ISIS bride, meet Russian mail-order bride, meet classic Internet scam. A group of young Chechen women crafted a brilliant online money-making scheme, all in the name of ripping off ISIS recruiters—whom they essentially duped with the same tactics your grandparents fall for when they read their spam inbox.
The women were recently detained by local police for allegedly leading on ISIS recruiters for the cash and then bailing on their trips to Syria, according to Russian website Life News. The young women had apparently been contacted over the Internet by jihadis, and decided to play along. They were willing to go fight, the women reportedly said, if they were given travel funds. For ISIS recruiters, who often ply their online targets with money and gifts, it was a standard request.
But the women never showed up in Syria. They had scammed the utopia-promising jihadi scammers: After the wire transfers came through, the Chechens would block the jihadi they’d been communicating with and disappear—then they’d repeat the process. It’s unclear how long they managed the scheme, but the trio reportedly made around $3,300.
It was enough cash for the Chechen online crimes unit to take notice. The women were taken in on charges of fraud, which carries a penalty of up to six years in prison.
“I don’t recall any precedent like this one in Chechnya, probably because nobody digs deep enough in that direction,” officer Valery Zolotaryov told a local newspaper, according to Russia Today. “Anyhow, I don’t advise anyone to communicate with dangerous criminals, especially for grabbing quick money.”
One of the women apparently did consider following through on the Syria trip, but then reconsidered after hearing stories from her friends. “Many people I know did go, but I know no one for whom it turned out well,” she said to Life News.
Chechnya, a largely Muslim Russian republic, has a growing ISIS support base. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Chechens are fighting in Syria, and though their numbers are comparably small, experts speculate the battle-hardened guerrilla tactics practiced by the Chechens have greatly boosted the so-called caliphate.
The Chechen factions working for the Syrian jihadis came to public attention with the red-bearded figure of ISIS commander Abu Omar al-Shishani, known as “The Chechen.” He was reportedly killed in Kobane last year, but not before putting a bounty on the Chechen president’s head and inspiring untold recruits to follow his path from Europe.
ISIS has recently been leveraging its Russian-speaking recruits. Earlier this summer, the group formed a Russian-speaking propaganda division called Furat Media. It translated recruitment videos and propagated messages on social media, hoping to lure a willing fan base across the former Soviet Union, particularly in the Caucuses, to Syria. In late June, the media team announced the North Caucasus had become a “province” of the caliphate. It was dubbed Wilayat al-Qawqaz, which includes Chechnya, Dagestan, and a few other republics.
But the Putin-loving government of Chechnya has cracked down on the spread of extremism. Two weeks after the announcement, Chechnya’s strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, roared back against these threats. During a counterterrorism training camp, he declared that “there won’t even be a whiff” of ISIS in the region, calling it the “Iblis State,” as a play on the Arabic word for “devil.” Nor would there be any welcome for those attempting to repent. “None of them are going to return to Chechnya,” Kadyrov said a few days later.
Perhaps a tried-and-true Internet scam is the grassroots policy Chechnya has been looking for to shut down its ISIS highway.