Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 197

Russia’s special services are warning that the Chechen rebels are planning a series of terrorist attacks across southern Russia. According to a report published today, thirty-two terrorists belonging to a group formed by the Chechen rebel field commander Khattab, who is thought to be a Jordanian or Saudi citizen of Chechen extraction, have been dispatched to various parts of Russia to carry out terrorist acts. Among the alleged targets are chemical plants in Krasnodar Krai and the town of Budennovsk and a nuclear power plant in Rostov. The report also said that Khattab had received from abroad “a highly toxic substance” that he plans to use in the Tsimlyansk reservoir, which provides water for a large part of Krasnodar Krai. It also claimed that that the Chechen rebels had received US$750,000 from Osama bin Laden to fund the attacks on Russia. In addition, the report also said that Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov had created a “death squad” consisting of fifteen kamikazes to be used in the actions, but was keeping them in reserve while he attempted to launch peace talks with the federal authorities. Indeed, the report claimed that Maskhadov and Khattab have fallen out to such a degree that Maskhadov, through the foreign minister in his government, Ilyas Akhmadov, had asked the American authorities to freeze the bank accounts of former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and former Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, both of whom support the radical Islamist wing of the rebel movement led by Khattab and Shamil Basaev (Moskovsky Komsomolets, October 26; see also the Monitor, October 25).

Such reports need to be viewed with caution, given that the Russian special services have–since the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington–gone out of their way to try and link the Chechen rebels with Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network, occasionally in ways that are less than credible (see the Monitor, September 18). Some charges made by the Russian authorities, however, have more credibility. Earlier this month, for example, President Vladimir Putin’s aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky detailed Khattab’s alleged connections to international Islamist terrorism, charging that he is “a representative of the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood”–one of the oldest radical international Islamist movements–and Arab fighters “close” to bin Laden have been in Khattab’s inner circle. Khattab did not answer these charges specifically. He did, however, say that he knew Osama bin Laden–whom he praised as “a good mujahid and scholar” and a “very decent” person–from Afghanistan, where both fought on the side of the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet occupation. Khattab said he had not seen or spoken with the Saudi fugitive for eight years (see the Monitor, October 11).

Earlier this week, the state’s Itar-Tass news agency, citing “well-informed sources,” reported that Khattab had gathered a group of fifty Chechen “volunteers” to fight in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban against the forces of the American-led antiterrorist coalition. The volunteers were allegedly set to travel first to Azerbaijan, where they would be met by Yandarbiev and Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev, head of Nokhchi-Latta-Islam, a movement in Chechnya made up of representatives of different “teips” (clans), after which they would go to Turkey and eventually on to Afghanistan. The NTV.ru website quoted Nukhaev as calling the report “absurd” from a logistical point of view–given that, for one thing, Turkey is a NATO member–and that it was in part an attempt by the Russian authorities to put the Azerbaijani government in a difficult spot (NTV.ru, October 24). Khattab himself dismissed the report, telling the Qatar-based Kavkaz.org website that the Taliban was “handling things without us” and that he was “completely tired of the chattering Russians” (Kavkaz.org, October 25).

Kavkaz.org, which is more or less a mouthpiece for Khattab and Basaev, strongly supports Afghanistan’s Taliban, which is the only government to have recognized Chechnya’s self-declared independence. Today, for example, the website posted an item that all but exulted in comments made earlier this week by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–who Kavkaz.org described being considered “one of the main ideologues of the anti-Islamic war”–that the American-led forces may fail to apprehend bin Laden. The item claimed that bin Laden’s participation in the September 11 attacks has not been proven–a favorite Kavkaz.org theme–and accused Western media, including CNN and the BBC, of having “discredited” themselves as “objective and independent sources of information” by putting out “propaganda” in favor of the war in Afghanistan (Kavkaz.org, October 26). Earlier this week, Kavkaz.org posted an item which, among other things, spoke positively about what it claimed was growing international skepticism toward the military operation in Afghanistan. “[M]any people around the world have started to view the official version of the tragedy in the United States with suspicion and are more and more speaking of a certain conspiracy at the highest levels,” the website stated. It also accused the “leaders of the so-called ‘democratic’ community” who support the operation in Afghanistan of being part of a “demoplutojudeocracy.” To explain this term, Kavkaz.org used a formula: Democracy = Plutocracy = Judeocracy (Kavkaz.org, October 22).