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Profile: Shamil Basayev
Shamil Basayev was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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]
Attack on Dagestan [Source: BBC]A group of Chechen rebels led by Shamil Basayev and Ibn Khattab cross into neighboring Russian region of Dagestan and seize two villages near the border with Chechnya. According to most Russian and international news accounts, the militia has about 2,000 fighters. They are Islamic militants aiming to unify Chechnya and Dagestan into a single Islamic state under Sharia (strict Islamic law). The Russian government reacts immediately by sending a large number of troops to drive them back into Chechnya. [BBC, 8/8/1999; New York Times, 8/8/1999; BBC, 8/9/1999; New York Times, 8/13/1999; BBC, 8/16/1999] Basayev and Khattab preceded the attack by building fortified bases in Dagestan. Russian intelligence officer Anton Surikov will later say that Russian officials had indications that something was being planned at the Dagestan border. “It was not being hidden. There was a certain panic here.” A senior Russian official will also say, “The dates [of the assault] were definitely known several days before.” But “the area is hilly and difficult to guard. There are hundreds of different paths, plenty of canyons, mountain paths. There is no border, actually.… That is why it is not possible just to line up soldiers to guard the border.” [Washington Post, 3/10/2000]
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]
The second Chechen war has been ongoing since late September 1999 (see September 29, 1999). But around 2005, the intensity of the fighting lessens as Russia tightens its control over Chechnya. Tony Wood, a journalist who has written extensively about Chechnya, later estimates that in 2005 there are about 60,000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya, but this drops down to 8,000 in 2007. By 2008, independent analysts will say there are no more than 2,000 separatists still fighting. An average of two or three Russian soldiers are killed every week. One important reason for the decline in violence is that many rebel leaders have been killed. Most notably, Shamil Basayev, long-time leader of the Islamist faction of fighters, is killed in 2006 (see July 10, 2006). [Reuters, 8/4/2008] In 2004, Basayev reportedly led a number of attacks, culminating in September in the seizing of a public school in Beslan, a town in the neighboring region of North Ossetia. The Russian government soon attacked those holding the school, and over 300 people were killed, most of them children. The New York Times will later report, [T]he school siege became a turning point on many levels. Public sympathy for Chechen separatism, never broad in Russia and limited in the West, began to dry up.” [New York Times, 7/11/2006]
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]
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