The Times (London)
April 1, 2004, Thursday
Chechen leader threatens to kill Russians abroad
by Jeremy Page in Moscow
Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel leader, has threatened to attack
Russians overseas and to use chemical weapons to avenge the killing
of a former Chechen president in Qatar.
In a message of defiance Mr Basayev, one of Russia’s most-wanted
terrorists, said: “We have the ability to kill Russians in virtually
every country, but we have not moved our operations outside Russia’s
borders yet. Today it is the event in Qatar that will determine for
us our future actions. What Russians can do, we can, too.”
Mr Basayev has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks,
including the Dubrovka theatre siege in 2002, which left 129 hostages
dead, and the suicide bombing on the Moscow Metro in February that
killed 40 people.
His threat, published on the Chechen rebel website kavkazcenter.com,
will alarm hundreds of thousands of Russians living overseas and
raise fears that Chechen rebels possess, or are seeking, chemical
It also raises questions about the effectiveness of President Putin’s
hardline stance on Chechnya, which has helped him to win two
elections but which critics say is fuelling attacks on Russian
“The Russian leadership constantly reiterates that it is not fighting
Chechen separatists but international terrorists, and this has
finally become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Andrei Piontkovsky, the
independent political analyst, wrote in an editorial. “Thanks to the
methods with which we have waged this war, we have turned practically
the whole population of Chechnya into enemies.”
Mr Basayev’s statement echoed a pledge from Khaled Mashaal, the new
Hamas leader, that Israel would suffer an “earthquake” of revenge for
assassinating his predecessor Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Mr Basayev said: “We will, bomb, blow up, poison, stage gas
explosions and fires whenever possible on everything else on the
territory of Russia.”
His martyrs’ brigade would not use biological or nuclear materials
and would not target mosques, synagogues, nursery schools, orphanages
or psychiatric institutions, he said. But he added: “Combat chemical
agents, toxins and different poisons are being used against us.
Therefore we reserve the right to use chemical and toxic substances
and the same poisons against Russia.”
He offered to suspend attacks against civilians if Russian forces in
Chechnya stopped abusing local people. Human rights groups accuse
Russian and pro Moscow Chechen forces of illegally detaining,
torturing and killing hundreds of people there.
There was no official reaction from the Kremlin, but a Kremlin
official told The Times that the threat was not new. “We’ve heard
this many times,” he said. “They may take some action. They need an
escalation because the conflict is dying down.
But there would be a strong reaction against the Chechen diaspora in
the country where it took place.”
Mr Putin has repeatedly ruled out negotiating with rebel leaders and
vowed to exterminate them. He is keen to show that a peace plan
launched last year has brought peace and stability to the region
after a decade of conflict. However, Russian forces and the new
pro-Moscow Chechen administration have failed to find Mr Basayev and
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, the former Chechen President, was killed in
February when an explosion blew apart his vehicle as he was being
driven away from a mosque in Doha, the Qatari capital.
Mr Basayev has blamed the killing on Russian security services.
Russian viewed Yandarbiyev as a fundraiser and recruiter for Chechen
rebels and had been seeking his extradition from Qatar.
Qatar has detained two Russian agents and evicted a Russian diplomat
whom it suspects of involvement in the assassination.
Sources have told The Times that the two agents have confessed to
killing Yandarbiyev for Russian Intelligence and of bringing
explosives to Qatar in the diplomatic bag. Moscow insists that they
are innocent and should be freed.
CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUS
* War in Chechnya began in the early 19th century, when Russian
armies entered the Caucasus, an area previously under Ottoman rule.
Unlike the predominantly Christian populations of Georgia and
Armenia, who saw Russian rule as a protection from Turkish
persecution, the Chechens viewed Orthodox Russia as a threat. The
Chechens never accepted the Russians, leading to a 40-year guerrilla
* The leader of the Chechen resistance was Imam Shamil, who was
captured in 1859. Half a million Russian troops were eventually
deployed to the conflict
* The Chechen Autonomous Region was created in 1922, becoming part of
the Chechen-Ingush republic in 1936
* Stalin accused the Chechens of collaboration and ordered their mass
deportation in 1944
* As the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the Chechen-dominated
parliament declared the region’s independence. Russian troops entered
Chechnya in the winter of 1994 to crush the independence movement and
up to 100,000 people died in the next 20 months
* Russian troops withdrew in 1996, leaving the republic in effect
independent but lawless. Troops returned three years later -on the
orders of President Putin – after a series of attacks by Chechen
rebels in Russia