Dagestan: A breeding ground of Islamist militants who vow to target the Sochi Olympic Games

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ITV News' Diplomatic Correspondent John Ray reports from Dagestan - the breeding ground of Islamic militants who have vowed to target the Sochi Olympic Games.

On a misty hillside a world removed from the slopes of Sochi there is a cemetery reserved for the dead of Russia’s war on terror.

The graves bear no names, just numbers and the date of burial.

There are many mounds of freshly turned earth.

Since the turn of the year, a dozen or more terrorist suspects have been cornered and killed by security forces.

Russian police officers stand guard at the Olympic Park in the Adler district of Sochi. Credit: Reuters

Many end up here; dumped with little ceremony, lost to their families.

They are buried in anonymity because the authorities want no martyrs’ shrines.

This is Dagestan, the most southerly of Russia’s Republics. Muslim and restive.

The response ordered by President Putin to the terrorism threat has been brutal. Credit: ITV News

For years it has been the scene of a separatist struggle.

Now it is a breeding ground of Islamist militants who have vowed to target the Games.

Suicide attacks in Volgograd, many miles distant, at the turn of the year showed their reach and deadly intent.

Read: Russia beefs up security around Winter Olympics

Dagestan has been the scene of a separatist struggle for years. Credit: ITV News/John Ray

The backlash ordered by President Putin – who has so much personal prestige invested in the success of Sochi – has been brutal.

Ramazan Dzhajarov, Dagestan’s deputy prime minster, and the man in charge of security here, told me: ’It is not true that we set out simply to exterminate terrorists…but our single purpose must be to ensure the safety of the Olympics.’’

Read: Putin vows to annihilate 'terrorists' after bombings

So-called Black Widow Ruzanna Ibragimova.
So-called Black Widow Ruzanna Ibragimova. Credit: ITV News

But human rights activists here complain at the severity of the crackdown. Indeed they believe it might only serve to fuel future violence.

Among those terrorists said to be stalking the Games is a so-called Black Widow – Ruzanna Ibragimova.

Russian authorities say she is bent on revenge for her husband, an insurgent "neutralised’’ in an anti-terror operation.

Read: 'Jihadis' use video to threaten Sochi Olympics tourists

Svetlana Isaeva’s son, Isa, disappeared during an anti-terror operation in 2007. Credit: ITV News

There are many widows and grieving mothers in Dagestan.

Svetlana Isaeva’s son, Isa, disappeared during an anti-terror operation in 2007.

She now runs an organisation which campaigns for other families whose sons have been lost like Isa.

"Many people here sympathise with those who suffer. And some chose to replenish the ranks of those who take up weapons,’’ she told me.

When the Games' organisers speak of an Olympic legacy, this is not what they hope for.