Captured Documents Reveal Sources of Rebel Financing

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 48

On December 8, the Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta published an article about Abu Hafs, a Chechen rebel field commander of Arab origin who was killed in the Dagestani town of Khasavuyrt on November 27. The core of the article discussed the financial documents, which the Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed, were found among the slain field commander’s belongings. The newspaper said that these documents revealed the amount of money the rebels received this year. According to the Abu Hafs papers, the insurgents received a total of US$340,000 in 2006 from the Muslim communities of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Europe.

However, one cannot trust this figure and other information reported in the Rossiiskaya gazeta article. The article is full of contradictions and apparent errors. It refers, for example, to the US$340,000 that the rebels received this year, but in the next sentence, the author informs his readers that US$200,000 and EUR195,000 came to the rebels from abroad in January 2006 alone. Clearly, the total of US$200,000 and EUR195,000 is more than US$340,000. Besides, it is difficult to ascertain from the article whether the insurgency received anything from the foreign Muslim community after January of this year or if the financial support stopped completely after that.

The article goes on to say that some unsent letters had been found among the papers of Abu Hafs. The FSB declared that these letters were to be sent to sheikhs – potential sponsors – but the author of the Rossiiskaya gazeta article provides no specific names. It is also interesting that Russian security officials said that Abu Hafs was the al-Qaeda envoy in the North Caucasus, and yet, even indirect evidence of this was not found in the papers. Rossiiskaya gazeta even confused its facts regarding Abu Hafs’ background. In another article, published on November 27, the newspaper said that Abu Hafs had come to Chechnya in 1995, but an earlier article had reported that Abu Hafs joined the Chechen rebels in 1999.

Immediately after the Arab commander’s death in Khasavuyrt, the FSB claimed that Abu Hafs controlled all financial resources of the Caucasian insurgency. Yet the recent Rossiiskaya gazeta article said that each Arab field commander in Chechnya had his own financial sources, which indicates that the financial system of the insurgency is decentralized.

Nevertheless, the most interesting part of the article was a reference to the US$5 million that Dokku Umarov, the Chechen separatist field commander who became the top leader of the Caucasian insurgency this summer, had received as a ransom for a rich hostage whose name was not mentioned in the article. According to the newspaper’s sources in the FSB, when Umarov received the US$5 million, he sent US$1.5 million to Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, who was the Chechen separatist president at that time. Sadualev then sent this money to Abu Hafs with an order to divide it between several field commanders – Rappani Khalilov (US$150,000), Sultan Khadisov (US$100,000) and Suleiman Imurzaev aka Hairullah (US$90,000).

Ironically, this fact disproves, rather than confirms, the FSB’s assertion that Abu Hafs, as al-Qaeda’s envoy, controlled the Caucasian insurgency’s cash flows. In fact, one can see that he distributed the money among other commanders but did not make decisions as to whom and how much. It should also be noted that the fact that Umarov and Sadulaev sent money to Abu Hafs, and not vice versa, suggests that the Chechen and Caucasian rebels have themselves been operating with large sums of money.

Unlike other facts mentioned in the Rossiiskaya gazeta article, the story of the $US5 million that Dokku Umarov received as a ransom for a hostage is likely to be true, because it was confirmed by other sources. Rossiiskaya gazeta said that the rebels received the ransom money last May. On May 3, the website posted a report stating that US$10 million had been paid for a relative of Ingush President Murat Zyazikov who was kidnapped by insurgents (EDM, July 6).

If we compare the $5 million or $10 million dollars that the rebels received as ransom with the money that the FSB claims Abu Hafs had, we can see that foreign capital constituted a very small portion of the insurgency’s budget. It looks even smaller when compared with other sources of financing for the separatists, such as bank robberies. For example, last April, the rebels reportedly earned 24 million rubles by hijacking a bank vehicle in Dagestan. This sum (about $US1 million) is twice as much as Abu Hafs’ entire budget for this year, and this robbery is not the only instance (EDM, July 6).

Earlier this year Nikolai Shepel, who was the Russian Prosecutor to the Southern Federal District at the time, told Izvestia that the main sources of income for the terrorist groups in the North Caucasus were robbery, racketeering, kidnapping and drug trafficking (Izvestia, January 9). The prosecutor mentioned nothing about foreign support.

It is impossible to judge precisely the accuracy of the numbers mentioned in the Rossiiskaya gazeta article about Abu Hafs money, since there were too many errors in the article to trust it completely. However, what can be said about this article is that it was simply another clumsy attempt by the FSB to search for evidence that the Caucasian insurgency is linked to al-Qaeda – a claim that has yet to be proven.