Isa Zainutdinov, a suspect in the bombing of an apartment building in Buinaksk last September 4, which killed sixty-two people, has reportedly confessed to carrying out the crime. According to Russian law enforcement officials, Zainutdinov said under questioning that he and his co-conspirators carried out the bombing on the orders of Khattab, the Chechen field commander of Arab extraction. The terrorists learned their skills at a training camp under Khattab’s control. The Dagestani authorities reported all of those arrested in connection with the Buinaksk explosion are so-called Wahhabis and practically all of them fought under the command of Khattab and his fellow field commander Shamil Basaev during the incursion they led into Dagestan last August (Russian agencies, May 29).
Wahhabism is a version of Sunni Islam, which stresses the propagation of the observance of strict monotheism, a refusal to worship saints or holy places and cleansing Islam of its more modern and contemporary layers. Wahhabism is close to the official religion of Saudi Arabia. However on the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Wahhabism can be characterized as a motley collection of fundamentalist groups which are sharply critical of local versions of Islam, which are often mixed with both local customs and Soviet practices. The first “Wahhabis” appeared in Dagestan at the beginning of the 1990s. At the beginning, they represented only 2 percent of the population, however today, as Eduard Urazaev, press secretary of Dagestan’s State Council, told the Monitor, they already represent 10 percent of the population. Wahhabism has done best within two ethnic groups based in Dagestan’s mountains–the Avars and the Dargins. A majority of local Wahhabis call for the creation of an Islamic state in Dagestan and its separation from Russia. It is worth noting that Khattab’s wife is a native of Karamakhi–one of the centers of Wahhabism in Dagestan. About two years ago, Mullah Bagauddin, one of the ideologists of Dagestani Wahhabism, told the Monitor’s correspondent that Dagestan could remain part of Russia only if Russia became an Islamic state. Bagauddin is today hiding in Chechnya. The bulk of the fighters whom Khattab and Basaev led in the attack from Chechnya into Dagestan last August were Dagestani Wahhabis, who had received military training at camps in Chechnya.
Today the Kremlin is worried that the Chechen rebel fighters will be able to break into Dagestani territory and join up with the local Wahhabis to start a guerrilla war in Dagestan. According to Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Russian armed forces’ general staff, the main forces of Basaev and Khattab are concentrated in the Nozhai-Yurt region of Chechnya near the border with Dagestan, while the Dagestani Wahhabis have a strong position in the adjacent Dagestani region of Botlikhsk (Russian agencies, May 29). On May 29, Chechen fighters in the Nozhai-Yurt region attacked a Russian military reconnaissance group, and both sides lost men in the ensuing battle. Meanwhile, four Russian paratroopers were killed when they hit a landmine in central Chechnya. At the same time, the Russian military command denied Chechen reports that some forty Russian servicemen were killed in a battle near the village of Chernoreche, which is located in a suburb of the Chechen capital. According to local inhabitants, battles take place almost every day in the Chernoreche area (Radio Liberty, May 29).
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