Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 25

An al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq claimed in a statement released on June 19 that it was holding the four Russian diplomats who were kidnapped in Baghdad on June 3 and demanded that Moscow withdraw its troops from Chechnya and “release all our brothers and sisters” from prison within 48 hours. According to CNN, the Mujahideen Shura Council, which posted the statement on its website, did not say what the repercussions would be if Russia did not comply. The group also claimed responsibility for the death of another Russian diplomat who was killed during the kidnapping. “God enabled the lions of unification to capture four Russian diplomats in Iraq and kill a fifth,” it said.

The speaker of the lower house of the Chechen parliament, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, denounced the actions of the Iraqi kidnappers on June 20. “A contingent of Russian troops is located on the territory of the Chechen Republic, which is a constituent part of Russia, as is the case in other regions of our country,” Interfax quoted him as saying in an official statement. “These troops are required to resolve the question of the defense capability of the Russian Federation, of which the Chechen Republic is a part. Therefore, we categorically protest the use of the name of the Chechen people by terrorists of various hues in their criminal aims, encroaching on our development in the multinational family of Russian peoples. Russia is our homeland and its troops are located where they should be located.”

According to Interfax, Abdurakhmanov also said in his statement that “the Chechen Republic has not given even one country the right to voice claims or protests on its behalf—not America, not Jordan, not Iraq or another state. The Chechen people have their own president, government and parliament, and there is a constitution and a Constitutional Court. We are self-sufficient in the moral and political sense to be able to voice a protest on our own behalf against whomever we please, if it is necessary—America, England, the UN or PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe). At this point in time we have political and economic support in bringing our republic into being from Russia, from which they wish to tear us away. The Chechen police and the Chechen president’s security service, and also the national militia, are ready to give an equivalent response to any intrigues by international terrorism. If it seems to anyone that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya will allow them to interfere here in the internal affairs of our country, then that is the greatest [self-]deception. We have a 15,000-strong militia, in the ranks of which serve battle-hardened Chechen youth. That is our reply to those who try to repeat the years 1991-94 or 1999 in our republic. It will not work, gentlemen: play your political games in another region and with another people… I officially state that combat actions are not being waged on the territory of Chechnya today and human rights and citizens’ rights are not being violated. The setting up of a peaceful life and the restoration of destroyed towns and settlements is under way here. Therefore, we will not allow anybody—neither Iraqi nor any other terrorists—to interfere in our affairs and to dictate conditions to us.”

Kavkazky Uzel on June 20 cited the comments of several Grozny residents about the Russian diplomats abducted in Iraq and the demands of their kidnappers. “I learned of the demands of the Iraqi militants to withdraw troops from Chechnya in exchange for the lives of the four Russian diplomats from television reports,” the website quoted Akhmad Bakaev, a 52-year-old Grozny resident, as saying. “Naturally, Russia will not go for such a step. To fulfill the demands of that ultimatum is impossible even in principle. Even if Moscow wanted to (which I very much doubt), how is it possible to withdraw a huge force of troops from the republic during 48 hours? I don’t know what will happen to the hostages, but it is absolutely unambiguous that the Kremlin will not go for this.”

However, Ismail, a 23-year-old student at Chechen State University, told Kavkazky Uzel: “It is unknown whether such an organization as ‘Council of Mujahideen’ actually exists. I even think that it was not militants at all who kidnapped the Russian diplomats in Iraq. I think that it is the latest attempt to ‘attach’ the Chechens to al-Qaeda. It is more beneficial to the Kremlin. Now Russian state officials again will be trumpeting to the whole world that they have obtained the latest proof of the Chechen separatists’ links with the al-Qaeda international terrorist network, and that the Chechen resistance is part of ‘the global Islamic jihad’ and other things. The Russian leadership has always put the interests of the state above the interests of citizens. It did not even enter into negotiations with the militants in order to save the hostages at Nord-Ost [the Dubrovka Theater] or the children in Beslan. What’s the point of talking about the lives of just four people? I think that Moscow will simply ignore this ultimatum, and if the hostages are executed, then it will declare that they were the latest victims of ‘international terrorism’.”

Chechen separatist Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakaev said in a statement posted on the separatist Chechenpress news agency’s website on June 20 that the media report that an Iraqi group was demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya in exchange for the release of the four Russian diplomats was “a provocation by Russian special services.” The statement added, “The organizers of this provocation want to convince Western leaders on the eve of the coming G8 summit in St. Petersburg that Russia and the West are ‘on the same side of the front line.'” Zakaev’s statement also demanded that the Russian diplomats be released. “Chechnya’s foreign ministry completely denies any Chechen participation in the international terrorist network and demands that the holders of the Russian diplomats release them without any conditions,” the statement read.