Originally Published 2004-03-16 11:57:17 Published on Mar 16, 2004
Terrorism in Chechnya has three major trajectories ' first, the terrorist campaign of the Chechens and others who are a part of the international terrorist network and who derive legitimacy from Islamic fundamentalism and whose fight is not just against the alleged oppression of the Russian state, but also to establish Islamic rule in Chechnya and to facilitate its integration with the pan-Islamic world.
Different Trajectories of 'Terror' An assessment of the terrorism matrix in Chechnya
Terrorism in Chechnya has three major trajectories - first, the terrorist campaign of the Chechens and others who are a part of the international terrorist network and who derive legitimacy from Islamic fundamentalism and whose fight is not just against the alleged oppression of the Russian state, but also to establish Islamic rule in Chechnya and to facilitate its integration with the pan-Islamic world.

Second, the parallel guerrilla warfare going on in Chechnya, by the local Chechen Muslims, also supported by outside forces, who engage in violent armed clashes with the Russian troops.

And third and last, the terror allegedly perpetrated by the Russian troops on the local people, which has caused large-scale exodus from Chechnya into neighbouring areas which have become the haven of terrorist activities.

Political conditions do not seem to be moving towards any resolution of the conflict and pan-Islamic jehadi terrorism is making steady inroads into the Chechen land as is evident from the increasing number of patterned suicide bombings. From India's point of view, Chechnya is of great concern to us not only because Russia is our steadfast ally and terrorism features importantly in our bilateral concerns, but also because many terrorist organizations based in our neighbouring Pakistan and waging a proxy war in Kashmir, have international linkages with Chechen terrorists. Chechen mercenaries have been a part of the Taliban and terrorist groups in Iraq and other states.

The yearly terror index

The year 2003 began on a negative note when the 55 states, who are the members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), could not arrive at a consensus on the renewal of the mandate for the OSCE Monitoring Group in Chechnya. The mandate expired on December 31, 2002. This group had been closely monitoring the conflict situation in Chechnya since 1995. The issue of human rights violations dominated the debate over terrorism and the Chechen crisis. International media as well as other human rights groups were very critical of the Russian leadership which was seen as being reluctant to address human rights cases. But it certainly was the large-scale terrorism through suicide bombings which brought Chechnya to the forefront of the debate on terrorism and counter-terrorism.

A suicide truck bombing at Groznyy blew up the headquarters of the pro- Moscow local Government on Dec.27, 2002. 83 people were killed. This tragedy marked the end of the previous year on a depressing note even as the people were still trying to get over the trauma of the hostage crisis in October, 2002 when 800 people had been taken hostage by Chechen terrorists in a Moscow theater and 129 had died in the rescue operations.

Terrorist activities peaked in the summer of 2003 with the assassination of Sergei Yushenkov, one of Russia's leading liberal members of the Duma, on April 17. He was an ardent supporter of human rights and a long-time critic of President Vladimir Putin and his Chechnya policy. He was shot dead outside his apartment in Moscow. While the Government wasted no time in blaming the Chechen rebels, some alleged that his killing might have been ordered by the security services, who were accused of being behind a series of apartment explosions in 1999.

At least 60 people were killed and around 200 injured in a car bomb explosion in a Government compound in northern Chechnya on May 12. The town of Znamenskoye, where the blast occurred, is the home to many Chechen refugees and has also been the headquarters for the international human rights monitors. The Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov was blamed for the attack, but he denied his involvement.

Another attack was reported on May 14. A female suicide bomber struck in the village of Iliskhan-Yurt, in south-eastern Chechnya, killing 10 persons and injuring many others.

Nineteen people died on June 5 when a female suicide bomber set off an explosion beside a bus carrying Russian Air Force personnel near Chechnya. The next day, 11 people died in an explosion at an apartment building at Groznyy.

July 5 brought violence back into Moscow when two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in an open-air rock concert. A Chechen passport of one of the attackers, 20- year- old Zulikhan Elikhadzhieva, left little doubt that it was the work of Chechen separatists. The incident occurred at the entrance of the Tushino airfield. Around 15 people died in the attack, including the bombers, and 60 were injured. What was of marked importance was the back-up reportedly provided by another suicide bomber in case the first attack failed to get the desired number of victims. A back-up arrangement seems to have become a trend in international jehadi terrorism as has been the case in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even in the assassination attempts on General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in December last year.

A bomb placed outside a restaurant in Moscow exploded while it was being defused and it killed a security officer on July 10. A woman, who had reportedly brought the bomb in a bag to the restaurant and threatened to blow up the building, was detained.

Police discovered a car with 120 kgs of explosives in its trunk parked near an entrance to a Government complex in the north-west of Groznyy on the same day and prevented another attack which could have been carried out only with the help of a suicide bomber.

Five Russian soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near the Ingush village of Galashkii near the border with Chechnya on July 30.

A truck bomb explosion rocked a Russian military hospital in the southern republic of North Ossetia on August 2, killing more than 50 people and injuring around 200. A male suicide bomber had rammed the truck with explosives into the hospital complex much like the attacks in Turkey and the assassination attempts on General Musharraf in Pakistan in November and December respectively last year. Once again, there was strong suspicion of international linkages. Three suspects were detained for this gruesome act of terror.

On August 22, nine Russian soldiers were killed and two injured by a bomb that exploded near their vehicle near Groznyy. The bomb was detonated in a car through a remote control as soon as a column of military vehicles drove by.

Islamic militants struck once again when they assassinated a local Government Minister, Magomedsalikh Gusaev, in Russia's southern republic of Dagestan on August 27. A bomb planted on the road blew up his car when he was being driven from his home to his office. He had survived a previous assassination attempt in the past and had been on the target list of Islamic militants for his role in fending off the incursions in Dagestan aimed at the creation of an Islamic state in 1999.

Another terrorist incident took place on September 15 when a truck full of explosives blew up outside the regional headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in the southern republic of Ingushetia said to be the home of several Chechen refugees. The attack was carried out by suicide bombers. Three civilians along with the suicide bombers were killed and around 25 injured. Police suspected that a third person was probably involved in monitoring the attacks from a safe distance.

December was also a deadly month as 40 people were killed and dozens injured when a blast ripped through a passenger train in Russia's southern Stavropol Krai, not far away from Chechnya, on Dec. 5. Investigations reportedly revealed that three women and a man were involved in the attack. Most probably, the man was the suicide bomber this time aided by the women as his body remains had hand grenades attached to them. The remnants of the explosives also reportedly gave rise to suspicion that the blast was probably the work of an Islamic terrorist popularly called a 'sehit' or a martyr. Russian security forces also claimed that they prevented another bomb attack in Ingushetia, south of Chechnya, the same night when they discovered two cars with explosives and weapons in the town of Karabulak. Two men and two women were arrested in this connection.

Chechen Guerrillas

Apart from these bombings of specific targets, terror tactics were also used by the Chechen guerrillas who killed many Russian soldiers through armed artillery exchanges, surprise attacks and explosions. In early June, around 10 Russian troops were killed when a military jeep and some military outposts were attacked. In July, six soldiers died in clashes with the rebels in south-western Chechnya. Six separatists were also killed in the armed exchanges. On August 10, five more soldiers died in clashes with separatists near Meskety in Chechnya. On August 14, five soldiers were killed when their vehicle was blown up by a remote controlled mine in the Vedeno district in southern Chechnya. The rebels opened fire after the attack, killing several soldiers. Nine more soldiers were killed on Oct. 12 in artillery exchanges with Chechen guerrillas, in the Shatoi district of Chechnya. Nine soldiers were killed on November 2 by attacks and mines laid by Chechen separatists.

It is thus evident that the Chechen guerrillas continued to launch small attacks on the Russian troops who, in spite of outnumbering them, have not been able to control the insurgency in Chechnya.

The issue of Human rights

Alleged atrocities on the Chechen civilians by the Russian troops were also reported during the year and the international community took exception to it. In January, Russia's military courts convicted 46 federal soldiers of human rights abuses in Chechnya. Ever since Russia renewed its military operations there in 1999, Russian troops have been repeatedly accused of rapes, murders and tortures of civilians. A number of Chechens, to escape the atrocities by the Russian troops as also by the terrorists, have fled to the nearby republics of Ingushetia and Georgia which in turn have become the hub of Islamic terrorism. On January 17, 2003, it was decided that the European Court of Human Rights would hear six cases filed by Chechens accusing the Russian military of abuses in Chechnya. Towards the end of January, it was also decided that a fact-finding delegation from the Council of Europe would travel to Chechnya to monitor the human rights situation there. The Human Rights Watch of the United States and Russia's Memorial, another human rights organization, have been very critical of the Russian state. In July, a Russian Colonel was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering a Chechen woman and sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison. It is alleged that these are not isolated instances and that there are numerous such examples of the Russian troops brutalizing the civilians in Chechnya. In fact, in March, 2003, it was decided in a declaration passed by the Council of Europe that a separate war crimes tribunal should be set up for Chechnya.

The hostage crisis of October 2002 also brought to the forefront the failure of the Russian state to deal with the Chechen problem. The number of Chechen refugees fleeing to nearby areas and especially to Ingushetia has increased manifold after the hostage crisis. Some of these refugees have reportedly been trained as mercenaries in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and are associated with different terrorist groups operating in the region and beyond.

Terrorist groups and their international linkages

Chechen terrorists are now a part of different international terrorist groups and work in coordination with them. Interestingly, the Chechens seem to be closer to the terrorist outfits operating in India's Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) than those in Central Asia or the Middle East. Amongst the terrorist groups which have a link with the Chechens, the following have been identified:

  • Pakistan: The Harqat-ul-Mujahiddin (HUM) has trained Chechen mercenaries and provides ideological support to the Chechens. The Hijbul Mujahiddin, the Al Badr, and the Sipah- e- Sahaba provide ideological and even arms support to the Chechen terrorists. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) has trained Chechen Mujahiddins and has also influenced the north Caucasian Naqshbandiyan order with its Deobandi Wahabi Sunni fundamentalism.
  • Georgia: The Georgian Zviadists are the extremist supporters of former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and revolted against his successor Edward Shevardnadze and also tried to assassinate him in 1995 and 1998. Some fled to Russia later and were involved in incidents of bombings and kidnappings. They operate in Georgia especially in Mugrelia and also in Russia and are being supported by the Chechens. Chechen mercenaries were also allegedly involved in assassination attempts on Shevardnadze in 1998.
  • Central Asian Republics: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan-- Several Afghans, Pakistanis and Arabs along with Chechens, under the leadership of Shamil Basayev and another military commander in the Caucasus of Jordanian origin, Khattab (since killed by the Russians), had stormed into Dagestan in August 1999 to liberate it. Later, many of them joined the IMU and captured many villages in the Caucasus.
  • Links with AL Qaeda and the International Islamic Front: Dzokhar Dudayev, who gave the first call for jihad in Chechnya, and his military commanders Basayev and Khattab, all had very close ideological, technological and financial relationship with Osama bin Laden. Russian intelligence also reportedly claims that Osama had given around 25 Million dollars to the Chechen Mujahiddins. Besides, Al Qaeda's 055 brigade is supposed to have had several Chechens and Central Asians.

Meanwhile, in an important development in February last year, Russia's Supreme Court ruled that 15 Islamic organizations, including two tied with Chechen rebel leaders, are terrorist groups. The Chechnya- based Unified Forces of Caucasian Mujahedin led by Shamil Basayev and the Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan led by Movladi Udugov are included in the list. This ruling makes these groups illegal on the Russian territory and gives the authorities a legal basis to block their finances and the movements of their members.

In August, the US. State Department designated the Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev as a terrorist threat to the US. His earlier groups like the Riyadus Salikhin Reconnaissance and the Sabotage Battalion of the Chechen Martyrs had been designated as terrorist organizations in 2002 itself.

Many Pakistani madrasas, which have links with the Taliban and also the sectarian terrorist groups in Pakistan, have also served as training grounds for the Chechens. In fact, many sectarian terrorists have been supporting the insurgency in Chechnya. The madrasa Akora Khattak in Pakistan near the Afghan border has been an important training camp for the Chechens. A large number of Chechens have moved into Iraq in recent times through Syria to join the anti-American offensive. Georgia's Pankisi Gorg e has been notorious as a location for training camps for the Chechens. Weapons caches reportedly found at Pankisi as well as at Bachi Yurt village of Chechnya's Kurchalois district suggest that weapons' trafficking has been thriving in the region. The popular route for arms smuggling could be from Pakistan to Afghanistan, then to Tajikistan and across the Caspian Sea to Chechnya. The role of the international terrorist network is especially evident considering the large number of suicide attacks in the Chechen conflict which were earlier unknown.

Russia has also raised concerns over the growing informal Lithuanian support for the Chechen separatists. According to Russian allegations, a Chechen website from Lithuania hails the actions of the separatists. There is support for the Chechens from among a section of the Lithuanians and a more detailed study is needed to ascertain to what extent the Lithuanian territory is being used as training camps for Chechens and whether Lithuania is providing any other logistical or financial support to the terrorists.

The Chechen diaspora in Jordan is also playing a very substantial role in providing financial and other logistical support to the terrorists in Chechnya.

The present political situation

Russia's major role in the oil politics in the region and its being the second largest oil producing country in the world have perhaps prevented the West and other Central Asian Islamic countries from providing any substantial logistical, financial and even ideological support to the Chechen separatists. There has been a relative silence from the Muslim countries over Russia's actions in Chechnya. And most of the human rights concerns with regard to Chechnya have been raised in the Western world. Russia still being a major supplier of arms to the Middle Eastern States has also perhaps prevented the Chechens from getting support from the other Islamic countries.

Meanwhile, Russia's constitutional referendum in Chechnya on March 23,2003, in which the Chechens approved of staying within the Russian federation in exchange for greater autonomy, also did not halt the spate of suicide bombings. Even the Presidential elections in Chechnya in early October in which the Kremlin backed candidate Akhmed Hadji Kadyrov won an overwhelming victory was criticized by many human rights groups and international organizations. They said that it was not the right time to hold free and fair elections in the war-torn republic. Separatist violence continued even during and after the elections.

India's concerns

The nexus between the Pakistan-based jehadi groups active in Kashmir and the POK and the Chechen terrorists and mercenaries is of particular concern to India. Not only are there regional linkages, but Chechen mercenaries are engaged in large numbers in Afghanistan.

President Putin and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee signed a nine-point anti-terrorism plan for cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism in November 2003. Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Russia twice last year in May- June and in November. India and Russia steadfastly support each other in their respective campaigns against terrorism.


An analysis of the events in Chechnya in 2003 underlines the failure of the Russian state to move towards any effective conflict resolution mode in the region. What started off as an insurgency and a civil war in a republic that wanted to secede from the Russian federation is now a full-blown conflict in which terrorism features in an increasingly menacing measure. The increase in suicide bombings and vehicular suicide attacks leaves little doubt about the close nexus between the Chechens and international pan-Islamic jehadi terrorist groups, especially Al Qaeda and the IIF. What is of particular significance is the increasing number of Chechen women who are blowing themselves up in suicide attacks. What motivates them to do so needs an in-depth analysis.

What cannot be denied, however, is that Russia's handling of the Chechen crisis has been responsible for the insurgency and people's war against the state turning into a full blown terrorism campaign and for Chechnya joining the ranks of pan-Islamic jehadi terrorism. What was earlier a demand for a separate state is now a call for a jihad against the Russians and for an Islamic State based on pan-Islamic jehadi nationalism. The different trajectories of terror in Chechnya belie hopes of an early settlement of the problem. (15-3-04)

(The writer is a post-graduate of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and, presently, a member of the staff of the International Terrorism Watch Project of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). She is based in New Delhi. E-mail address: [email protected] )

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.

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