A Review of the Basaev Interview in Sawt al-Qoqaz

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 9

Towards the end of April this year a new Arabic language web magazine, aimed at the Arab mujahidin fighting in the Caucasus, or sympathisers following the events in the region, appeared on the net entitled Sawt al-Qoqaz (‘The Voice of the Caucasus’). In the last edition of Terrorism Focus, we briefly described the scope and contents of the publication. Here we feature in more detail an interview with the Field Commander of the Chechen mujahidin, Shamil Basaev, who achieved worldwide notoriety for his role in last September’s Beslan school massacre. The interview, written in somewhat stilted Arabic — which suggests it may be the result of a translation — appears on page 28, and opens with the anonymous interviewer asking Basaev to describe the situation in Chechnya as he sees it at the moment.

“None of us now,” Basaev responds, “are unaware of what the Chechen arena is undergoing in very grievous political blows. Reason for this goes back to a number of factors, including the intensive Russian military penetration into Chechen territory. I would also add to that the campaign of random arrests, which groups of the collaborator army are carrying out, and the intensive siege upon the mujahidin positions. But despite the siege, mujahidin morale persists to repulse these bestial attacks, which Russia and its collaborators are waging against the Muslims here in Chechnya.”

After the assassination of a number of mujahid leadership, how do you analyze the progress of the mujahidin in these moments?

“The recent assassination operations constituted an effective [but] temporary bewildering action to the mujahidin, especially when al-Khattab was martyred. But the mujahidin were able to pull themselves together and ‘get back in the driving seat’ very well. … The shock we suffered was not a shock in the sense of our progress here being crippled, rather its significance was that it demanded that the mujahid leadership take stronger measures to deal with their surroundings.”

Some view the assassinations operation as evidence of the mujahidin ranks being penetrated.

“This is a war. And naturally in war there are many deceptions and security penetration here is 100 per cent certain. We cannot entirely guarantee the security of our outposts. Russia also acknowledges the penetration by mujahidin of its security lines now and then. The issue of the assassination of Khattab [which took place in March 2002] is entirely different from the rest of the leadership,” he explains, observing that Khattab was unwilling to heed full advice on security precautions due to his trusting nature: “He held affection for his killers and thought only well of them”.

“This is war, as I said, and the enemies took advantage of a weak spot in Commander Khattab’s nature. But the situation was entirely different from that of the commander Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi. He was martyred on the battlefield … Forget what the Russian media reported, there is no truth to [their claim] that Abu al-Walid was killed by assassination. The Russians themselves did not know that the commander in the ambush was Abu al-Walid, if they had, they would have launched an intensive air and artillery attack in order to take him alive. This is what happened with commander Aslan Maskhadov [whom the Russians came across unexpectedly while on a routine house-to-house search for weaponry] … Do not forget, however, that the mujahidin have carried out penetration operations and assassinations against the Russians and their collaborators too. It works both ways.”

Chechnya is an arena where a number of groups are found declaring jihad. Is there any military coordination between you and these groups?

“We are in contact with everyone and each group here is carrying out its obligations according to their abilities. There are periodic meetings, which the leaders and emirs of these groups attend regularly to maintain continuity and study the affairs of the region. Despite the plurality of groups here no differences have arisen between them, indeed the spirit of brotherliness and Islamic courtesy continually maintains a mutual affection.”

Are the mujahidin still receiving crowds of volunteers? How is this managed?

“Yes, crowds arrive from abroad continually. These are organised by the leadership organizational department right from their point of origin until their arrival in Chechnya and their attachment to their brothers here. The co-ordination is highly secure, due to fears of infiltration or penetration of the mujahidin ranks. As to how this is done [in detail] depends on conditions here in Chechnya and on the battlefield.”

Are you thinking of uniting ranks with jihadi groups abroad, for instance?

As regards the Chechen leadership this is an issue which has had its precedent, however it may be that other jihadi groups here in Chechnya have a particular opinion on that or a special arrangement. In any case we aim to unify the banner of the mujahidin but it may be that the time is not ripe yet for this or that the difference between the arena here and the brothers outside Chechnya varies according to capabilities.

How do you see the battle here? Will the Russians one day, if at all, seek for talks?

[After enumerating a long series of Russian outrages against the Chechens, their faith, mosques and their women, Shamil Basaev, underlines the absurdity of the term ‘terrorist’ when applied to the Muslim groups, who he says are only reacting to Russian violence.]

“To ask for talks with the Russians is absolutely out of the question. They have nothing at all for us to engage them in talks about. The land is our land, Islam is our faith, and martyrdom in God’s path is our dream. What do we have to talk to them about when they are our primary enemy? As a matter of principle we decisively refuse the very notion of talks. Even if the siege upon us were to be tightened, we would not accept to talk. We demand freedom for the Muslims here, their independence and Islamic government. We call for the government of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. We are neither terrorists nor deviants, as the media paints us to you. The problem now is that all who set up God’s Law are ‘terrorists’, while all who commit corruption on the earth are ‘praiseworthy citizens’. The notion of talks, I repeat, we refuse. The Russians have nothing for us to talk with them about.”

Even if the Russians were to offer a general amnesty?

“They can offer what they want, but the jihad continues. We do not seek an amnesty from anyone other than God Almighty.”

Finally, Shamil Basaev concludes the interview with advice to Muslim brethren not to abandon the jihad, and to maintain their support for the mujahidin.