided leadership and forces to Riyadus-Salikhin in the lead-up to the Dubrovka Theater attack.

Although the SPIR sought to liberate Chechnya and establish an independent government, the group clashed with the moderate government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (CRI), which rejected the SPIR’s fundamentalist ideology. In 1997, Barayev refused to obey CRI president Maskhadov’s order that the SPIR disband; subsequently, SPIR militants clashed repeatedly with Maskhadov’s forces. In 1998, the SPIR organized an unsuccessful mass uprising against the CRI. After experiencing a decline in activity and membership after the Dubrovka Theater incident and the death of Movsar Barayev, the SPIR, alongside the IIPB, were allegedly absorbed into the armed forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 2003.[i]

In March 2003, the UN Security Council designated the SPIR, alongside the IIPB and Riyadus-Salikhin, as supporting or participating in the activities of Al Qaeda.[ii] After the mid-1990s, the SPIR relied on AQ for financial support, ideological backing, and personnel. Osama bin Laden and AQ allegedly sent millions of dollars per month to fund efforts by Islamic militant groups in the region to create a unified Islamic caliphate in the North Caucasus.[iii] Several sources suggest that this relationship was reciprocal; SPIR leader Arbi Barayev is reported to have sent groups of SPIR fighters to Afghanistan in 2001 to train and fight with AQ brigades. The extent of Chechen militants’ involvement in Arab conflicts has not been verified.[iv]



[i] Bale, Jeffrey. “The Chechen Resistance and Radiological Terrorism.” Nuclear Threat Initiative, 01 April 2004. Web. 31 May 2012; Kemoklidze, Nino, et al. “Many Faces of the Caucasus.” Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 64, no. 9, Nov. 2012.

[ii] “Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR).” UN Security Council, 07 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Aug. 2018.

[iii] Abbas, Hassan. “State Department Blacklists Three Chechen Groups.” The Jamestown Foundation, 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

[iv] Abbas, Hassan. “State Department Blacklists Three Chechen Groups.” The Jamestown Foundation, 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

Al Qaeda played a critical role in providing the Special Purpose Islamic Brigade with financial resources, personnel, and ideological backing.[i] Saudi militant and IIPB leader Omar Ibn al-Khattab also had an important influence on the SPIR’s ideology; when Khattab introduced a group of Arab jihadist fighters to the North Caucasus, he established close relations with regional militant leaders including SPIR leader Barayev.



[i] Abbas, Hassan. “State Department Blacklists Three Chechen Groups.” The Jamestown Foundation, 2003. Web. 06 Aug. 2018.

 

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that “map” relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.

Evolving Militant Interactions

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