Men from Dagestan say they have always wrestled, in traditional bouts between mountain villages. Today, though, the region embraces and loves wrestling not so much for teaching its young men to fight as for keeping them out of the fight with insurgents, offering an alternative to Islamist terrorism.

    “Anyone who achieves something in sports feels confident,” said Arsen Saitiev, a school principal in Makhachkala, the capital of the region. “He doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody, and he won’t try to achieve fame in a negative way.”

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    “Mostly, those who join the underground are adolescents,” Mr. Saitiev added. “At this time in their lives, they are trying to prove something. They can find themselves in sports instead, and won’t get involved in this stupidity.”

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