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Russia reportedly detains 140 people in suspected extremism

April 26, 2013|By Emily Alpert
(Alexei Nikolsky / RIA-Novosti )

Russian authorities said Friday that 140 people had been detained in southern Moscow on suspicion of involvement in an Islamic extremist organization, according to the state news agency.

The Federal Security Agency said at least 30 of the suspects were citizens of other countries and some had ties to militants in the northern Caucasus, the state news agency, RIA Novosti, reported. It did not say which countries the detainees were from.

The roundup came after two brothers of Chechen descent who grew up in Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan were named as suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and wounded hundreds of others. Russian President Vladimir Putin invoked the deadly bombings Thursday as justification for closer cooperation internationally to quash terrorism in the region.

The Boston attack “proved how correct our thesis is … It is absolutely not about nationality or faith. We said this a thousand times. The problem is the extremist aspirations of these people,” Putin said

There were no immediate reports of charges being filed, according to the Associated Press. Russian media reports had little additional information about the detainees' alleged activities.

"It's hardly surprising that, [less than] two weeks after the Boston attacks, Russian security would try to act tough-minded about Islamist extremists in Russia, be they real or imagined,” Michael Weiss, special projects manager with the Institute of Modern Russia, wrote in an email to The Los Angeles Times.

Weiss said the Russian government had adopted a “schizophrenic policy,” using the Boston bombings to not only argue for closer cooperation against terrorism but to castigate the U.S. for its policies in Libya and Syria. Conspiracy theories about the attacks have also popped up in Russian media.

Andranik Migranyan, director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a New York-based think tank, told a U.S. congressional subcommittee on Friday that Russia "has never received full understanding" from the U.S. in its fight against Chechen terrorism.

In Western political circles and media, Russian actions in Chechnya were criticized, "seen through the prism of human rights violations and the excessive use of force," Migranyan said.

The U.S. has opposed terrorism in Russia, where Caucasus militants have waged deadly attacks on civilians, but Western officials and human rights groups have often recoiled at heavy-handed tactics and abuses carried out in the Russian crackdown on extremism.

This year, Human Rights Watch denounced torture, disappearances and summary executions committed in Dagestan as “counterinsurgency-related abuses.” In a 2011 article, Tanya Lokshina of the organization's Moscow office argued that such human rights violations  fueled more militancy.

"What can be going on in the heads of the two young men who were dragged off to the police station in the night, tortured until morning, threatened for several days, given virtually no food and told to stop complaining or things would only 'get worse?'" Lokshina wrote, describing one alleged incident in Dagestan.

If young men are treated this way, she wrote, it's "hardly surprising" that they radicalize.

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