Skip to comments.West now thinks Russia was right about terror link
Posted on 04/27/2003 8:00:54 AM PDT by miltonim
West now thinks Russia was right about terror link
Money from al-Qaida, others goes to Chechnya
KARAMAKHI, Russia -Russian officials complained for years, to an often-skeptical West, that their war against rebels in Chechnya was a battle against terrorism.
Some terrorism experts now say the West might have erred by dismissing Russia's claims for so long.
"Chechnya and the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia partially replaced Afghanistan as a center for terrorist training," said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert and the author of "Inside al-Qaida."
"The initial wave of terrorists who are now coming to Europe trained in Chechnya or Algeria," he said.
U.S. officials say they are fighting the problem now.
They say the United States has helped cut off outside support of the Chechen conflict by routing the Taliban in Afghanistan, helping drive Islamic fighters from the nearby Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan and forcing Georgia to police the Pankisi Gorge on the Chechen border.
After denying for years that the valley was a rebel sanctuary, Georgian officials now say that until last summer, it was home to 800 rebels, including 80 to 100 Arabs receiving funds from al-Qaida.
Col. Ilya Shabalkin, a spokesman for Russian forces in Chechnya, said Arabs still make up about one-fifth of Chechnya's roughly 1,000 active armed militants.
"The Arabs are the specialists, they are the experts in mines and communications," Shabalkin said. He identified their leader as Abu Walid, a Saudi who showed up in Chechnya in the late 1990s.
Russian intelligence officials say he is just one of hundreds of Arab radicals whose fervor and funds fueled fighting that has cost the lives of more than 4,500 Russian soldiers over the past 3 1/2 years. In addition, the fighting has killed thousands of rebels, in addition to many civilians.
Until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the Russian argument got little hearing in the West, where officials suspected Russia was trying to deflect criticism of human rights abuses by Russian troops.
But in recent months, U.S. officials increasingly are accepting Russia's view.
"Obviously, there is still a strong internal impulse behind the Chechen insurgency," a senior U.S. diplomat said. "But it has become commingled with the broader international agenda of the Arab fighters."
In the Russian government's view, Chechnya's war is nothing more or less than a terrorist enterprise, paid by a combination of al-Qaida money and fraudulent charitable donations. The Russians say some 40 organizations masquerading as charities in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere are supporting the rebels.
The flow of funds has diminished since U.S. and Russian intelligence began jointly clamping down on terrorist financing after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Even so, the Russians say, $500,000 to $1 million a month still reaches Chechnya, delivered in small sums by couriers who travel Georgia's rugged mountain paths.
One source is a Saudi charity, al Haramain, according to Russia's Federal Security Service.
In an internal memo provided by the agency, the FSB accused the charity of wiring $1 million to Chechen rebels in 1999 and of arranging to buy 500 heavy weapons for them from Taliban units.
The memo quotes what it calls messages exchanged between Arab commanders in Chechnya and al Haramain's director in Saudi Arabia.
Russia forced al Haramain to close its offices in Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan in 2001, but its workers dispersed to similar groups that continue to work freely in Azerbaijan, said Sergei Ignatchenko, an FSB spokesman.
A year ago, the United States and Saudi Arabia closed al Haramain branches in Somalia and Bosnia. U.S. officials said those offices used charitable donations to finance terrorist activities.
Al Haramain says it distributed blankets, clothing and food in Chechnya but stopped its work there 14 months ago.
"We do not have any relationship with any terrorist activities," said Shaykh Aqeel Aqeel, the charity's director. "We work under the supervision of the Saudi government."
So, Russians all unhappy cos they have bandits and terrorists next door?