Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 202

Russian interior minister Anatoly Kulikov has accused Chechen field commander Emir Khattab of participating in terrorist acts in Dagestan in order to destabilize the situation in the republic. According to the newspaper Segodnya, the eight Dagestani policemen kidnapped this week were captured by the "Islamic Battalion," which was commanded by Khattab during the Chechen war. (Segodnya, October 28)

Khattab, a native of Jordan, has been a legendary figure in Chechnya since his detachment destroyed a column of Russian troops near Yarysh-Mardy in March, 1996. Only a little over thirty years of age, Khattab considers it his life’s goal to "liberate Muslims" all over the world. Khattab is considered a Wahabi — a follower of the religious and political doctrine in Sunni Islam which arose in Arabia in the mid-18th century on the basis of the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, who rejected the veneration of saints and holy places and sought to purify Islam from later accretions and innovations. Wahabism is close to the official ideology of Saudi Arabia. Official Grozny takes a cautious attitude toward the adherents of this tendency since, from the Wahabis’ point of view, Sufi Islam is considered heresy.

In principle, the hypothesis that Khattab may have decided to "liberate" the Muslims of Dagestan is not implausible. Wahabism is quite influential in Khasavyurt district (there were, for example, many supporters of this doctrine among the inhabitants of the Dagestani village of Pervomaiskoe, destroyed by the Russian army in January 1996) and Dagestani Wahabis support calls for creation of an Islamic state in their republic. Now that the war is over, Khattab may have decided to come to the aid of his fellow Wahabis in Dagestan.

The hypothesis has one major shortcoming, however. Accusations against Khattab appear after virtually every scandal linked with Chechnya. For example, he was also accused of murdering the Red Cross workers on the eve of the presidential elections in Chechnya. "Whenever anything happens, the Kremlin immediately accuses me, without a shred of evidence," Khattab told Monitor’s correspondent last year.

In fact, maverick field commanders like Khattab and Salman Raduev are very convenient targets for those in Moscow, such as Kulikov, who favor a "tough approach" to relations with Grozny. Any villainies that can be attributed to such commanders serve as indirect evidence that negotiations with the Chechen authorities are pointless, since the real levers of power are in the hands of "uncontrollable radicals."

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