From the Times Online, :
A RUTHLESS Islamic militant from Saudi Arabia who has been accused of financing some of Russia’s most deadly terrorist acts has emerged as joint commander of the Chechen rebels after the killing last week of Aslan Maskhadov, former president of the breakaway republic.
Abu Havs, 40, a Wahhabi extremist, is said to have become one of Russia’s two most wanted men, along with Shamil Basayev, the rebel leader who claimed responsibility for the Beslan school siege in September.
It is Abu Havs, according to military intelligence sources in Moscow and Chechnya – and not Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, a little-known cleric named as Maskhadov’s official interim successor – who now wields real power.
“Sadulayev is a nobody,” a Russian intelligence source said. “Now that we have killed Maskhadov, the two men pulling the strings in Chechnya are Basayev and Abu Havs. They control the militants and the money – and they are the ones planning any future terrorist attacks.”
Maskhadov, a decorated former Soviet army general who became president in free elections in 1997, had always publicly condemned terrorism. Although his power waned in his latter years, he mistrusted the Arab extremists who have moved to Chechnya and acted as a bulwark against their growing influence in the region.
His death has deprived the rebel movement of its last moderate counter-balance to the Islamic fundamentalists, further complicating Russian attempts to end the terrorist attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives.
Maskhadov, a moderate? Well, Stephen Schwartz says it, so it must be true, I guess. Here is my response.
The FSB security service (successor to the KGB) believes that Abu Havs helped to organise and finance the Beslan siege, in which 331 hostages died. It claims that he is the main channel for funds from the Arab world for the Chechen rebels and it suspects him of links with Al-Qaeda. Similar claims have been made by the United States.
Best known as Amzhet, his nom de guerre, Abu Havs was born in Jordan but is believed to have Saudi citizenship. He arrived in Chechnya in 1995 during the first war that Russia waged there, becoming an instructor at a terrorist training camp. He is said to have been so paranoid about being poisoned by rivals that at first he travelled with his own personal cook. But he soon settled in the region and married a Chechen woman. At the height of the second war, which began in 1999, he briefly sought refuge in the Pankisi gorge in neighbouring Georgia where he set up training camps, opened a hospital for militants and built a mosque.
The Russians claim that he quickly became one of the main conduits for weapons procurement. Rabat Kamal Burahlja, a militant and explosives expert from Algeria who was recently captured by the Russians, reportedly told the FSB that Abu Havs helped to organise several attacks, including a raid last year in neighbouring Ingushetia in which Chechen rebels killed about 90 members of the pro-Moscow security forces.
The FSB said the explosives used in the Beslan school siege were prepared by one of Abu Havs’s closest lieutenants.
The Kremlin has hailed the killing of Maskhadov – who had a Â£5m bounty on his head – as a personal victory for President Vladimir Putin, who owes much of his popularity to his hardline stance in Chechnya. Putin had resisted western pressure to talk to Maskhadov by branding him a terrorist….
Basayev himself seems to have accepted that branding with alacrity.
Patrick Robertson, a British political consultant who in 1999 brought Maskhadov to London to meet Foreign Office officials, described his death as a “tragic loss” for the Chechen people. “To describe him as a terrorist is slander,” he said. “He was willing to talk to Moscow to find a solution and the Russians’ greatest mistake was not to support him. His death can only make things worse.”…
Make things worse? How could they be worse?