Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 58

Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin reported to President Boris Yeltsin on March 23 on the status of the investigation into the March 19 terrorist bombing in Vladikavkaz(see the Monitor, March 22). Yeltsin said that he is taking the investigation under his personal control. The atmosphere in the North Caucasus remains tense, with reports about possible new terrorist acts reported on virtually a daily basis. Following reports on March 22 about the defusing of bombs in Vladikavkaz, law enforcement officials yesterday discovered yet another explosive device, this time in Dagestan, on the Baku-Novorossiisk oil pipeline. Pavel Maslov, head of Russia’s internal troops, reported that his forces stationed in the North Caucasus were placed on heightened alert (Russian agencies, March 23). In the meantime, “Kommersant daily” is reporting that certain Wahabbi Muslim guerrillas have phoned the North Ossetian power structures to take responsibility for the Vladikavkaz bombing. The guerrillas did not say specifically with whom they were affiliated, but according to Interior Ministry sources, investigators are looking into the possibility that Saudi-born terrorist Osama Bin Laden and Khattab, the Chechen rebel field commander who is a citizen of Jordan, were behind the bombing. According to some reports, Bin Laden moved from Afghanistan to Chechnya, were he was given refuge by Khattab (Kommersant daily, March 23). The newspaper “Segodnya” has also mentioned a possible Bin Laden connection to the blast (see the Monitor, March 22).

It is important to note that the term “Wahabbi” in the CIS has become a catch-all phrase for any Muslim extremist, whether or not that person is actually an adherent of Wahabbi Islam. “Wahabbis” are now, generally without evidence, blamed for any terrorist act in the Muslim regions of the CIS. Bin Laden is suspected only in the February attempt on the life of Uzbekistan leader Islam Karimov. In contrast to the nameless Wahabbis (whom the Uzbek authorities have already announced as being involved in the attack) the name of Osama Bin Laden has been named as a possible organizer only by Russian media.