The first terrorist cell came together in the spring of 2016, independent of Nazarov, comprised of Tajiks, Dagestanis, an Armenian, and a Russian. The cell met on Suzdal street, at the apartment of Tajik construction worker Musalim Babayev, who was radicalized online.
The jihadists had planned to make hijra to join IS in Syria, but those plans collapsed when they did not have the money for the journey. The foursome then settled on a plan to attack police and get their weapons, which might then be used to obtain funds for the trip. But this plan also fell through; Babayev and his accomplices ultimately vetoed the idea as too dangerous and difficult to pull off.
The cell became effectively dormant—in “sleep mode”, as Kommersant puts it—until the summer of 2016, when the radicals connected up with another Tajik, Naim Makhmadaliev. The Babayev cell met Makhmadaliev quite by accident at a teahouse.
Makhmadaliev was already in contact with Nazarov via Telegram and Zello. Nazarov knew Makhmadaliev lived near GRU headquarters, and that conscript soldiers regularly passed the building site where he worked. Upon hearing that Makhmadaliev had found jihadi comrades, Nazarov gave the order to activate the cell, sending instruction videos of himself—in English, French, Russian, and other languages of the fallen Soviet Union—on how to prepare bombs, and promising all members that he would provide funds to help them get to IS in Syria afterwards.
The group were rounded up on 6 September 2016, after Babayev had placed an order with AliExpress—to his own home address—and the others had set out with a handwritten list to shop for explosive components at Sadovod market. The cell was under the watch of the FSB from the beginning, according to Kommersant; the special services hoped that the group’s communications would lead them to the Middle East director of IS operations in Russia.
Even as the Babayev cell was being prosecuted, Nazarov had simultaneously created a second cell, in Moscow, consisting of shoe salesmen Bakhtier Makhmudov, odd-jobs man Zafarkhon Rakhmatov, and physician Ruslan Boshirov.
Nazarov rented an apartment for this second cell in the Odintsovo district, provided the gang with two AK-47s, grenades, and ammunition, and sent them video instructions that enabled them to create two powerful bombs that were to be used on 12 December 2017 (Constitution Day) in simultaneous attacks on railway passengers and shoppers at Edelweiss Mall in Balashikha.
The FSB broke up this cell, too, though Nazarov had greater success outside Russia, managing two guided foreign attacks.
Nazarov’s RecordThe first attack guided by Nazarov was the 7 April 2017 Stockholm attack, which saw Rakhmat Akilov kill five people and wound fourteen in the city centre using a truck. Akilov was in constant contact with Nazarov, whom he called his “emir”, throughout that atrocity. Nazarov appears to have been based in Mosul at the time of the attack in Sweden. Nazarov was also the guide for the 29 July 2018 car ramming and stabbing attack that killed four Western tourists and injured three who were cycling in the Danghara district of Tajikistan. The four young IS attackers in Danghara were killed at the scene and their older mentor, Hussein Abdusamadov, arrested.
It remains unclear where Nazarov is. Assuming he is alive, he might be the highest-ranking Tajik left in the organisation. That distinction was previously held by Gulmurod Khalimov (Abu Umar al-Tajiki), the “war minister”, until he was killed in April 2017.