Official: 1,500 North Caucasus people fight in Iraq, Syria

A member of militias known as Hashid Shaabi stands next to a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, in the town of al-Alam. Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters

MOSCOW (AP) — A senior Russian official says about 1,500 residents of Russia’s North Caucasus are fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Sergei Melikov, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the North Caucasus, says at least five militants who came back after fighting in Syria were killed in security sweeps last year.

Melikov said Thursday the Islamic State group poses a “very serious threat” to the North Caucasus, Russian news agencies reported. He said efforts are needed to prevent young people from joining the ranks of militants.

Melikov’s comment echoed Putin’s speech to senior officials of the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency, in which he said one of its top priorities should be tracking Russian citizens who have left to fight alongside the Islamic State group.

“It’s important to take additional measures to cut international links and resource base of the terrorists, block avenues for their entry and exit from Russia,” Putin said Thursday…