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Context of 'August 1996: First Chechen War Ends; Chechen Rebels Are Victorious'

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Chechen rebel leader Ibn KhattabChechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab [Source: Associated Press]Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab are, as a CIA officer puts it, “intricately tied together” in a number of ways. Their relationship apparently begins in the mid-1980s, when Ibn Khattab goes to fight in Afghanistan and reportedly meets bin Laden there. It ends in March 2002 with Khattab’s death (see March 19, 2002). [BBC, 4/26/2002; Independent, 5/1/2002; Washington Post, 4/26/2003; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
bullet They share fundraising and recruiting networks. For example, a Florida cell of radical Sunnis that is monitored by the FBI starting in 1993 is involved with both organizations (see (October 1993-November 2001)). Radical London imam Abu Qatada raises money for jihad in Chechnya (see 1995-February 2001 and February 2001) and is a key figure in al-Qaeda-related terrorism who is in communication with al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida. [BBC, 3/23/2004; Nasiri, 2006, pp. 273] The Finsbury Park mosque of fellow London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is used as a conduit for funds for both jihad in Chechnya and bin Laden’s Darunta camp in Afghanistan (see March 1999 and March 2000-February 2001);
bullet Bin Laden sends hundreds of fighters to help the Chechen cause, and this is publicly revealed no later than August 2000 (see May 2000);
bullet The two leaders debate strategy; [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] and
bullet Ibn Khattab establishes camps for trainees sent to him by bin Laden, and the US is aware of this no later than October 1998 (see October 16, 1998).
Despite bin Laden’s contribution to the Chechen effort, he does not have control of operations there. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] Zacarias Moussaoui will later be linked to Khattab (see August 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ibn Khattab, Osama bin Laden, Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ayman al-Zawahiri.Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Source: Interpol]In 1996 it will be reported that the Egyptian government has been investigating Ayman al-Zawahiri and has determined he has been living in Sofia, Bulgaria, since September 1994 under an alias. Al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, is considered one of Egypt’s top enemies. The Egyptians pass on details of al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts to the Bulgarian government, but Bulgaria has no extradition treaty with Egypt and he is not believed to have broken any Bulgarian laws. Al-Zawahiri is living there mainly to help manage the mujaheddin effort in nearby Bosnia. Prior to that, it is believed he mostly lived in Switzerland for about a year. [BBC, 2/29/1996; Intelligence Newsletter, 3/21/1996] A Wall Street Journal article will later claim that al-Zawahiri was in charge of al-Qaeda’s Balkans operations, running training camps, money-laundering, and drug running networks in the region. Supposedly there was an “elaborate command-and-control center” in Sofia, Bulgaria. [Wall Street Journal (Europe), 1/11/2001] His brother Mohammed al-Zawahiri also helps manage operations in the region, mostly from a base in Albania (see 1993). With the war in Bosnia over, Ayman al-Zawahiri will attempt to enter Chechnya in late 1996, only to be arrested and held by the Russians (see December 1, 1996-June 1997).

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Chechen rebel looks at the government palace in Grozny, Chechnya, in January 1995.A Chechen rebel looks at the government palace in Grozny, Chechnya, in January 1995. [Source: Mikhail Evstafiev]In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dzhokhar Dudayev won an election in Chechnya, which is a region within Russia and not a republic like Ukraine or Kazakhstan. Nonetheless, Dudayev proclaimed Chechnya independent of Russia. The next year, Chechyna adopted a constitution defining it as an independent, secular state. But Russia did not recognize Chechnya’s independence. In November 1994, Russia attempted to stage a coup in Chechnya, but this effort failed. The next month, on December 11, Russian troops invade Chechnya. This starts the first Chechen war. Up to 100,000 people are killed in the 20-month war that follows. The war will end in August 1996 (see August 1996). [BBC, 3/16/2000; BBC, 3/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Dzhokhar Dudayev

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shamil Basayev (left) and Ibn Khattab.Shamil Basayev (left) and Ibn Khattab. [Source: Associated Press]A Saudi named Ibn Khattab becomes the central point for a foothold gained by radical Islamists in the conflict in Chechnya. Ibn Khattab had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s while still in his teens, and also with Arab units in Bosnia in the early 1990s. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] In addition, he had spent some time in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and met Osama bin Laden, whom he will later call “a good man.” [US Department of State, 2/28/2003] Continuing to follow radical Islamist causes, Khattab led an Arab unit in the civil war in Tajikistan in the early 1990s. In February 1995, he travels with seven other veteran mujaheddin fighters to Chechnya, which had been invaded by Russia two months earlier. At this time, the number of Islamist fighters is quite small, less than 100. But Khattab takes command of this group and the group makes a reputation as fierce fighters. Khattab also befriends Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who later declares him his brother. In March 1994, Basayev had attended a training camp in Afghanistan, then come back later in the year, bringing more Chechen fighters to train as well. [US Department of State, 2/28/2003] Khattab extensively videotapes the activities of his small fighting unit, making numerous videotapes and CDs. This gives them an influence far outweighing their numbers, and the video footage is especially effective in raising money for the Chechen cause from rich donors in the Middle East. While Khattab’s military influence is negligible within the larger effort of the first Chechen war, Khattab’s acceptance into the rebel command structure and his alliance with Basayev will allow him to have a larger political and societal influence when the war ends in late 1996. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006]

Entity Tags: Shamil Basayev, Osama bin Laden, Ibn Khattab

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Movladi Udugov.Movladi Udugov. [Source: Public domain]According to Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russian intelligence, “In 1996, one of the ideologists of Wahhabism, Movladi Udugov stated that an air attack on the Kremlin was possible and even then we treated that statement seriously.” Udugov is considered the chief public spokesperson for the Chechen rebels. He threatens that the rebels would hijack a civilian airplane and then have a suicide pilot fly it into the Kremlin to protest Russian actions in Chechnya. Fighting between Russia and the rebels is particularly intense in 1996, which is the end of the first Chechen war from 1994 to 1996 (see December 11, 1994 and August 1996). [United Press International, 9/15/2001] The Chechen rebels and al-Qaeda are loosely linked at the time, especially through Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see 1986-March 19, 2002).

Entity Tags: Nikolai Patrushev, Movladi Udugov

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In August 1996, fighting between Russian forces and Chechen separatists increases as Chechen rebels launch a successful attack on Grozny, which is by far the largest town in Chechnya. Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev had been killed in a Russian missile attack in April 1996, after which he was succeeded by Zemlikhan Yandarbiyev. Shortly after the attack on Grozny, Russian and Chechen leaders agree to a ceasefire. A further agreement on Russian troop withdrawals will be signed in November. In January 1997, Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in Chechnya, and Russia recognizes his government. A formal peace treaty will be signed that May. However, the issue of independence for Chechnya will remain unresolved. [BBC, 3/12/2008] Islamist influence in the first Chechen war is minimal, and the number of foreign militants fighting in the war is small. Dudayev is said to be afraid of accepting money from terrorist sources out of fear this would demonize the rebel movement. But after Dudayev’s death and the end of the war, the Islamists will grow in power in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 4/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Dzhokhar Dudayev, Aslan Maskhadov

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The picture of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the fake Sudanese passport he used to enter Russia in 1996.The picture of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the fake Sudanese passport he used to enter Russia in 1996. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and effective number two leader of al-Qaeda, travels to Chechnya with two associates. His associates are Ahmad Salama Mabruk, head of Islamic Jihad’s cell in Azerbaijan, and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, a well-traveled militant. Chechnya was fighting to break free from Russian rule and achieved a cease-fire and de facto independence earlier in the year (see August 1996). Al-Zawahiri hopes to establish new connections there. However, on December 1, 1996, he and his associates are arrested by Russian authorities as they try to cross into Chechnya. Al-Zawahiri is carrying four passports, none showing his real identity. The Russians confiscate al-Zawahiri’s laptop and send it to Moscow for analysis, but apparently they never translate the Arabic documents on it that could reveal who he really is. Though some Russian investigators suspect al-Zawahiri is a “big fish,” they cannot prove it. He and his two associates are released after six months. [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250] Later in December 1996, Canadian intelligence learns that Mabruk at least is being held. They know his real identity, but apparently do not share this information with Russia (see December 13, 1996-June 1997). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “This fiasco had a profound consequence. With even more defectors from [Islamic Jihad during al-Zawahiri’s unexplained absence] and no real source of income, Zawahiri had no choice but to join bin Laden” in Afghanistan. Prior to this arrest, al-Zawahiri had been traveling all over the world and earlier in 1996 he apparently lived in Switzerland and Sarajevo, Bosnia. But afterwards he remains in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden until the 9/11 attacks. As a result, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda will grow even closer until they completely merge a few months before 9/11 (see June 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wright, Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Islamic Jihad, Ahmad Salama Mabruk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On December 13, 1996, Mahmoud Jaballah, an Islamic Jihad member living in Canada, is told that Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, has been “hospitalized.” Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996, and it intercepts this call as well. This is actually a reference to the fact that Mabruk has been imprisoned in Russia. Mabruk has actually been arrested along with top Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri near Chechnya earlier in the month, but they are both using aliases and it appears the Russian authorities have no idea who they really are or that they have any militant ties (see December 1, 1996-June 1997). However, over the next months, Canadian intelligence continues to monitor Jaballah as he collects $15,000, raised through his network of Canadian contacts, to help free Mabruk. Apparently this is a bribe. He coordinates these efforts with Thirwat Salah Shehata, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is in Azerbaijan close to where Mabruk and al-Zawahiri have been arrested. The Russian government frees Mabruk and al-Zawahiri in June 1997. Since the Canadian government were aware of Mabruk’s real identity and that Jaballah was trying to free him, it is unknown why Canada did not alert Russia that they were holding an important terrorist leader, which might have alerted Russia to al-Zawahiri’s real identity as well. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Islamic Jihad, Mahmoud Jaballah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1996, rebel forces in Chechnya outlasted the Russian army and were able to effectively achieve a de facto independence from Russia (see August 1996). Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in early 1997. But in-fighting amongst the victorious Chechen forces begins, and Maskhadov struggles for control against a number of field commanders and local chieftains. In particular, one powerful Chechen warlord named Shamil Basayev quits Maskhadov’s government and joins up with Ibn Khattab, a Saudi who only recently moved to Chechnya and built up his own forces (see February 1995-1996). [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] Khattab is an Islamist who leads many foreigners fighting in Chechnya as a jihad cause. Basayev, while Chechen, trained in a militant training camp in Pakistan around 1990 and is sympathetic to Khattab’s religious cause. [BBC, 3/20/2000] The Washington Post will later comment: “Islamic extremists figured hardly at all in Chechnya’s first war for independence from Russia, from 1994 to 1996. That was clearly a nationalist movement. But when that war ended with no clear winner, Chechnya lay in ruins, presenting fertile ground for Islamic militants.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2001] Russia tries to bolster the Maskhadov government by sending it arms and funds and even training its troops. Several assassination attempts are made against him and he is saved twice by an armored limousine Russia provides him with. Kidnappings for ransom become the order of the day. Between 1997 and 1999, more than 1,000 people are kidnapped in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] In June 1998, amid growing lawlessness, Maskhadov imposes a state of emergency. But this does not restore order. Radical Islamists led by Basayev and Khattab are growing more popular. In January 1999, Maskhadov gives in to pressure and declares that Sharia (strict Islamic law) will be phased in over three years. But this is not good enough for the Islamists, who announce the formation of a rival body to govern Chechnya according to Sharia immediately, and call on Maskhadov to relinquish the presidency. [BBC, 3/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Shamil Basayev, Ibn Khattab, Aslan Maskhadov

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Since Chechnya achieved de facto independence from Russia in late 1996, its stability has been slowly unraveling as an Islamist faction led by Shamil Baseyev and Ibn Khattab is undermining the Chechen government led by President Aslan Maskhadov (see 1997-Early 1999). On March 5, 1999, General Gennady Shpigun, the Russian Interior Ministry representative in Chechnya, is kidnapped by masked gunmen just as he is about to board a plane to fly to Moscow from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The Russian government is outraged, especially since Maskhadov had guaranteed Shpigun’s safety. Sergei Stepashin, who is Russian interior minister at the time of the kidnapping, will later say that the Russian government begins planning a military assault on Chechnya shortly after. Stephashin wants Russia to conquer the flat northern half of Chechnya and then launch strikes into the mountainous southern half. However, Vladimir Putin, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s intelligence agency, advocates invading all of Chechnya. By July, Stepashin has been promoted to Russian prime minister, and he says that in a Kremlin Security Council meeting that month: “we all came to the conclusion that there was a huge hole on our border which won’t be closed if we don’t [advance] to the Terek [a river dividing the flat northern part of Chechnya from the mountainous southern part]. It was a purely military decision.” Stepashin is dismissed as prime minister in early August and replaced by Putin (see August 9, 1999). Chechen raids into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan in August (see August 7-8, 1999) and a series of mysterious bombings in Moscow in September (see September 13, 1999, September 9, 1999, and September 22-24, 1999) provide the excuses for Russia to attack Chechnya later in September (see September 29, 1999). But Stepashin will later say: “We were planning to reach the Terek River in August or September. So this was going to happen, even if there had been no explosions in Moscow. I was working actively on tightening borders with Chechnya, preparing for an active offensive.” [Washington Post, 3/10/2000]

Entity Tags: Gennady Shpigun, Sergei Stepashin, Aslan Maskhadov, Vladimir Putin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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