Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 230

In the wake of the beheading of four Western telecommunications workers last week, the Chechen authorities Sunday (December 13). announced that they had mobilized 1,100 reservists and war veterans to launch a “decisive battle” against crime and terrorism. “Thousands” of armed reserves reportedly showed up at the Khankala military base, and the authorities promised that the law enforcement bodies would have full control of the republic’s territory within two days. The call-up was the result of a mobilization decree signed by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov following the killings of the four Western hostages–three Britons and a New Zealander. The four were killed after the Chechen authorities botched a rescue attempt (Russian agencies, December 13).

On Saturday, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev said that the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the four was carried out by Arbi Baraev, a rebel field commander associated with armed radical followers of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist variant of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, whose adherents are now active in the Caucasus. The Itar-Tass news agency quoted Baraev as saying he had “nothing to do with those crimes” and was ready to vindicate himself before Chechnya’s High Sharia Court. Meanwhile Chechen Prosecutor General Mansur Tagirov, who himself was reportedly taken hostage by unidentified assailants for several days before being released on Saturday, said Sunday that Baraev’s paramilitary group was behind the violence in the town of Gudermes last July, when gunmen clashed with the local authorities, leaving dozens of people dead. Tagirov said these and other criminal charges against Baraev had been sent by his office to the Supreme Sharia Court (Russian agencies, December 13).

The government of President Maskhadov, whose authority has been openly challenged by two well-known field commanders–Shamil Basaev, Chechnya’s former Prime Minster, and Salman Raduev, the nephew of the late Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudaev–now appear to be heading for a confrontation with even more radical, Islamist groups. Last Thursday (December 10) Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Yusup Soslanbekov told the “Al-Hayat” newspaper that the Chechen authorities are seeking to expel Khattab, the Jordanian leader of one of Chechnya’s Islamist militias, from Chechnya. Soslanbekov told the Arab newspaper that the Chechen government will fight to keep the republic from turning into a “terrorist morass.” Khattab and members of his group reportedly fought as volunteers against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. He has reportedly set up training camps in Chechnya and found refuge in areas controlled by Salman Raduev’s “Army of General Dudaev.” According to some reports, Khattab’s forces were responsible for the April 1996 ambush of a Russian troop convoy in Chechnya, in which seventy-three Russian soldiers were killed and more than fifty wounded.