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Al Qaeda-backed Chechen separatists behind Moscow terror

Last updated on: March 30, 2010 12:17 IST

Al Qeada-backed Chechen separatists may have been behind the Moscow suicide blasts. Security expert B Raman examines the surge in terror in Central Asia.  

The CNN has reported that a website associated with Chechen separatists has claimed responsibility for the two explosions in two Moscow subway stations on Monday, which resulted in the death of at least 37 persons.

While the authenticity of the claim is yet to be established, jihadi terrorists from Chechnya trained in the past by Al Qaeda  and  the Afghan Taliban had till 2004 exhibited a capability for mass casualty suicide or suicidal terrorism in the heart of Moscow.

A month before the Madrid blasts of March 2004 by pro-Al Qaeda elements, pro-Al Qaeda Chechens had killed 39 persons by planting an improvised explosive device in a Moscow metro station. This was followed by a suspected suicide bombing in the Moscow metro in August 2004 in which 10 persons died. In November 2004, a Chechen-trained jihadi group from the Caucasian region of Russia planted an IED in an inter-city train from Moscow to St.Petersburg killing 29 persons.

While the Russian authorities had claimed to have neutralised the jihadi groups operating  in Chechnya and restored normalcy there, Chechens of Afghanistan vintage operating from sanctuaries in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan had maintained their capability for acts of terrorism.

Many of them work as instructors in training camps of different  pro-Al Qaeda organisations in the North Waziristan area, including the training camps of the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,the so-called 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the handling officers of David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and the islamic Jihad Union also known as the Islamic Jihad Group, a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Since the Uighur uprising in the Xinjiang province of China in July,2009, there were reports from reliable sources that Al Qaeda and its associates have been targeting Russia and the Central Asian Republics as a reprisal for their agreement to allow logistic supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan to move through their territory.

The Chechens -- the pro-Al Qaeda jihadis as well as separatists not associated with Al Qaeda -- have also been wanting to prove wrong Russian security agencies, which have been claiming to have crushed the Chechen separatists and restored normalcy in Chechnya. But reports from the Caucasian region of Russia have been indicating  that jihadi terrorists continue to be active in the Ingushetia region. In February, at least 20 insurgents were reportedly killed in an operation by Russian security forces in Ingushetia.

Many Chechens work as security guards and manual labour in the commercial establishments of Moscow. Often, pro-Al Qaeda Chechens use them for creating sleeper cells in Moscow.

If it is established that pro-Al Qaeda Chechens have staged a comeback by organising the two suicide explosions, it should be a matter of concern not only to the Russian security agencies, but also to those of the CARs and the Xinjiang province of China. The likelihood of threats to the security of the  forthcoming Shanghai Expo from pro-Al Qaeda Chechens or Uighurs or Uzbecks would increase. This has to be factored into in the security drill not only at the expo, but also in Xinjiang.

B Raman