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Context of 'Late 1996: Islamist Militants Establish Training Camps in Chechnya'

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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

Ibn Khattab, the Saudi mujaheddin fighter who recently became a leader in the rebel movement in Chechnya (see February 1995-1996), establishes some militant training camps in Chechnya after the first Chechen war ends in late 1996 (see August 1996). The camps mostly train Chechens and others from nearby regions in the Caucasus Mountains. But a trickle of Arab fighters continues to arrive and join his forces as well. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] Khattab’s main training camp is near the village of Serzhen-Yurt. Arab instructors teach locals how to shoot weapons and lay mines while also teaching the Koran and the fundamentalist Wahhabist theology favored by Khattab. One Chechen will later tell the Washington Post that Islamist militants “went to the market and they paid with dollars. There was no power here; there was disorder everywhere, and their influence was very strong.… The poor Chechen people were already suffering so much and our young guys simply couldn’t think. They were ready to accept any ideas.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Ibn Khattab

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

According to a later US State Department report, in October 1999, representatives of the allied Chechen warlords Shamil Basayev and Ibn Khattab travel to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to meet with Osama bin Laden. Both warlords already have some al-Qaeda ties (see February 1995-1996). Full scale war between Chechen and Russian forces has just resumed (see September 29, 1999). Bin Laden agrees to provide substantial military and financial assistance. He makes arrangements to send several hundred fighters to Chechnya to fight against Russian troops there. Later in 1999, bin Laden sends substantial amounts of money to Basayev and Khattab for training, supplies, and salaries. At the same time, some Chechen fighters attend Afghanistan training camps. Some of them stay and join al-Qaeda’s elite 055 Brigade fighting the Northern Alliance. In October 2001, with the US about to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ibn Khattab will send more fighters to Afghanistan. [US Department of State, 2/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Shamil Basayev, Ibn Khattab, 055 Brigade, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shamil Basayev.Shamil Basayev. [Source: Agence France Presse / Getty Images]Russian government forces kill rebel Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev. The Russians had reportedly been tracking him, and blew up the truck he was traveling in while he was on an operation just outside of Chechnya. His supporters quickly acknowledge his death, but claim he died in an accident. A New York Times article about his death calls him “Russia’s most wanted man” and the “elusive terrorist leader of the most vicious separatist faction in Chechnya.” He is further described as “an airplane hijacker, a hostage taker, a guerrilla commander, and a war-scarred spokesman for terror who tried to justify mass killings of civilians, even school children, for political ends and revenge.” Basayev was from Chechnya, but he linked up with foreign Islamists such as Ibn Khattab at an early stage in Chechnya’s war against Russia (see February 1995-1996), and he led the Islamist faction of Chechen rebels until his death. Basayev’s death comes just weeks after the killing of Abdul Khalim Saidullayev, the rebel president of Chechnya, dealing the rebel movement a devastating double blow. [New York Times, 7/10/2006; New York Times, 7/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Abdul Khalim Saidullayev, Shamil Basayev

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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