Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 16

In a videotaped message posted on the separatist Daymohk, Kavkazcenter and Chechenpress websites on April 19, Shamil Basaev declared: “Today, by the grace of Allah, our jihad intensively continues!” The tape was apparently several months old: on it, Basaev said that the date is February 5 and that the winter has been severe but that “the mujahideen” have survived it “without big problems.” Basaev added: “And the main thing that is good is that in the past, firewood was mainly used in the [rebel] dug-outs, and the Russians from helicopters and reconnaissance units [traced] the mujahideen activities by the smoke from the campfires. But now we have stored up on gas-cylinders and have heated the dug-outs using gas. Therefore both it is easier to prepare food and keep the dug-outs warm both in the day and at night. And this had made our lives easier.”

Basaev said that the war would widen across the Caucasus this year: “Fighting structures have been established everywhere, discipline is being strengthened,” he said. “The revival of Islam, its strengthening, is going on everywhere.” Basaev said that President Vladimir Putin and “his dog Kafyrov”—a reference to Ramzan Kadyrov playing on the word for “infidel”—“are trying in their own way to introduce something from their Sharia, closing casinos that they opened, declaring war against alcoholic drinks, against prostitution, and everyone sees that this is being done not out of love for Islam and not out of a desire to cleanse the nation and the people. They are simply trying to turn Muslims away from gazavat [jihad], to sow doubts. So that people would think that they also don’t hinder praying [or] living cleanly, they forbid alcohol. However, everything that they do is nothing more than ‘a piglet’s performance.’”

While “the jihad” is gathering strength, Muslims are in an evermore “lamentable condition,” Basaev said. “Already the facts that the enemies of Allah in Europe dared to disseminate caricatures of God’s Prophet is evidence that Muslims remain weak. But we see what is happening: Muslims are not sitting as submissive slaves, sitting on their hands, as it was before, and don’t plan to sit that way, Inshallah. Today, before every Muslim is the duty to take the path of jihad and fulfill the command of Allah.”

Earlier, on April 18, the three separatist websites posted the transcript of an interview that Chechen rebel deputy president Dokku Umarov gave to Radio Liberty’s Chechen-language service. In it, Umarov said his wife and baby son—who, among other relatives, were abducted last year, apparently by security forces loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov (see Chechnya Weekly, May 11, 2005)—had been released, but that nothing was known about the fate of his brother and father, who, he said, are probably dead.

Umarov claimed that rebel units had carried out “five combat operations” in Shatoi after Kadyrov replaced the heads of the district’s administration and interior department, disarming police, destroying a special group, blowing up and armored personnel carrier and killing four “bandits.” Umarov said he was mentioning these operations to show that the rebels “once again demonstrated that the enemy is weak and is not in control of the situation” and lack only “time and money.”

Asked why rebel forces have not carried out many “large-scale combat operations” as in the first Chechen war, Umarov responded that the rebels could carry out such an operation “at any time,” but noted that such operations “require major financial and human resources” and therefore should “be suitable for us politically.”

Asked about the upsurge in attacks in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria and whether fighters there coordinate their actions with the Chechen rebels, Umarov responded: “We have three fronts—in Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Fighters in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria communicate with the military emir and then through myself. They coordinate all their actions with us. They never take any steps without consulting us. As we know, the Russians have a good communications network. They can intercept telephone and radio conversations. Therefore, we have a chain network. The Dagestani mujahideen, as we know, maintain close contacts with us anyway.”

The rebels in Kabardino-Balkaria, Umarov said, are short on money and arms and lack military experience. “They are ordinary civilians who have risen against arbitrariness toward Muslims in those republics,” he said. “No matter how hard we try to make them refrain from combat operations, we will not succeed. They are our brothers in faith and therefore we help them—we share our experience and direct them. God willing, we are planning to send our experienced instructors there this year. We will not leave them on their own. It is our duty to help them.”

The rebels in Ingushetia and Dagestan, on the other hand, “are people there who have taken part in fighting, who are experienced and who have weapons,” Umarov said. He noted that the Dagestani militants are led by Rappani Khalilov—who, he said, fought on Chechnya’s “eastern front” for four or five years—adding: “And I am sure, although some Chechens might not like this, that the Dagestani mujahideen observe the principles of Islam more strictly and keep discipline more efficiently.”

Umarov also claimed that “many young people” want to joint the rebel ranks but that “we cannot admit all of them because there are lots of them and because we lack funds. As we know, conditions in the mountains are severe, and not everyone can survive. Therefore, we select the strongest ones from among volunteers. But we also feel pity for others. If they stay home, they will either be killed or have to flee their motherland. We know how difficult it is to live abroad, we are so much attached to our land.”

Asked about claims that the Chechen rebel movement has been “handed over” to Arab fighters who are seeking global jihad rather than Chechen independence, Umarov responded: “Asserting that, they must show where these Arabs are. And how many there are in Chechnya at the moment. I can count around five of them. These Arabs fight everywhere where there is jihad, not only in Chechnya, to fulfill their Muslim duty. Not having freedom, we will not be able to build our state. And we therefore are fighting for freedom, to build a free Muslim state. Inshallah, we will have it! And this talk is invented by the Russians and the kafirs who act together with them in order to fit into the so-called anti-terrorist operations.”

Asked whether negotiations with Russians are possible, Umarov answered: “We offered them many times. But it turned out that we constantly press for negotiations and it’s as if we are always standing with an extended hand and this is taken as a sign of our weakness. Therefore we don’t plan to do this anymore. And the reshuffle of the [rebel] Cabinet of Ministers is connected to this.”