Chechen jihadis.

The characteristics of the Second Chechen War were the important role played by radical Islamists and their use of terrorism.  Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khatab were important figures.

Shamil Salmanovich Basayev (1965–2006) was born in a Chechen mountain village.  He did a couple of years in the Red Army, but not in a combat unit.[1]  Then he worked on a collective farm; he tried to get into law school, but didn’t make the cut; he studied engineering, but flunked out; and then he sold computers in Moscow.  Basically, a slacker who ought to be recognizable to many young Americans: slept all day, played video games all night.  Then, in November 1991, Chechnya declared its independence from Russia.  Basayev and some friends hijacked a Soviet airliner and took it to Turkey to publicize the cause of Chechen freedom.  Then he became a soldier of Islam, or at least of the Muslim areas of the old Soviet Union that were trying to break away.  He fought in Nagorno-Karabakh (1992), Abkhazia (1992-1993), and then in the First Chechen War (December 1994-August 1996).  The war went badly for the Chechens until Basayev seized a hospital in southern Russia and the 1600 people inside it.  He wanted the Russians to stop attacking Chechnya.  He didn’t exactly get what he wanted, but he did force a pause in Russian attacks, and he did get away, and he did get a lot of publicity.  Which was nice.

Basayev found a kindred spirit in Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem (1969–2002), more commonly known as Emir Khatab, or Ibn al-Katab.  Khatab was born in Saudi Arabia.  He left at age 18 to join the last stages of the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.  He was in Afghanistan from 1989 to 1994, although with interruptions.  Here he met Osama bin Laden.  Along the way he lost a chunk of his right hand while handling an IED.[2]  In 1992, he may have fought in Nagorno-Karabakh.  He fought in the Tajikistan civil war from 1993 to 1995.  In 1995 and 1996 he fought in the First Chechen War.

After the end of the war, Basayev tried politics, but his career fizzled out, while Khattab became a warlord in the ruined Chechen republic.  Peace did not agree with them so well as did war.  In 1998, Basayev and Khatab organized the Islamic International Brigade.  Most of its members were from neighboring Dagestan, with a smattering of Arabs and Turks and a few Chechens.  In August 1999 Basayev and Khatab triggered the Second Chechen War when they raided into Dagestan.  Then the jihadis organized a number of terrorist bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities.  When the Russians counter-attacked into Chechnya in 1999, Basayev and Khatab led the guerrilla war fought in the Chechen mountains.

Eventually, the Russkies got fed up with trying to kill Khattab by ordinary means.  Khattab was a good son: he regularly corresponded with his mother in Saudi Arabia, using a courier named Ibragim Alauri.  The Russian intelligence service tracked down Alauri and “turned him.”  In March 2002, Alauri arrived in Chechnya with letters to Khattab.  He met with Russian intelligence officers.  They sprayed the letters from his mother with sarin, a fast-acting poison, then sent Alauri on his way.  Khatab died on the night of 19-20 March 2002 from touching the letters.[3]

When the war went badly for the Chechens, Basayev organized acts of large-scale terrorism: the seizure of a Moscow theater, and “Black Widow” suicide bombings by women in burkas from 2002 through 2004.  In July 2006 he was killed in the explosion of a land-mine.

[1] The Red Army didn’t train Chechens to be fighters.  1.) Why bother?  It’s in their blood.  2.) You’re just storing up trouble for later.

[2] A “Khatabka” is a Russian and Chechen slang term for a home-made hand grenade.

[3] Alauri was killed in April 2002 in Baku by agents sent by Shamil Basayev.

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