A Chechen activist on Tuesday accused Russia’s FSB security service of blocking attempts to bring back widows and children of Russian Islamic State fighters from Syria and Iraq.
Since last year, around 100 women and children — mostly from Russia’s majority-Muslim Caucasus — have returned under a program championed by Chechnya’s powerful leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
But Kheda Saratova, a Chechen activist who is on Kadyrov’s human rights council, said Russia’s federal authorities were no longer willing to bring back the remaining women and children.
“According to our organisation, there are over 2,000 of them left in Syria and Iraq,” she told a news conference in Moscow.
“The process of bringing them back has been stalled and nobody has told us why,” Saratova said.
She blamed Russia’s FSB security service and its chief Alexander Bortnikov, who recently criticised the repatriation programme, saying terrorist groups were using the women and children as “recruiters.”
Saratova said the drive to bring back the women — who she said were mostly forced to go to Syria by their partners — was supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I ask Bortnikov to change his attitude to this subject,” she said.
“We call on the FSB that whatever information they need, we will give them. These women are not hiding anything.”
The FSB did not immediately release a statement on Tuesday or respond to a call seeking comment.
Several thousand Russians travelled to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq in recent years, according to estimates from the Russian security services. Some took their families with them.
Many Russian militants and other foreigners joined the so-called Islamic State militant organisation that controlled large parts of Syria and Iraq until its defeat in 2017.
Saratova said she had requests from 700 relatives from all over Russia asking to bring their relatives home.
She said 21 Russian women in Iraq had been given life sentences and that the Russian government is currently negotiating on bringing their children to Russia.
Around 60 children are expected to be brought back to Russia in the near future, she said, adding “all the documents are ready.”