Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 41

Russia’s Foreign Ministry last week accused a Canadian newspaper of giving a platform “to murderers and terrorists whose hands are stained with the blood of Russian people, including Beslan children,” for publishing an article based on an e-mail interview with Shamil Basaev. The Globe and Mail reported on November 5 that it had received a letter from the Foreign Ministry charging that the newspaper’s decision to publish the article by its Moscow bureau chief Mark MacKinnon in its November 2 edition “borders on connivance” with terrorism. Globe and Mail editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon denied the charge: “We believe our responsibility is to cover international events and issues thoroughly,” he said. “Our readers are best served when they are exposed to as much information as possible.”

Basaev’s e-mail exchange with MacKinnon was organized by the editorial office of the pro-rebel Kavkaz-Tsentr website and also posted on the pro-rebel Daymokh and Chechenpress websites on October 31. In the exchange, the rebel warlord claimed he was “shocked” by what happened in Beslan, but added that while he had “a degree of responsibility” for what took place, he did not think he was “guilty of that outcome.” Asked whether “explosions on the subway and planes are justifiable” – a reference to the August 31 suicide bombing at Moscow’s Rizhskaya metro station and the August 24 downing of two civilian airliners, which killed 10 and 90 people, respectively – Basaev said that his forces would have agreed to abide by international law had President Vladimir Putin agreed to do so and “then there would have been neither Beslan nor the explosions of the planes and metro.” Basaev also alleged that Russian forces “have many times used chemical and bacteriological weapons against us as well as various poisons, and we feel free to retaliate.”

Basaev also for the first time suggested that targets beyond “the Russian empire” were not off limits. “We also feel free in our actions against those who support the Russian occupiers against us with their property, themselves, words, advice, etc.,” he said. “In particular, the leaders of other countries must know that by pleasing Putin and declaring war on us indiscriminately, they leave their own citizens vulnerable.”

Basaev indicated that separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, contrary to allegations by Russian officials, had no role in the Beslan attack. Basaev said he met with Maskhadov at the end of June, “gave him a lot of captured weapons and ammunition” and wanted to find “a common approach to the methods of fighting the war but did not manage to do so.” “I told him let Putin abide by international law, then we will automatically do so,” Basaev said. He added that he hoped Maskhadov would “change his approach to the methods of fighting the war,” given that federal security forces had detained “more than 50” of Maskhadov’s relatives immediately after the Beslan school seizure. On November 1, Maskhadov’s London-based envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, released a statement condemning Basaev’s comments and insisting that hostage taking constitutes a “war crime” subject to penalties under the Geneva Convention (see Chechnya Weekly, November 3).

Asked about the identities of two Arabs he had earlier said participated in the Beslan raid, Basaev answered: “And doesn’t it seem to you that Bush and Putin are so successfully infecting the world with paranoid schizophrenia and a persecution complex that al-Qaeda even appears to you everywhere?” One of the Arabs, he said, came to Chechnya at the end of the 1994-1996 war and married a Chechen woman, while the other came to Chechnya from Jordan a year ago to take part in “the jihad.” Basaev did not directly answer the question of whether he viewed al-Qaeda as an ally, but said he “doubts” it was involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Basaev denied any of his “mujahideen” are in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, claiming that “about 1,000 people” had stayed there for three years “at loose ends” and that this had been “very disadvantageous to us.” He also said he has 12 hiding places in the mountains with “everything necessary for two weeks for 20 people.” Basaev further claimed that when he was wounded in an attack while hiding out in Kabardino-Balkaria last year, a local police colonel sheltered him for a week. The colonel, however, refused to give him “operational information,” telling him “personally my home is always open to you, but I will not work against my own people,” Basaev said.