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Al Qaeda’s Chechen Hand in Moscow Blasts?

“Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have been closely monitoring the activities of various pro-Al Qaeda groups operating in Xinjiang, the Central Asian Republics (CARs), Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia. Recent reports indicate that the Uzbecks, Chechens and Uighurs trained in Al Qaeda training camps in North Waziristan have started moving towards their home bases in order to step up their jihad against the Governments of these countries and to disrupt the movement of logistic supplies to the US and other NATO troops through their territory. It is the assessment of well-informed Pakistani Police sources in the Pashtun areas that during the last two weeks there has been a decrease in the activities of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan because trained TTP elements have been moving into Afghanistan to help the Afghan Taliban in its operations against the US-UK offensive in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. The TTP cadres are going in replacement of the Uighurs, Uzbeks and Chechens who are being moved towards Central Asia, Xinjiang and Chechnya. This also suits the Pakistan Army since it relieves pressure on it. An upsurge in acts of terrorism in this region is apprehended. Russia cannot afford to be complacent over the situation in Chechnya and Dagestan. As the fighting in Afghanistan escalates, reprisal attacks by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organisations in areas such as South-East, South and Central Asia and in the Muslim majority regions of Russia is a possibility to be reckoned with. ”

—- Extract from my article of August 4,2009, titled ” Pro-Al Qaeda Elements Regrouping For Fresh Strikes ” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers34/paper3329.html

—————————————————– The CNN TV channel of the US has reported that a Web site associated with Chechen separatists has claimed responsibility for the two explosions in two subway stations of Central Moscow on the morning of March 29,2010, which resulted in the death of at least 37 persons. While the authenticity of the claim is yet to be established, jihadi terrorists from Chechnya trained in the past by Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban had till 2004 exhibited a capability for mass casualty suicide or suicidal terrorism in the heart of Moscow.

2. A month before the Madrid blasts of March 2004 by pro-Al Qaeda elements, pro-Al Qaeda Chechens had killed 39 persons by planting an improvised explosive device (IED) in a Moscow Metro station . This was followed by a suspected suicide bombing in the Moscow Metro in August 2004 in which 10 persons died. In November 2004, a Chechen-trained jihadi group from the Caucasian region of Russia planted an IED in an inter-city train from Moscow to St.Petersburg killing 29 persons.

3. While the Russian authorities had claimed to have neutralised the jihadi groups operating in Chechnya and restored normalcy there, Chechens of Afghanistan vintage operating from sanctuaries in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan had maintained their capability for acts of terrorism.Many of them work as instructors in the training camps of different pro-Al Qaeda organisations in the North Waziristan area, including in the training camps of the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,the so-called 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the handling officers of David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), and the islamic Jihad Union (IJU) also known as the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

4.Since the Uighur uprising in the Xinjiang province of China in July,2009, there were reports from reliable sources that Al Qaeda and its associates have been targeting Russia and the Central Asian Republics as a reprisal for their agreement to allow logistic supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan to move through their territory.

5. The Chechens—- the pro-Al Qaeda jihadis as well as separatists not associated with Al Qaeda– have also been wanting to prove wrong Russian security agencies, which have been claiming to have crushed the Chechen separatists and restored normalcy in Chechnya. But reports from the Caucasian region of Russia have been indicating that jihadi terrorists continue to be active in the Ingushetia region. In February, at least 20 insurgents were reportedly killed in an operation by Russian security forces in Ingushetia.

6. Many Chechens work as security guards and manual labour in the commercial establishments of Moscow. Often, pro-Al Qaeda Chechens use them for creating sleeper cells in Moscow.

7. If it is established that pro-Al Qaeda Chechens have staged a come-back by organising the two suicide explosions of March 29,2010, in the Moscow Metro, it should be a matter of concern not only to the Russian security agencies, but also to those of the CARs and the Xinjiang province of China. Likelihood of threats to the security of the forthcoming Shanghai Expo from pro-Al Qaeda Chechens or Uighurs or Uzbecks would increase. This has to be factored into in the security drill not only at the Expo, but also in Xinjiang.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

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