Chechens see light on the road to Damascus

February 6, 1998

Chechnia is sending students to Syria to be trained as future "ideological personnel", according to Russian public television.

The first contingent has arrived at the "supreme Islamic Institute" in Damascus and is studying "the Koran, various kinds of theological wisdom and respect for the peoples of the Book, that is, Jews and Christians who have their own sacred writings".

The Chechens have become increasingly "Islamic" in outlook during the war for independence from the Russian Federation. Shari'ah law is seen as the natural basis for the republic's legislation.

But Chechen students in Damascus are fully in favour of Islamic justice. "If a Chechen steals or kills or does evil deeds, whether he is a Chechen or someone else, he must have his head or his hand cut off," one student proclaimed, adding that he himself would be fully prepared to behead such a malefactor "with my own hands".

Some students had gone to Damascus "straight from the trenches". One ex-combatant, who defined the aims of the war as "our land, freedom and Islam", was a woman. Just what studies are available to her in Damascus, or what her job prospects will be when she returns to Chechnia was not discussed.

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