Arguing against the often prevailing impression that Islam is per se the key conflict-generating factor in Chechnya, this article insists on the fact that it initially played a marginal role in the ideology of Chechen separatists. Casting light on how did Islam gain a foothold in the separatist movement, the author also analyses the reasons why its moderates lost ground to the radicals in the early 2000s. Reminding the growing influence of radical warlords in interwar Chechnya, J. Wilhelmsen also recalls that their influence and popularity owed a lot to their decisive capacity to provide guns and money. The success of international Islamist actors is also largely attributed to Russia’s misguided policy on Chechnya, characterised by the failure to rebuild the country and to support the moderate Chechen president elected in 1997. The author also highlights the impact on Moscow’s launching of an all-out war on the re-alliance of moderates and radicals on the Chechen side, and on the growing appeal of an international Islamist ideology with the war, as did the demand for Islamist funding and fighters.