Russia Ties School Siege to Chechens; Identifies Six Terrorists Behind Beslan Attack

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 10, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Russia Ties School Siege to Chechens; Identifies Six Terrorists Behind Beslan Attack


Byline: Sharon Behn, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Russia yesterday identified six of the terrorists behind the Beslan school massacres as Chechen separatists, linking the bloodbath to a decades-long rebellion that has attracted money and support from a global network of Islamic extremists.

"The connections are well known and very clear," said Michael Radu, senior fellow and terrorism expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

"Chechnya is right there with Afghanistan and the West Bank and Gaza as a clear-cut case of Islam being under attack and having to defend itself," he said.

Moscow vowed to deal with terrorists, including pre-emptive strikes on terrorist bases outside Russia.Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused the West of bearing "direct responsibility for the tragedy of the Chechen people when they give political asylum to terrorists."

Without naming either the United States or Britain by name, he left no doubt he was referring to recent decisions by both to give asylum to prominent Chechen separatists.

Chechnya has fought a long and bloody guerrilla war for independence from Russia, and the Beslan killings appear to have elements of both international terrorism and an extremist wing of the Chechen independence struggle.

"I think there is clearly a dovetailing of interest," said Sarah E. Mendelson, an expert on the region for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Russian security officials told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that six of the terrorists who seized the school in southern Russia were from Chechnya.

Moscow has repeatedly linked Chechen insurgents with international terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda.

At least 326 persons, half of them children, died in the Beslan attack, which ended in a terrifying hail of bombs and gunfire.

"There is a very dangerous Wahhabi element in southern Russia, period. That's something to be concerned about," said Miss Mendelson. She was referring to a militant Muslim sect that controls religious life in Saudi Arabia and provides the theology behind Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Miss Mendelson said there was little hard evidence of the links between al Qaeda and the Chechens.

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