Hostage-taking is a thriving business concern in Chechnya. More than 150 army personnel alone have been abducted and many more civilians, civil servants, police officers and others. Lawless Chechnya is once again irresistibly drawing international terrorists and mercenaries looking for the main chance.
Chechen insurgents have switched outside alliances in a tidal change with effect on the entire North Caucasus. According to our counter-terror sources, they have drawn away from their Saudi connections and revived old ties in Western Europe, especially Britain. Saudi Wahhabis have therefore taken to operating in the region from independent bases instead of in partnership with the Chechens, while Chechen insurgents are now getting most of their regular funding through the several thousand Chechens granted asylum in the UK, members of the British radical Muslim community and assorted British and other non-Russian political sympathizers.
Six mosques in England are known to raise regular contributions of up to £200,000 per month for the Chechen cause. The last news conference given by Aslan Maskhadov‘s London spokesman, former deputy prime minister Akhmad Zakayev, was financed by the English actress and left-wing activist Vanessa Redgrave. All fundraising in the UK was organized by Abu Hamza, suspected by Moscow of being a former MI6 informer, fundraiser for the Afghan mujaheddin in the war against the Russians, and good friend of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. Since he has been jailed and awaits extradition to the United States, his work is done by his agents and followers. Chechen Muslim guerrillas can usually count also on a visiting Gulf emir tossing a million dollars or two into the hat.
Thus, whereas in the 1994 and 1999 wars, Chechen independence was the overriding battle cry and the republic the main battleground, today the separatists boast an affinity to the international jihad and identify their war as “part of the global struggle”. They actively advertise themselves as “units” and “brigades” of certain international networks, like Abu Al, or Al Qaeda.
The Russian FBS intelligence service and Ministry of International Affairs have also shifted their anti-separatist tactics in the last eighteen months to two years. Both have practically withdrawn from contact with the Chechen Diaspora, and refrain from using collaborators and penetration agents or persecuting exiled rebels.
Moscow theater siege still unsolved
As a result of this switch, Moscow failed to pick up the formation of powerful terrorist underground networks in the capital and in many other Russian cities. Because, the FSB refuses to admit it is operating in the dark and to draw the right conclusions, it has not to this day cracked the mystery of the October 2002 Moscow theater siege. Russian counterintelligence agencies were ordered to shift the focus of their searches and interrogations away from suspects and instead short cut the inquiry by seeking out contacts with insurgent leaders in Chechnya. This ploy failed and left the probe groping blindly for answers to key questions:
Identities of the masterminds who selected the target, orchestrated the attack and set up surveillance.
Location of the place where the attack was prepared and from which the assailants were dispatched.
The form of transport used to deliver the strike teams, explosives and weapons to the target site.
The whereabouts of the training facility for the women suicide killers, which has probably been expanded since then into a regular training complex.
Putin is now stuck with the consequences of the two years he spent from 2001 to 2002 in a short-term effort to put a quiet lid on the Chechnya conflict without arousing the ire of public opinion in the West. He cut down then on military and policing operations, regardless of tactical considerations. Instead, he allowed a fresh local leadership to be groomed and readied for field work. Chechnya did indeed quiet down for a while, but this apparently peaceful period was well exploited for setting up terrorist strikes on a hitherto unprecedented in scale, such as the Moscow theater siege and the Beslan school hostage atrocity.
These terrorist outrages are most certainly not the last.
Through them, the perpetrators’ masters attained high international visibility.
And Beslan made enough of a splash to draw hitchhikers with a broad agenda:
First, North Ossetia president Alexander Dzasokhov and Ingush ex-president Aslan Aushev called in by the Kremlin as go-betweens with the hostage-takers did their best to exploit it as a back door to introduce Maskhadov into the negotiating process. Maskadov would have then taken advantage of the opportunity to slap down tough terms for the hostages’ freedom, even though he did not control them. He planned to demand the internationalization of the Chechen conflict by bringing international peacemakers into Chechnya, a de facto opening for the deployment of NATO troops in Russian territory and a multinational force for the North Caucasus.
Another of his demands was for international control over the nuclear installations located on Russian soil.
Maskhadov was almost certain to demand the cancellation of election results and a new election for which members of “all layers of a society”, meaning terrorists would be eligible to run. The Maskhadov-Basayev underground would thus be legalized.
Second, the Kremlin was expected to turn those terms down flat. After the children were killed by the hostage-takers, Putin would be charged with recklessly trading on their lives. He would be judged by common consent unfit to govern the country.
These demands are more than likely to recur again and again in future terrorist operations. Unless Putin is able to put in place a working system of counter-terrorist measures in time, the next terrorist strikes may even eclipse the horrors of the Beslan tragedy. Two terror fronts have now opened up – the Chechen and the Saudi-Wahhabi-al Qaedi cells present in Chechnya and around the North Caucasus. The two are likely to try and outdo each other in atrocities.