For the past few months, we have been tracking Voenkorr, one of the most prolific Russian-speaking Islamic State members who is also involved in IS’s Russian-language media group run by Abu Jihad. Here is some very interesting information about his background and radicalization, which ultimately led to his joining IS.
But before I go any further, I need to thank and credit a colleague, who one may refer to as I.I. Ivanov from the town of N., who is too modest to wish to be credited, but who has done the lion’s share (i.e. most) of the work in digging up and collating an encyclopedic amount of information and has also been the brains behind identifying Alibek.
Anyway I can’t and won’t pass this all off as my research, so please bear that in mind moving forward. However, if something here is not correct, it is my mistake.
Background & basic details
Voenkorr, a.k.a. Alibek Alikovich Begeulov is aged almost 35 and hails from the aul (village settlement) of Kumysh in Karachay-Cherkessia in the North Caucasus. He went to IS-controlled Syria in September or October 2014 and brought his family (he has a wife and two children) there in May 2015. He was in Istanbul on 30 September 2014. Also in Syria is his 36 year old brother, Azamat Alikovich Begeulov.
Both brothers are now on the official wanted list in Russia:
1028. БЕГЕУЛОВ АЗАМАТ АЛИКОВИЧ*, 02.05.1980 г.р. , А. КУМЫШ КАРАЧАЕВСКОГО РАЙОНА СТАВРОПОЛЬСКОГО КРАЯ;
1029. БЕГЕУЛОВ АЛИБЕК АЛИКОВИЧ*, 20.09.1981 г.р. , А. КУМЫШ КАРАЧАЕВСКОГО РАЙОНА КАРАЧАЕВО-ЧЕРКЕССКОЙ РЕСПУБЛИКИ;
The information below is just a small fraction of what has been gathered.
But I think from it we can start to see glimpses of why the ideology of conservative, Salafist Islam was appealing to Alibek and why the idea of moving to IS’s self-declared “caliphate” where rules and morals like those that he thought would help guard him and the younger generation against the corrupting influences of Western civilization, drugs and sex, would be appealing.
Through his writings, we start to glimpse a person who has always been deeply conservative, and concerned about the way that society is heading, in particular how girls and women are dressing and behaving. As he got older, and as his children were born, these ideas appear to have solidified and found a resonance with IS’s increasingly prolific propaganda. There are many surprising things about Alibek. He is actually rather intelligent. He is a thinker, an over thinker. He genuinely cares about his world. He has deeply held views, many of which are incredibly conservative, which he feels are incompatible with modern Karachay and Russian society. He has deeply felt emotions and found outlets for these in culture (until he joined IS).
This is what my colleague I.I. Ivanov noted about Alibek after collecting and reading all this material:
У него какая-то навязчивая идея изменить будущее поколение, забота о своих детях появилась после рождения сына. И в России он не видит как его дети могут нормально вырасти когда кругом наркотики, разврат, плохие образование и медицина и т.д. Но, радикализация у него началась даже до этого, уже в 2008 его центр противодействия экстремизму проверял.
He has some sort of an obsessive idea to change the future generation, concerns about his children emerged after his son was born. And in Russia he does not see how his children can grow up normally when they are surrounded by drugs, corruption, poor education and medicine, etc. But his radicalization started even before that, already by 2008 he was examined by the Center for Counter Radicalization.
As is apparent from his extensive social media posts, Alibek is also a highly sociable person who seeks out the company of others, and opportunities to talk and discuss matters. Alibek is also intelligent. It is not surprising that he has found a place for himself in Furat media, where he is able to use his communication skills to convey the very messages that he was so attracted to himself.
What does this say for counter-radicalization in the North Caucasus? To be honest, I don’t know. But perhaps some conclusions can be drawn from this small glimpse into Alibek’s personality and thoughts.
Alibek is one of a small group of ethnic Karachays who are close to Abu Jihad, himself an ethnic Karachay and of course the leader of Furat Media and IS’s Russian-language propaganda machine. Alibek appeared in an Abu Jihad video about IS’s Karachay contingent n June 2015:
Alibek is incredibly prolific on social media where he tweets personal opinions, including about world politics, not just Islamic State news. His unique style has meant that we have been able to identify him as being behind at least some of Furat media’s social media accounts as well.
From 1998-2001 he claims to have studied in Turkey at Anadolu University. In another post, he claims to have studied programming.
Alibek ran or was involved in a business selling souvenirs and novelties online in since around 2008, via the website dukkan.ru, possibly with his brothers. His wares included religious items (cassettes of nashids, the Quran read on MP3, etc), t-shirts and “Kavkaz” themed mugs, soaps, and videos in Karachay.
The business described itself as “an Islamic goods shop”:
Магазин Исламских товаров dukkan.ru создан сделать вашу жизнь немножечко счастливей. Мы договоримся!
Находимся в Карачаево-Черкесской республике город Черкесск.
Alibek also advertised his wares, including t-shirts, for sale via VKontakte:
Alibek was also registered as having being a sole trader in a business based in Cherkessk from 21.11.2005 until its liquidation in 5.6.2013, which carried out “retail sales in stalls and markets.” It is possible that this is the same as, or overlapped with, the online business.
Alibek also appears to have another brother, Marat, who has not joined IS but who is involved in an agricultural credit consumer cooperative, Agrofinans, in the Ust Dzhegutinsky region of Karachay Cherkessia.
Even after his arrival in IS-controlled Syria, Alibek was heavily involved in the online forum of Elbrusoid, a non-profit foundation for the development of Karachay-Balkar youth. He was a member of the group’s Council and appears in a photograph from March 2014 where he took part in a meeting of the Council in Elbrusoid’s conference hall along with Elbrusoid’s Director, Azret Karayev.
Alibek is fourth on the left in the above photo.
He made extensive posts on the forum and was very well known (and judging from the responses) he was also well liked. Many of his posts suggest that he had an active interest in non-religious culture (e.g. he posted that his favorite movie was Titanic, and that he had seen this over 80 times).
As far back in 2007, Alibek was posting about his interest in certain aspects of religious Islam. But these seem to be mixed up with feelings of conservatism, feelings that the traditional conservative cultures of the North Caucasus and in particular Karachay-Cherkessia, were being altered and that new Western trends were encroaching. He is especially concerned about how this relates to women and women’s behavior.
In one post from 24.12.2007, he writes that:
“You go out in the street and you are struck by how much has changed… how a father/brother can let a girl out onto the street looking like that…and you’ll have an even bigger shock when you see a girl of North Caucasian nationality with a long cigarette in her mouth…. ay ay ay!…And hijabs are seen as beyond perverse…”
One of the personal matters about which Alibek posted on Elbrusoid was his family and his relationship with his wife, who was also religious (and who has joined him in Syria).
Alibek got married in 2007, around May or June. He wrote in August that year in response to a discussion about how to stay away from talking to women who are not his wife, in view of the fact that “Islam forbids this.”
Я женат три месяца. стараемся следовать. и скажу тебе я тоже как и мусукоф и до свадьбы читал книги про мужа и жену, вот это мне во многом помагает.
I’ve been married three months, we’re trying to keep this up [not talking to other women, though in fact he is doing that on Elbrusoid]. I will tell you and [another poster] that before the wedding I read books about husbands and wives, that’s it, it helped me a lot.
His son was born in 2008, which prompted an outpouring of opinions about birth and abortion and about how young girls are dressing. Alibek expresses a desire for someone to help teach these young girls “how to live.”:
>и последнее, сейчас я часто вожу свою жену по клиникам в частности в род дом, так она в шоке от того что столько молодых несовершеннолетних девочек сидят и ждут оборта….я никто, понимаете я никто … но кто им тот который советует одевть то или иное? кто им тот который учит жить?
Now I often drive my wife to the clinic and mostly to the maternity home and she is in shock about how many young minors are sitting and waiting for abortions… I am no one you understand, no one but who can advise them to dress one way or another? Who can tell them how to live?
He goes on to talk about how his wife began wearing a hijab:
>Моя жена всегда рассказывает как она начала носить платок. Она в интситуте надела его. Сначала я готова говорит была провалиться сквозь землю...такие взгляды любопытные. Но потихоньку привыкаешь. а сейчас я не представляю как ходить без платка, мне кажется что как будто голой ходить...
“My wife always talks aout when she started wearing a headscarf. When she was at the Institute she wore one. At first was was ready, she says, to sink into the ground… I got such curious looks. But little by little I got used to it. And now I can’t imagine going around without a headscarf, it would be like walking naked.”
His feelings of disgust at the way he felt modern Karachay society was disintegrating and traditional values were being lost seemed to intensify around the birth of his first child. In 2008, he posted that he wanted to open a website and post photos of people who were not dressed correctly with the caption “THIS IS A DISGRACE TO KARACHAY.”
Again, he appears to be a deeply conservative person, but these feelings are not specifically only about religion but also about a sense of tradition (this is on the same topic as before, about photographing women dressed “inappropriately”):
>просто мне кажется хоть какая то толика молодёжи задумается…. сексуальная революция в америке…. но хвала Аллаху мы на нашей земле мы на КАВКАЗЕ… и хвала Аллаху мы не американцы.
I just think that maybe even some fraction of youth would think…the sexual revolution is in America…but thank Allah we are on our land we are IN THE CAUCASUS…and thank ALLAH we are not Americans…
He goes on to express that he feels a sense of responsibility for “educating” Karachay women who dress inappropriately and for young Karachays to avoid what he sees as “licentious” behavior:
Хвала Аллаху… мне и уж тем более Аллаху не нужно чтобы все карачаевца балкарцы кавказцы становились мусульманами набожными… я борюсь за то что бы когда у меня будет ребёнок я мог его выпустить на улицу не боясь что он принесёт всякую фигню легко сказанно. Я не хочу чтобы мой сын видел как из под туго натянутых штанин торчат сало женщин в годах… эй девушки посмотрите на себя в зеркало когда чтото одеваете…тошно клянусь Аллахом выворачивает когда вооооот такую ж…. всунулу в маленькие штанишки …фуууу…. и прикройте ваши пупки волосатые…тошно… хочется крикнуть когда идёшь по черкесску… и это последние несколько лет так не было раньше…
>И кто, кто скажет им это если не мы???? Ваня? Алик Карданов?? Мустафа Баттыев??? фиг!!!! им бы нахапать побольше…
Агъузу биЛЛях… я хочу поколение которое не будет думать как бы кого загруить и напиться вечером сходить в сауне посетить бордель и понтануться кто заболел вич больше чем остальные… нет я хочу здоровое кавказкое общество в будушем а не СКОТ!!!!
Praise be to Allah… I and moreover Allah do not need for all Karachay Balkar girls to become devout Muslims…I am fighting so that when I have a kid, I can let him out onto the street without being scared that he will pick up all kinds of garbage…I don’t want my son to see old women’s blubber sticking out from tight pants…hey, girls, look at yourselves in the mirror when you wear things…it’s sickening I swear to Allah when such an ass is stuffed into tiny pants…fuuuu…I want to scream when you go around Cherkessa…and cover up your hairy belly buttons…and this is the last few years, it didn’t used to be this way.
And who, who is going to tell them if not us?? Vanya? Alik Kardanov?? Mustafa Battyev??? Crap!!!! They’d just grab all the more…
Azubillah, I want a generation that will not think to meet up and drink in the evening and go to a sauna visit a brothel and brag about whose more sick with AIDS than the rest. No I want a healthy Caucasian society in the future, not ANIMALS!!!
‘Muslims are those who pray’
Alibek revealed that he began to become religious in around 2002:
лет этак 5 назад впервый раз посмотрел Чудеса Корана. Был тронут. после этого смотрел ещё много раз. А ещё мне одна сестра с Казахстана (Аиша звали я с ней в чате познакомился) выслала мне в турцию когда я там учился книжку Обман теории эволюции и видеокасету Сотворения человека. Мы там всей толпой смотрели этот фильм… такой фильм машаАллах.
So about 5 years ago I first saw the Miracles of the Quran. I was touched. After that I saw it many more times. And one woman from Kazakhstan (Aisha they called her, we met in a chat room) sent me in Turkey where I was studying a book The Deception Of The Theory of Evolution and a video tape, the Creation of Man. A whole crowd of us watched the tape. Such a film Mashallah.
In a post from February 2013, he talks about his ideas about who is a Muslim and says that a person cannot be born a Muslim but can only become one through practicing, chiefly by praying. This view reflects those of other North Caucasian Salafists:
Well, I understood that she meant ethnic Muslims. I meant that there aren’t any ethnic Muslims… just because we are born of Muslim [parents] does not make us Muslims… As an example from my family… as far as I can recall my granny prays namaz…she’s a Muslim…but none of her sons and daughters do…or rather one of her daughters my aunt has started mashAllah…and the other aunt is practically an atheist…. Muslim men and women are made through their actions and not by just sympathy.
Photos also suggest that Alibek was not only interested in religion but also had active interests in the affairs and culture of Karachay-Cherkessia. (Of course this is evident from his involvement with the Ebrusoid project). In April 2013, he posted on Elbrusoid that he had made a Tekmet flag, i.e. the flag with the symbol of the Alanian (Karachay-Balkar) people, which symbolizes prosperity and has the Elbrus mountain in the center. In this photo, he can be seen holding the flag. He is clean-shaven, suggesting that he is not religious or radicalized here.
One of the most humanizing things about Alibek is his professed love for the film Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Surprisingly this post is from April 2014, so shortly before he went to IS. I find it rather touching, and actually very sad. Alibek has been on a quest to find himself and to live authentically, and he has ended up in IS.
Yet by 18 June 2013, Alibek was posting about being on the FSB’s radar for his interest in Salafism and/or support for radical groups. He says he had to answer questions asked him by FSB agents.
во вторых на почти подобные вопросы уже несколько раз отвечал перед сотрудниками федеральной службы безопасности.”
for the second time I answered practically the same questions that I’ve already answered several times to agents of the FSB.