In 1994 Russia invaded Chechnya in order to crush a growing independence movement. During the two-year-long conflict, Russia destroyed vast swaths of the country, leveled the capital city of Grozny, and killed tens of thousands of Chechen civilians. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to flee Russian forces. After suffering an embarassing stalemate despite their technological and military superiority the Russians were forced to withdraw.
Claiming that they were acting against Chechen terrorists, Russia invaded Chechnya again in 1999 on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. Russian forces remain there to this day and have managed to set up a puppet regime. Russian forces in Chechnya have committed horrible atrocities including murders of civilians, summary executions without any legal recourse for suspected dissidents, rapes, and torture. Russian forces have also kidnapped Chechens for interrogation, which often includes torture, and have robbed civilians of their property.
This battle was the Russian army's invasion and subsequent conquest of the Chechen capital, Grozny, during the early months of the First Chechen War. The attack lasted from December 1994 to March 1995, resulted in the military occupation of the city by the Russian Army and rallied most of the Chechen nation around the separatist government of Dzhokhar Dudayev.
Certain Chechen groups, particularly those influenced and supported by foreign elements who have attempted to erase Chechnya's history of Sufi Islamic mysticism, have committed atrocities as well, such as the hostage takings at Beslan, the Moscow Theater, and other similar attacks on civilians carried out by loyalists of individuals such as Shamil Basayev. There is no justification for such actions. Foreign and domestic Salafi jihadis have attempted to erase the historical and cultural connections of many Chechens to Sufi Islamic mysticism despite erroneous claims that it is "un-Islamic." Contrary to their views, the first great Chechen resistance leader, in the 19th century, was the brave Naqshbandi Sufi leader Imam Shamil.
Following the establishment of the Russian-backed and propped-up puppet regime in Chechnya following the de facto Russian victory, however incomplete, in the Second Russo-Chechen War (the war that began in 1999), an opposition government and "state", the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, was declared. Chechen resistance groups worked closely with other nationalist-separatist groups in the Russian-dominated Caucasus, particularly in Dagestan and Ingushetiya, which fell under the jack boot of the increasingly autocratic Vladimir Putin.
In late 2007, the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus was declared, with Doku Umarov (also called 'Dokka") as its amir (leader). The Russians call him, as they do all those who resist their rule, "terrorists." Umarov has had relations in the past with Chechen resistance leaders, namely the late Shamil Basayev, who have been actively involved in terrorism (the intentional targeting of civilians or wanton disregard for their safety) as well as operations against the Russian military and its Chechen proxies. Umarov, however, has condemned terrorist attacks explicitly, including the Beslan school hostage taking in 2004.
He was asked in 2005 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitskii, "Does that mean that such acts [such as Beslan] have been acknowledged, have been granted moral legitimacy by the Chechen resistance?"
Umraov responded, "No, in the eyes of the resistance such operations have no legitimacy. We ourselves were horrified by what they did in Beslan." He is also a practitioner of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, belonging, reportedly, to the Qadiriyya Order. Basayev, originally a Chechen nationalist, later adopted Salafism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam, and particularly the jihadi Salafi trend. Chechen nationalist resistance was steadily overtaken in many areas by Salafi jihadi actors primarily from abroad, specifically a cadre of Arab fighters including the famous Circassian-Saudi leader Khattab and his lieutants and successors. Together with Basayev, they marginalized Chechen nationalist leaders, such as former Chechen president Aslan Maskhdov (assassinated by Russia in early March 2005).
The IEC, however, has claimed other attacks on civilians or targets where many civilians were present.
The resistance-jihad to Russian rule in Chechnya and the Caucasus has attracted mujahideen [warriors of faith] of different varieties from around the Muslim world, though the majority have come from Turkey and the Arab world. Some of them are Salafi jihadis who see the conflict(s) as part(s) of a global conflict, while others seek to help their co-religionists fight back against Russian rule. In the photographs below, notice the diversity of the fighters and their appearances.