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Complete 911 Timeline

Islamist Militancy in Chechnya and Russia

Project: Complete 911 Timeline
Open-Content project managed by matt, Derek, Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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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; De Waal 5/1/2002; LaFraniere 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; (Tumelty 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. (Tumelty 1/26/2006) Zacarias Moussaoui will later be linked to Khattab (see August 22, 2001).

A map of where BIF operates. Taken from the BIF website, the date of the map is unknown.A map of where BIF operates. Taken from the BIF website, the date of the map is unknown. [Source: BIF] (click image to enlarge)In 1987, Saudi millionaire Adel Batterjee founds the Islamic Benevolence Committee, a charity front supporting the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. In 1998, bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa founds the Benevolence International Corporation export-import company in the Philippines to support militant groups there. In 1992, the two groups merge and create a new Saudi charity called the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). BIF funds charity projects, but its 1999 mission statement says its purpose is to make “Islam supreme on this earth,” and it funds radical militants as well. In 1992, it moves its headquarters to Florida in the US. Then, in 1993, it moves its headquarters again to Chicago. Battargee is replaced as head of the organization by Enaam Arnaout, but Battargee maintains a behind the scenes role. Arnaout fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in fact in 1988 the Arab News published a picture of Arnaout and bin Laden together at a mujaheddin camp in Afghanistan. Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen and one of the founder members of al-Qaeda, is made president of BIF. BIF mostly funds regions where Islamist militants are fighting, especially Bosnia and Chechnya. (Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 45-46) In 1993, bin Laden will privately name BIF as one of al-Qaeda’s three most important charity fronts (see 1993). The US will designate BIF a terrorism financier in 2002 (see March 2002) and will similarly designate Batterjee in 2004 (see December 21, 2004).

A secret weapons pipeline into Bosnia in violation of a UN arms embargo is exposed. Large transport planes have been arriving once a week for four weeks from Sudan to Maribor, Slovenia. The cargo is marked as humanitarian aid but in fact the planes are carrying tons of weapons, mostly from surplus stocks of old Soviet weapons. The planes are run by a company belonging to Victor Bout, a notorious illegal arms dealer who will later work closely with the Taliban in Afghanistan (see October 1996-Late 2001). (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269) Such planes have been bringing weapons through Croatia bound for Muslim Bosnia, but due to deteriorating relations between Croatia and Muslim Bosnia, the Croatian government stops the flights and impounds 120 tons of weapons. At the same time, chartered Russian helicopters fly more weapons directly into Muslim Bosnia. Austrian government agents learn that the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) is financing all of these shipments. They are working with Hasan Cengic, a radical imam who is also a Bosnian government official. The TWRA and Cengic switch to other routes. The next year, the German government will stumbled across an illegal weapons deal being negotiated in Germany by Bosnian Muslims and Turkish arms dealers and arrest around 30. TWRA was the financial broker of the deal. But despite the exposure of TWRA as a charity front, no government takes any action against it and it will continue to be the main vehicle by which Muslim Bosnia gets illegal weapons. (Pomfret 9/22/1996; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269) Bout and Cengic will apparently continue working together. A 2004 Bosnian intelligence report will say that “Victor Bout in collaboration with Hasan Cengic is transporting weapons to Chechnya” via a Bout front company. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269)

Nawaf Alhazmi (left), and Khalid Almihdhar (right).Nawaf Alhazmi (left), and Khalid Almihdhar (right). [Source: FBI]Of all the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have the longest records of involvement with al-Qaeda. CIA Director Tenet calls them al-Qaeda veterans. According to the CIA, Alhazmi first travels to Afghanistan in 1993 as a teenager, then fights in Bosnia with Alhazmi (see 1995). Almihdhar makes his first visit to Afghanistan training camps in 1996, and then fights in Chechnya in 1997. Both swear loyalty to bin Laden around 1998. Alhazmi fights in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance with his brother, Salem Alhazmi. He fights in Chechnya, probably in 1998. (Observer 9/23/2001; ABC News 1/9/2002; US Congress 6/18/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file) He then returns to Saudi Arabia in early 1999 where he shares information about the 1998 US embassy bombings. However it is not clear what information he disclosed to whom or where he obtained this information. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file) It is possible that some or all of this information came from the NSA, which is intercepting some of Alhazmi’s phone calls at this time (see Early 1999).

Kifah Wael Jayyousi.Kifah Wael Jayyousi. [Source: Robert A. Reeder]A Florida cell of Islamic radicals carries out fundraising, training, and recruitment to support the global jihad movement. The group is monitored by the FBI from the early 1990s, but no action is taken against it until after 9/11. The cell’s most prominent members are Adham Amin Hassoun, Mohammed Hesham Youssef, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, Kassem Daher, and Jose Padilla. Adnan Shukrijumah may also be involved (see (Spring 2001)).
bullet Both Hassoun and Jayyousi are associates of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman and the FBI monitors telephone conversations between them and Abdul-Rahman from January 1993 to 1995, at least. After Abdul-Rahman is taken into police custody in July 1993, according to an FBI agent, Jayyousi calls Abdul-Rahman in jail to “update the sheikh with jihad news, many times reading accounts and statements issued directly by terrorist organizations.” (Adams 11/23/2003; Lance 2006, pp. 126-8; Anderson 4/8/2006; Sontag 1/4/2007)
bullet Funds are provided through bank accounts of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), the Canadian Islamic Association, and Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), for which Hassoun files incorporation papers in Florida. The cell pays out thousands of dollars in checks, some of which are marked “Chechnya”, “Kosovo,” or “for tourism”.
bullet They try to talk in code, but the code is unsophisticated; for example “tourism” apparently means “terrorism”. In addition, they are not very careful and in one conversation overheard by the FBI, which records tens of thousands of their conversations from the early 1990s, one plotter asks another if he has enough “soccer equipment” to “launch an attack on the enemy.” In another, the conspirators discuss a $3,500 purchase of “zucchini” in Lebanon.
bullet Cell members are involved in jihad, through funding or direct participation, in Egypt, Somalia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Kosovo, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
bullet They are involved with both bin Laden and Chechen leader Ibn Khattab; for example, in one conversation Youssef tells Hassoun that he would be traveling “there at Osama’s and… Khattab’s company.” (Indictment. United States v. Jose Padilla 11/17/2005 pdf file)
bullet They publish the Islam Report, a radical magazine about jihad. (Anderson 4/8/2006)
It is unclear why the FBI monitors the cell for almost a decade before doing anything. However, some of their activities are focused on Bosnia, where the US is turning a blind eye, or even actively assisting Islamic militants fighting on the Bosnian side (see 1992-1995 and April 27, 1994). The cell is broken up in the months after 9/11, and Hassoun, Jayyousi, and Padilla are sent for trial, which begins in 2007. (Sontag 1/4/2007)

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)

Zacarias Moussoui’s French national identification card.Zacarias Moussoui’s French national identification card. [Source: FBI]French agents believe Zacarias Moussaoui makes a trip to an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1995. After this, he goes to Chechnya and joins Muslims radicals fighting Russian troops there. French intelligence learns of this, though when they learn it is not clear. He then attends the Khaldan al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan around April 1998. French intelligence will apparently learn of this second trip to Afghanistan in 1999 (see 1999). (MSNBC 12/11/2001; Burrell, Gumbel, and Sengupta 12/11/2001; CBS News 5/8/2002) The French additionally come to believe that Moussaoui had been in contact with Farid Melouk, an Algerian suspected of belonging to the GIA, an Algerian militant group. Melouk is arrested in 1998 after a shootout with police in Brussels, Belgium, and later sentenced to nine years of prison. (Borger, Dodd, and Norton-Taylor 9/18/2001)

Tayseer Allouni.Tayseer Allouni. [Source: Public domain / Antonio Casas]Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni makes several trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, taking money with him and giving it to people who are later said to be militants. Allouni, some of whose telephone conversations are recorded by Spanish authorities from the mid-1990s (see 1995 and After), makes numerous trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, carrying no more than $4,000 each time. Allouni’s associates include Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who are linked to 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah (see November 1, 1998-February 2001 and October 9, 1999), as well as Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Barakat Yarkas, who also is in contact with Darkazanli and Zammar (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). (Miles 2005, pp. 306-313) In 2000, Allouni is monitored by the Spanish government as he makes several trips to Afghanistan. His lawyer will later concede that he was given $35,000 by Yarkas, and Allouni will acknowledge that he did carry thousands of dollars from Yarkas to Afghanistan, Turkey, and Chechnya. (Crewdson 10/19/2003) However, Allouni will later say he is not a member of al-Qaeda and was only taking the money to friends and other Syrian exiles. He will later interview Osama bin Laden (see October 20, 2001) and be sentenced to jail for his alleged al-Qaeda membership (see September 26, 2005). (Miles 2005, pp. 306-313)

Said Chedadi.Said Chedadi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Beginning in 1995, Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, Spain, begins traveling frequently to Britain. Yarkas is being constantly monitored by Spanish intelligence (see 1995 and After) and they learn that his cell is raising money for the Islamist militants in Chechnya who are fighting the Russian army there. Yarkas and fellow cell member Said Chedadi solicit funds from Arab business owners in Madrid and then take the cash to radical imam Abu Qatada in London. Abu Qatada is coordinating fundraising efforts, and from June 1996 onwards, he is also working as an informant for British intelligence, although just how long and how closely he works for them is unclear (see June 1996-February 1997). (Irujo 2005, pp. 64-65) According to a later Spanish government indictment, Yarkas makes over 20 trips from Spain to Britain roughly between 1995 and 2000. He mostly meets with Qatada and Abu Walid, who an indictment will later call Abu Qatada’s right-hand man. From 1998 onwards, Spanish militant Jamal Zougam also travels occasionally to London to meet with Qatada. Investigators later suspect he travels with Yarkas on at least one of these trips. (Burrell 11/21/2001; Lazaro 7/8/2005) From 1996 to 1998, an informant named Omar Nasiri informs on Abu Qatada and Walid for British intelligence (see Summer 1996-August 1998). Nasiri sometimes passes phones messages between the both of them and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, and also reveals that Walid has been to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. (Nasiri 2006, pp. 265-282) Waild, a Saudi, apparently will be killed in Chechnya in 2004. (Cobain and O'Murchu 10/3/2006) In February 2001, British police will raid Abu Qatada’s house and find $250,000, including some marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya” (see February 2001). However, he will not be arrested, and it is not clear if he and/or Yarkas continue raising money for Chechnya after the raid. Chedadi will later be sentenced to eight years and Zougam will get life in prison for roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see October 31, 2007). (Agence France-Presse 1/26/2006)

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. (Wines 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. (Tumelty 1/26/2006)

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).

Mohammed Haydar Zammar.Mohammed Haydar Zammar. [Source: Knut Mueller]Turkish intelligence informs Germany’s domestic intelligence service that Mohammed Haydar Zammar is a radical militant who has been traveling to trouble spots around the world. Zammar has already made more than 40 journeys to places like Bosnia and Chechnya, and in 1996 he pledges his allegiance to al-Qaeda during a trip to Afghanistan (see 1991-1996). Turkey explains that Zammar is running a dubious travel agency in Hamburg, organizing flights for radical militants to Afghanistan. As a result, by early 1997, German intelligence will launch Operation Zartheit (Operation Tenderness), an investigation of Islamic militants in the Hamburg area. The Germans will use a full range of intelligence techniques, including wiretaps and informants. (Laabs 8/13/2003; Zeman et al. 11/2004) Operation Zartheit will run for at least three years and connect Zammar to many of the 9/11 plotters (see March 1997-Early 2000).

In 1996, Zacarias Moussaoui begins recruiting other young Muslims to fight for Islamic militant causes in Chechnya and Kosovo. (Cloud 9/24/2001) He recruits for Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). Details on his Kosovo links are still unknown. For most of this time, he is living in London and is often seen at the Finsbury Park mosque run by Abu Hamza al-Masri. For a time, Moussaoui has two French Caucasian roommates, Jerome and David Courtailler. The family of these brothers later believes that Moussaoui recruits them to become radical militants. The brothers will later be arrested for suspected roles in plotting attacks on the US embassy in Paris and NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. (Woodcock 10/1/2001) David Courtailler will later confess that at the Finsbury Park mosque he was given cash, a fake passport, and the number of a contact in Pakistan who would take him to an al-Qaeda camp. (McGrory 1/5/2002) French intelligence later learns that one friend he recruits, Masooud Al-Benin, dies in Chechnya in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Shortly before 9/11, Moussaoui will try to recruit his US roommate at the time, Hussein al-Attas, to fight in Chechnya. Al-Attas will also see Moussaoui frequently looking at websites about the Chechnya conflict. (Casteel 3/22/2006) Moussaoui also goes to Chechnya himself in 1996-1997 (see 1996-Early 1997).

A young Ahmed Alnami in Saudi Arabia.A young Ahmed Alnami in Saudi Arabia. [Source: Boston Globe]At least 11 of the 9/11 hijackers travel or attempt to travel to Chechnya between 1996 and 2000 (see 1999-2000):
bullet Nawaf Alhazmi fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, starting around 1995. (Observer 9/23/2001; ABC News 1/9/2002; US Congress 6/18/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file)
bullet Khalid Almihdhar fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, usually with Nawaf Alhazmi. (US Congress 6/18/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file)
bullet Salem Alhazmi spends time in Chechnya with his brother Nawaf Alhazmi. (ABC News 1/9/2002) He also possibly fights with his brother in Afghanistan. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file)
bullet Ahmed Alhaznawi leaves for Chechnya in 1999 (ABC News 1/9/2002) , and his family loses contact with him in late 2000. (Khashoggi and Al-Nayyef 9/22/2001)
bullet Hamza Alghamdi leaves for Chechnya in early 2000 (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001; Fisk 9/27/2001) or sometime around January 2001. He calls home several times until about June 2001, saying he is in Chechnya. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001)
bullet Mohand Alshehri leaves to fight in Chechnya in early 2000. (Khashoggi and Al-Nayyef 9/22/2001)
bullet Ahmed Alnami leaves home in June 2000, and calls home once in June 2001 from an unnamed location. (Ba-Isa 9/19/2001; Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001)
bullet Fayez Ahmed Banihammad leaves home in July 2000 saying he wants to participate in a holy war or do relief work. (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001; Freedberg 9/27/2001) He calls his parents one time since. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001)
bullet Ahmed Alghamdi leaves his studies to fight in Chechnya in 2000, and is last seen by his family in December 2000. He calls his parents for the last time in July 2001, but does not mention being in the US. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001; Khashoggi 9/20/2001)
bullet Waleed M. Alshehri disappears with Wail Alshehri in December 2000, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001; Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001)
bullet Wail Alshehri, who had psychological problems, went with his brother to Mecca to seek help. Both disappear, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001)
bullet Majed Moqed is last seen by a friend in 2000 in Saudi Arabia, after communicating a “plan to visit the United States to learn English.” (Khashoggi and Al-Nayyef 9/22/2001)
Clearly, there is a pattern: eleven hijackers appear likely to have fought in Chechnya, and two others are known to have gone missing. It is possible that others have similar histories, but this is hard to confirm because “almost nothing [is] known about some.” (MacFarquhar 9/21/2001) Indeed, a colleague later claims that hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh wanted to fight in Chechnya but were told in early 2000 that they were needed elsewhere. (Finn 10/23/2002; Blenkinsop 10/29/2002) Reuters later reports, “Western diplomats play down any Chechen involvement by al-Qaeda.” (Sayenko 10/24/2002)

According to British intelligence, Zacarias Moussaoui fights in Chechnya with Islamist militants there. Using previously gained computer skills, he mostly works as an information specialist. He helps militants forge computer links and post combat pictures on radical Muslim websites. It is not known when British intelligence learns this. (Willing 6/14/2002) Moussaoui also helps recruit militants to go fight in Chechnya (see 1996-2001). He likely assists Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001).

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. (LaFraniere 4/26/2003)

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. (Tumelty 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.” (LaFraniere 9/26/2001)

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. (Higgins and Cullison 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)

In 1997, Canadian intelligence begins investigating Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian exporter originally from Syria. Almalki is working with Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi and Abdelrahman Elzahabi, who are brothers and business partners, to send electronic equipment to Pakistan. Around 1995, the three of them sent large numbers of portable field radios to Pakistan. Apparently, some of them are used by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces (the US will later recover many field radios of the same make and model in Afghanistan after 9/11). However, there is no law against exporting the radios, and investigators are unable to prove any crime was committed. Abdelrahman is working in New York City as a mechanic while Mohamad Kamal is working in Boston as a taxi driver. Three other taxi drivers at the same company are al-Qaeda operatives who knew each other and Mohamad Kamal in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and June 1995-Early 1999), and he will later admit to being a sniper instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. The FBI in Boston begins investigating him in 1999, but fails to prove he is a terrorist. They lose track of him when he leaves the US later that year to fight the Russians in Chechnya. The FBI later discovers him driving trucks in Minnesota and arrests him for lying to federal agents about his knowledge of the field radios (see Mid-August 2001). (Freeze 3/17/2007) It seems probable that the investigation of Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi strengthens suspicions about a Boston al-Qaeda cell. One of his associates at the taxi company, Raed Hijazi, works as an FBI informant starting in 1997 (see Early 1997-Late 1998]), and another, Nabil al-Marabh, is questioned by the FBI in 1999 (see April 1999-August 1999). Almalki is later arrested in Syria while visiting relatives there and severely tortured before eventually being released and returned to Canada (see September 19 or 20, 2003).

A young Zacarias Moussaoui.A young Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: Corbis]Zacarias Moussaoui travels to Baku, Azerbaijan. It is not known why he is there, but Baku is often a staging area for people attempting to go to nearby Chechnya, and there is an important al-Qaeda/Islamic Jihad cell there at the time (see Late August 1998). He meets a CIA informer there, but the informer does not learn Moussaoui’s real name, and does not report on Moussaoui to the CIA until April 2001 (see April 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 201)

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). (Hoffman 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. (Mulvey 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.” (LaFraniere 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. (Hoffman 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)

In 1998, Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s ruling military council, is appointed Benevolence International Foundation’s (BIF) officer in Grozny, Chechnya. BIF is a US-based charity with numerous ties to al-Qaeda that is being investigated by the FBI at this time (see 1998). It will be shut down in late 2001 (see December 14, 2001). From 1995 to 2001, BIF provides money, anti-mine boots, camouflage military uniforms, and other supplies to the Chechen rebels who are fighting the Russian army. BIF is particularly close to Ibn Khattab, the Chechen warlord linked to Osama bin Laden, and BIF is even mentioned on Khattab’s website at the time, as a charity to use to give to the Chechen cause. The BIF office in Baku, Azerbaijan, which serves as support to nearby Chechnya, is manned by a member of a militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan warlord closely linked to al-Qaeda. In 1999, Enaam Arnaout, head of BIF’s US office, tours Chechnya and reports on the roles al-Islam, Khattab, and others are playing there. US intelligence is aware of al-Islam’s al-Qaeda role at this time, and recovered his passport photo in a raid on the house of al-Qaeda leader Wadih El-Hage in Kenya in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). (USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout 10/6/2003 pdf file) El-Hage was monitored talking on the phone to al-Islam in 1996 and 1997. (United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37 5/1/2001) However, either US intelligence failed to notice al-Islam’s link to BIF at the time, or failed to do anything about it. It is not known when he stops working for BIF. He will not be captured until 2002, when US forces help catch him just outside of Chechnya (see Early October 2002).

Aukai Collins, who has one leg, fighting with Muslim militants overseas.Aukai Collins, who has one leg, fighting with Muslim militants overseas. [Source: Publicity photo]In 1996, an American Caucasian Muslim named Aukai Collins, who has been fighting with the mujaheddin in Chechnya, successfully volunteered to become a CIA informant. (Collins 2003, pp. 147-159) At this time, Collins goes to London and meets with Abdul Malik, a politically well connected Islamist. Malik offers to set up a meeting between Collins and bin Laden in Afghanistan. Collins reports the offer to his CIA and FBI handlers. He is willing and even eager to accept the invitation, but his offer to go undercover into bin Laden’s camp, even on his own responsibility and at his own expense, is flatly refused by his handlers. (Collins 2003, pp. 175-176) Collins also claims that he reports to the FBI on hijacker Hani Hanjour for six months this year as part of an assignment monitoring the Islamic and Arab communities in Phoenix between 1996 and 1999 (see 1998) .

The Defense Intelligence Agency acquires a report on the connections between Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab. The report states that Ibn Khattab fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and established training camps in Chechnya at bin Laden’s request. It also says that bin Laden has met with Chechen leaders and agreed to help them with “financial supplies”, and that the Chechen camps will be used to train European militants to conduct kidnappings and terrorist acts against French, Israeli, US, and British citizens. A direct route from Afghanistan to Chechnya has been established through Turkey and Azerbaijan, and is being used for “volunteers”, as well as drug smuggling. (Defense Intelligence Agency 10/16/1998 pdf file) What US intelligence knows about the relationship between Ibn Khattab and bin Laden will play an important role in the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case just before 9/11 (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001).

Ahmed Alghamdi.Ahmed Alghamdi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Under interrogation after 9/11, al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash will indicate that some of the 9/11 hijackers try to get to the conflict in Chechnya from Turkey, but are not able to do so because the Turkey-Georgia border is closed. In Turkey, they stay in guesthouses in places such as Istanbul and Ankara. Turkish intelligence has been aware that militants often transit Turkey for some time, but there are no reports saying that the hijackers are monitored at this time (see 1996). The militants then decide to travel to Afghanistan and perhaps try to enter Chechnya again later. In this context bin Attash mentions the names of Saeed Alghamdi, Satam al Suqami, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alnami, Hamza Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed. Ahmed Alghamdi and Saeed Alghamdi also have documentation suggesting travel to a Russian republic. However, the reliability of evidence obtained during the interrogations of figures like bin Attash is questionable due to the unreliable methods used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 233) Some of the lead hijackers transit Turkey (see Late November-Early December 1999). There are also reports that some of the hijackers tell family and friends in Saudi Arabia that they intend to fight in Chechnya, and it appears that some, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, may actually see combat there (see 1996-December 2000).

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.” (Hoffman 3/10/2000)

Attack on DagestanAttack 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; Gall 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.” (Hoffman 3/10/2000)

Yeltsin and PutinYeltsin and Putin [Source: BBC]Russian President Boris Yeltsin dismisses his prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, and the entire Russian government, naming Vladimir Putin as acting prime minister. Putin is the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the new name of the KGB. (BBC 8/9/1999) For many observers, Stepashin was dismissed because he had been unable to become a politically viable heir to Yeltsin, who must step down in 2001. Putin, who is unknown to the public, seems to have been hand-picked mainly for his loyalty. (Bohlen 8/10/1999) The Russian news service offers this fairly representative analysis: “Only a trusted person from one of the ‘power ministries’ can ensure the safety of Yeltsin’s entourage after his term in office, and the former FSB boss can prove indispensable.” (BBC 8/9/1999)

Yevgeny Primakov.Yevgeny Primakov. [Source: BBC (2000)]Yevgeny Primakov, who was Russian prime minister until he was summarily dismissed by President Boris Yeltsin in May 1999, announces that he will lead Yuri Luzhkov’s Fatherland-All Russia party for the upcoming Duma elections in December. Polls indicate Primakov is the country’s most trusted politician. He has demonstrated his willingness to investigate corruption. The Primakov-Luzhkov alliance threatens the Kremlin’s plans for a political succession that would protect Yeltsin’s entourage after the next presidential elections, scheduled for June 2000. But in an attempt to re-assure the Kremlin, Primakov proposes a new law guaranteeing “full security and a worthy life” to presidents after they leave office. Reports the New York Times: “That last proposal was an obvious olive branch to Mr. Yeltsin and his presidential administration, whose increasingly desperate battle to influence the choice of a presidential successor is widely thought to be driven by concern for their own future.” (Bohlen 8/18/1999)

Following raids by Chechen forces into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan earlier in the month (see August 7-8, 1999), the Russian military pushes the Chechens back into Chechnya. Then, on August 25, Russian planes bomb two villages just inside Chechnya, near the Dagestan border. (CNN 8/26/1999) There is intermittent fighting and bombing for several weeks, and then, around September 22, a more intense Russian bombing campaign begins. This is to soften up the opposition so a full scale invasion can start at the end of September (see September 29, 1999). (CNN 9/29/1999)

In the first instance of what will later become a series of bombings during the month of September 1999, the Manezh, a luxury underground shopping mall in Moscow and within walking distance of the Kremlin, is bombed. Forty people are injured; only one is killed. (BBC 9/1/1999)

Buinaksk BlastBuinaksk Blast [Source:]A powerful bomb hits military housing for Russian soldiers in Buinaksk, Dagestan, killing 64. A car bomb is also discovered near a military hospital and defused. The attack is believed to have been committed by Chechen rebels in retaliation for Russian operations in Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan. (BBC 9/5/1999; Abdulayev 9/5/1999; Gordon 9/6/1999; Warren 9/6/1999)

The Guryanov Street bombing.The Guryanov Street bombing. [Source: NTV/]A powerful explosion levels the central portion of a block-long Moscow apartment building shortly after midnight, killing 94 people. The building is located on Guryanov Street in a working-class suburb, far from the heart of Moscow. Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, who has a degree in chemistry, identifies the probable explosive as hexagen, also called RDX. He says the attack was probably carried out by Chechen terrorists: “Visual signs suggest that it was a terrorist act similar to the one carried out in Buinaksk” (see September 4, 1999). Interfax reports that an anonymous caller declared that the explosion is “our response to air strikes against peaceful villages in Chechnya and Dagestan.” (Wines 9/10/1999; Yablokova, Saradzhyan, and Kor 9/10/1999; BBC 8/10/2000) Another Moscow apartment building is bombed on September 13, killing over 100 (see September 13, 1999). Later in the month, explosives will be found in an apartment building in the nearby city of Ryazan. The Russian government will initially declare it a foiled bombing until the suspects arrested turn out to be FSB agents. The government will then claim it was merely a training exercise (see September 22-24, 1999). This will lead some to suspect that all three apartment bomb incidents this month were false flag attacks by the FSB (see March 6, 2002, December 30, 2003 and January 2004).

The Kashirskoye Street bombing.The Kashirskoye Street bombing. [Source: AP/]A powerful early-morning blast levels an apartment building on Kashirskoye Street, Moscow, killing 118 people. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov blame Chechen terrorists. (Wines 9/13/1999; BBC 9/13/1999) Another Moscow apartment building was bombed on September 9, killing nearly 100 (see September 9, 1999). Later in the month, explosives will be found in an apartment building in the nearby city of Ryazan. The Russian government will initially declare it a foiled bombing until the suspects arrested turn out to be FSB agents. The government will then claim it was merely a training exercise (see September 22-24, 1999). This will lead some to suspect that all three apartment bomb incidents this month were false flag attacks by the FSB (see March 6, 2002, December 30, 2003 and January 2004).

Apartment building in Volgondosk after blastApartment building in Volgondosk after blast [Source: BBC]A huge truck bomb outside an apartment block in Volgodonsk, Southern Russia, shears off the front of the building, killing 17 people. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declares, “We must stamp out this vermin.” Putin has blamed Chechen separatists for previous attacks. (BBC 9/16/1999)

Ryazan bomb detonator.Ryazan bomb detonator. [Source:]On the evening of September 22, 1999, several residents of an apartment block in Ryazan, a city about a hundred miles south of Moscow, observe three strangers at the entrance of their building. The two young men and a woman are carrying large sacks into the basement. The residents notice that the car’s plate has been partially covered with paper, although they can still see a Moscow license plate number underneath. They decide to call the local police. After several bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow earlier in the month (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999), their vigilance is understandable. When the police arrive, around 9:00 p.m., they uncover what appears to be huge bomb: three sacks of sugar filled with a granular powder, connected to a detonator and a timing device set for 5:30 a.m. The bomb squad uses a gas testing device to confirm that it is explosive material: it appears to be hexagen, the military explosive that is believed to have been used to blow up two Moscow blocks. The residents are evacuated. Then the bomb carted away and turned over to the FSB. (In an apparent oversight, the FSB fails to collect the detonator, which is photographed by the local police.) The following morning, September 23, the government announces that a terrorist attack has been averted. They praise the vigilance of the local people and the Ryazan police. Police comb the city and find the suspects’ car. A telephone operator for long-distance calls reports that she overheard a suspicious conversation: the caller said there were too many police to leave town undetected and was told, “Split up and each of you make your own way out.” To the police’s astonishment, the number called belongs to the FSB. Later this day, the massive manhunt succeeds: the suspects are arrested. But the police are again stunned when the suspects present FSB credentials. On Moscow’s orders, they are quietly released. On September 24, the government reverses itself and now says the bomb was a dummy and the whole operation an exercise to test local vigilance. The official announcement is met with disbelief and anger. Ryazan residents, thousands of whom have had to spend the previous night outdoors, are outraged; local authorities protest that they were not informed. However, the suspicion of a government provocation is not widely expressed and press coverage fades after a few days. It is only several months later that an investigation by the independent weekly Novaya Gazeta re-ignites the controversy (see February 20, 2000 and Fall 1999). The government’s explanations will fail to convince skeptics (see March 23, 2000). The Ryazan incident later becomes the main reason for suspecting the government of having orchestrated previous bombings. The controversy is then widely reported in the international press. (BBC 9/24/1999; Saradzhyan 9/24/1999; CNN 9/24/1999; Englund 1/14/2000; Reynolds 1/15/2000; Reynolds 1/18/2000; Womack 1/27/2000; Sweeney 3/12/2000; Matthews and Powell 4/3/2000; Dettmer 4/17/2000; Satter 4/30/2002; Shihab 11/17/2002; Satter 2003; Medetsky 9/24/2004)

By September 29, 1999, Russian ground forces begin invading Chechnya. Chechnya has been a de facto independent country since the end of the first Chechen war in 1996, but violence has been escalating. In early August, some Chechen fighters attacked the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan (see August 7-8, 1999). In late August, the Russian military began bombing parts of Chechnya (see August 25-September 22, 1999), and by late September that turned into a heavy aerial bombardment. (CNN 9/29/1999) By October 5, Russia claims that its forces control about one-third of Chechnya. But this is only the flat terrain north of the capital of Grozny. (CNN 10/5/1999) The battle for Grozny will take months and securing the mountainous terrain in the southern third of Chechnya will take years.

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)

Masooud Al-Benin.Masooud Al-Benin. [Source: Public domain]After the French put Zacarias Moussaoui on a watch list some time in 1999 (see 1999), they continue to discover more of his ties to militant groups. In late 1999, Moussaoui’s mother says a French intelligence officer contacts her and says her son’s name was in the address book of a man named Yannick who had died fighting for the Muslim cause in Bosnia. (Zucchino 12/13/2001) In April 2000, French investigators increase their interest in Moussaoui when they learn his best friend Masooud Al-Benin was killed while fighting in Chechnya. Investigators conclude al-Benin and Moussaoui traveled and fought together in Chechnya. Moussaoui’s mother is contacted by French authorities and asked about her son’s whereabouts and his connections to Al-Benin. (Boulden 12/11/2001) At some time in 2000, French intelligence follows Moussaoui to Pakistan. They believe he goes to see an al-Qaeda leader named Abu Jaffa. (CBS News 5/8/2002) (Abu Jaffa, also known by the names Abu Jafar al-Jaziri and Omar Chaabani, is an Algerian in charge of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. It appears he will be killed in Afghanistan in late 2001.) (Infield, Brown, and Landay 1/9/2002) By 2001, French intelligence will be said to have a “thick file on Moussaoui.” (CBS News 5/8/2002) When Moussaoui is arrested in the US, the French will send this information to Washington at the FBI’s request (see August 22, 2001 and August 30, 2001).

A coalition of pro-government parties unexpectedly wins elections to the Duma, the Russian parliament. The Chechnya War, according to all observers, was the main factor in turning the electorate in the Kremlin’s favor. “The Chechen war—loudly criticized in the West for its brutal bombardments of civilians—has galvanized Russian public opinion and, according to most political experts, turned the national debate away from a search for social stability toward an endorsement for a strong state, headed by a strong leader. That shift in the national mood has been answered by [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin”, says the New York Times. (Bohlen 12/20/1999) In addition, during the campaign, the opposition led by Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister removed from office by President Yeltsin in early 1999, was pummeled by hostile media reports from pro-Kremlin news organizations, in particular Boris Berezovsky’s ORT television network. (Bohlen 12/15/1999)

In a New Year’s Eve televised speech that stuns Russians, President Boris Yeltsin announces his resignation and nominates Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president. Yeltsin, who has spent much of the previous months in hospital for a heart condition and alcoholism, begs the Russian people for their forgiveness for his administration’s failings. He also praises Putin as the best man to replace him: “Why hold on to power for another six months, when the country has a strong person, fit to be president, with whom practically all Russians link their hopes for the future today? Why should I stand in his way? Why wait for another six months?” Putin later promises: “There will be no power vacuum even for a moment.” (BBC 12/31/1999; BBC 12/31/1999; CNN 12/31/1999) The BBC’s correspondent later sums up a widespread belief concerning the change-over: “The theory goes that the Family [Yeltsin’s entourage] decided to push Mr. Yeltsin out of office early, in order to make it easier for their chosen successor, Vladimir Putin to take over. Some even believe the Family deliberately started the war in Chechnya, in order to give Mr. Putin a platform, and a cause which would boost his popularity. In return, Mr. Putin would guarantee that the Family has protection from nosy Swiss and Russian investigators.” (Harding 1/8/2000) In fact, one of Putin’s first acts upon taking over is to sign a decree giving Yeltsin immunity from prosecution. (Bohlen 1/1/2000)

According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. (Doland 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris) 4/17/2007) This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).

According to al-Qaeda military instructor Abu Daoud, Osama bin Laden sends four hundred fighters to Chechnya with explosives and weapons. Western intelligence sources will confirm the movement in August 2000, but they will not be able to say whether the fighters are Arabs or Afghans. Abu Daoud will also tell the Associated Press that hundreds of other fighters went in February 1999 and many returned. (Associated Press 8/30/2000) Two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, reportedly fight in Chechnya (see 1993-1999). Several others plan to do so (see 1996-December 2000), and Ahmed Alghamdi and Saeed Alghamdi have documentation suggesting travel to a Russian Republic. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 233)

Abu Qatada.Abu Qatada. [Source: Reuters]British police raid the house of radical London imam Abu Qatada and find the equivalent of $250,000 in cash under his bed. Abu Qatada claims that the money is for the construction of a new mosque. However, $1,174 is in an envelope marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya.” (BBC 8/11/2005) At the time, Qatada has no money-making job and is living with a wife and four children on government benefits worth $150 a week plus other housing aid. (Cowell 10/26/2002) Spanish intelligence has known for years that al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas has been frequently traveling to London and giving Qatada money for Chechnya that was raised in Spain (see 1995-February 2001). It is not known it the Spanish shared this intelligence with the British. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will later write, “Jihad supporters have since confirmed that Abu Qatada was known throughout Britain as a conduit for funds destined for the Chechen fighters. Some of that money had been raised—directly and indirectly—in British mosques. There were straightforward appeals for the Chechen struggle, and rather more opaque pleas for charitable donations which were then siphoned off to the militants.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 67-8) Abu Qatada has a relationship with British counterintelligence (see June 1996-February 1997 and Early December 2001).

Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, sends a memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh warning that Islamic radicals are planning a “terrorist operation.” The memo states that “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Kahhatb, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Osama bin Laden [have been involved in] serious operational planning… since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late spring 2001.” Watson says the planning was sparked by the renewal of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. “[A]ll the players are heavily intertwined,” the memo notes. Additionally, the memo says that “[m]ultiple sources also suggest that [bin Laden’s] organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.” The memo is also sent to other FBI officials, such as International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) chief Michael Rolince, who will later be involved in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui (see Late August 2001 and (August 30-September 10, 2001)) (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/2001 pdf file) Based on this report, ITOS sends an e-mail (see April 13, 2001) to all field offices, asking agents to help identify information pertaining to the “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” The e-mail does not mention Ibn Khattab. (Sniffen 3/21/2006) These plans may be for the 9/11 attacks—at least some of the alleged hijackers are linked to bin Laden (see January 5-8, 2000), and Zacarias Moussaoui is linked to Ibn Khattab (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Some of the hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000). Officials at FBI headquarters will later refuse a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings saying they believe Ibn Khattab is not closely connected to Osama bin Laden and is not hostile to the US (see August 22, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001).

Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who assisted the FBI with the Moussaoui case.Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who assisted the FBI with the Moussaoui case. [Source: Michel Lipchitz / Associated Press]After arresting Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI’s Minneapolis field office asks French authorities if they have any information on him. The French then provide the US with intelligence indicating that Moussaoui is associated with a radical militant who died fighting for the Chechen rebels in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). The French interviewed one of this militant’s associates who said he had been recruited by Moussaoui to fight in Chechnya and described Moussaoui as “the dangerous one.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 140-1 pdf file) French authorities attempt to gather additional information by talking to Moussaoui’s mother. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s lead investigating magistrate in charge of counterterrorism affairs, also provides information. “Let’s just say that Zacarias Moussaoui was well-known by the French security service…,” Bruguiere later recalls in a 2004 interview with CBC. “When the names come from abroad, we usually have a file, and it was the same with him. He was a well-known personality. He lived in France and then left here to go to England.” Bruguiere will also say that the French provided US authorities with information on Moussaoui’s activities in both France and England (see 1999 and August 21, 2001-September 13, 2001). (McKenna 3/16/2004) Upon reviewing this information, Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters will inform Minneapolis that it is not enough for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, because, even though the French sent information about Moussaoui, Maltbie objects that the Moussaoui the French are talking about may not be the same one Minneapolis has in custody. The result of this is that FBI staff are sent on what Minneapolis agent Harry Samit will later call a “wild goose chase”—they are asked to spend days poring through French phone books to make sure they have the right Moussaoui. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 8/27/2001 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation 8/28/2001 pdf file; Riley 3/21/2006; Serrano 3/21/2006) For a search warrant to be granted there must be probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. Maltbie claims that the Chechen rebels, who have never been treated as a foreign power before for a FISA warrant, cannot be treated as such, because they are not a “recognized” foreign power, only dissidents engaged in a civil war, and are not hostile to the US. In fact, the FBI has already received information indicating a close relationships between Chechen rebels and bin Laden (see, e.g., 1986-March 19, 2002 , August 24, 2001, and (October 1993-November 2001)) and that the two groups are working together on a strike against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Maltbie says that even if the Chechen rebels are a foreign power, then it will take some time to develop this information to the point where a FISA application can be submitted. Previous to this, Maltbie had only once advised a field office it was not going to get a FISA warrant. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 141-4 pdf file) The French provide more information on Moussaoui a few days later (see August 30, 2001).

Ibn Khattab, a Chechen rebel leader with links to al-Qaeda, is assassinated by the Russian government. Other Chechen rebel leaders say that Khattab is killed by a poisoned letter given to him by Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB. The Russians do not present another version of his death. Khattab is unique amongst Chechen leaders because he was actually a Jordanian from a Saudi tribe who moved to Chechnya in 1995 shortly after fighting began there and became one of the top leaders of the Chechen rebellion. He was the main link between the Chechens and Islamist militants like bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002). (BBC 4/26/2002; De Waal 5/1/2002; MSNBC 6/22/2005)

Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s military ruling council, is among 15 Arabs captured in the Pankisi Gorge, a lawless area in the country of Georgia, near Chechnya. Georgian and US special forces work together in a raid that results in the captures. Al-Islam is transferred into US custody. The Pankisi Gorge has long been used as a support area by al-Qaeda and other groups to assist the rebels fighting in Chechnya, which is directly on the other side of the Caucasus mountain range. About 100 al-Qaeda operatives and many more Chechen rebels were said to have been living there unmolested for years, but raids around this time are said to clear out the safe haven. Al-Islam has long been a key member of al-Qaeda, although little known to the public. For instance, he fought against US troops in Somalia in 1993 (see Late 1992-October 1993). (Baker 10/22/2002; Windrem 5/2005) What becomes of him after his capture is also mysterious. As of mid-2008, there have been no reports of what has happened to him since, not even reports by human rights groups alleging that he is being secretly held.

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.” (Chivers 7/11/2006)

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. (Meyers 7/10/2006; Chivers 7/11/2006)

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