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A lengthening trail of terror
By B Raman

Russia and its people have been the victims of four terrorist strikes of the International Islamic Front (IIF) since August 24, resulting in the deaths of about 450 civilians, many of them young children.

During these 10 days, more innocent civilians have been killed in Russia than since the beginning of this year in India's Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) by Pakistani jihadi organizations belonging to the IIF. More civilians have been killed by jihadi terrorists in Russia in 10 days than since the beginning of this year in the rest of the world, minus South Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of these four strikes, three were in Moscow and the fourth, directed at school children, their parents and teachers, took place at Beslan, a small town in North Ossetia. While the Moscow strikes were indiscriminate and did not make any distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims, the Beslan strike would appear to have been directed at non-Muslim children.

The Moscow strikes were directed at means of transport and commuters, while the Beslan strike was intended to use children as hostages in order to achieve certain demands of the terrorists. During the ensuing negotiations between the terrorists and the local authorities to secure the release of the children, things went horribly wrong, resulting in an exchange of fire between the security forces and the terrorists and the alleged use of explosives and mines by the terrorists, resulting in the death of 322 civilians, plus 20 terrorists. Young children constituted a half of the civilians killed.

Of the three incidents in Moscow, two involved women suicide bombers, reportedly Chechens from Grozny, the Chechen capital, and the third a man of unestablished identity, who seems to have activated the explosive device through remote control.

The first two incidents in Moscow - an explosion at a bus stop on the road to one of the local airports, which did not result in any fatal casualties, on August 24 and two other explosions on board two aircraft a few hours thereafter which led to the disintegration of the planes and the death of 90 persons, including all the passengers and crew members - preceded presidential elections in Chechnya on August 29. Both planes had taken off from a Moscow airport.

The third outside the entrance to a metro station on August 31, resulting in the death of 10 persons, coincided with the hearing by a local high court of an appeal filed on behalf of Zarema Muzhikhoyeva, a Chechen woman terrorist arrested in July 2003 and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on a charge of trying to carry out a suicide mission.

The Russian authorities claim to have established that two Chechen women from Grozny named Amanat Nagayeva, 30, and Satsita Dzhebirkhanova , 37, had a role in the explosions on board the two planes and a third woman named Roza Nagayeva, who is said to be the sister of Amanat, had carried out the suicide bombing outside the metro station.

Frantic searches are being made all over Moscow for two other suicide bombers, one of them named Maryam Taburova, while the name of the other is not known, who had reportedly traveled together to Moscow from Grozny along with the other three for carrying out suicide strikes. The authorities claim that the Chechen terrorists have trained eight other women suicide bombers, who may be available for similar missions in coming days.

While the Russian authorities claim to have established that the disintegration of the two planes was caused by an improvised explosive device (IED), they have not yet been able to establish how the device was smuggled into the planes and activated.

Among the various theories reportedly under examination are:
  • The devices, with a timer, were concealed in the checked-in baggage belonging to the two Chechen women, who were made to travel by the aircraft, with or without the knowledge that their baggage contained the explosive devices. If after having successfully got the baggage checked in, the women had dropped out of the flights, this would have set off an alarm resulting in the off-loading and checking of their baggage.
  • The women had carried the IEDs on their person or concealed in their shoes and had activated them manually.
  • The IEDs were either in their checked-in baggage or had been smuggled into the aircraft by accomplices of the terrorists in the ground staff of the airline company and had been activated by the women through a remote control device or a mobile telephone.
  • The IEDs were in the checked-in baggage of the two women, with or without their knowledge, and had been activated from the ground through mobile telephones.

    The responsibility for the explosions on board the two planes and outside the metro station has been claimed by the Islambouli Brigades, headed by Mohammad Islambouli, younger brother of Khaled Islambouli, both of whom were involved in the assassination of president Anwar Sadat of Egypt in Cairo in 1981.

    While Khaled Islambouli was arrested by the Egyptian authorities, tried and executed in 1982, Mohammad Islambouli, along with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No 2 of al-Qaeda, and the late Mohammad Atef, the former operational chief of al-Qaeda, escaped to Afghanistan and joined the Arab mercenary force, which was trained by the US's Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and used against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

    After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988, Mohammad Islambouli and his followers stayed behind in Afghanistan and carried out a terrorist strike against the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad in 1996. They started cooperating with Osama bin Laden after he shifted to Afghanistan in 1996 and the Islambouli Brigades, along with two other jihadi terrorist organizations of Egypt joined his IIF, when it was formed in February,1998. Initially, it consisted of only Egyptians and other Arabs, but after the US air strikes in Afghanistan post-September 11, it started recruiting Chechens, Uzbeks, Uighurs and Pakistani jihadis too. It is not clear why it generally refers to itself in plural as "the Islambouli Brigades" and not in singular.

    Since October 7, 2001, it has been operating from the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. It had also claimed responsibility for the unsuccessful attempt to kill Shaukat Aziz, the new Pakistani prime minister, in the last week of July, at Fateh Jung in Pakistani Punjab.

    No organization has so far claimed responsibility for the carnage in Beslan. While the Russian authorities have claimed to have killed nine Arabs involved in the incident, the indications until now are that it was carried out by a recently-formed organization called the North Caucasus Islamic Front (NCIF), which is reportedly a united front of the jihadi organizations of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia and has as its objective the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the region. It is patterned after the Pakistan-based IIF and the Jemaah Islamiyah of Southeast Asia.

    It is reported that among its founding members are a Chechen organization called the Salakhin Riadus Shakhidi headed by Shamil Basayev, an organization of Ingushetia (name not known) headed by Magomed Yevloyev, another Chechen organization (name not known) headed by Doku Umarov and an unidentified organization of Dagestan.

    It is reported that since its formation early this year, the NCIF has been closely collaborating with the IIF, but it is not known whether it has formally joined the IIF.

    The series of terrorist strikes since August 24 have caused fears of a possible act of catastrophic terrorism by these ruthless elements. The Moscow Times of September 2 reported as follows:
    "Given that a series of deadly attacks, including coordinated raids in Ingushetia in June and a string of suicide bombings in Moscow, have failed to affect the Kremlin line, the extremists might opt for attacks of catastrophic proportions in the hope that the greater casualties and psychological shock would cause a capitulation. In a clear recognition of this threat, the Federal Nuclear Power Agency announced [September 1] that security has been boosted at nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities across Russia. During Russia's first military campaign in Chechnya in 1994-96, the Chechen rebels acquired radioactive materials, threatened to attack nuclear facilities, plotted to hijack a nuclear submarine, and attempted to put pressure on the Russian leadership by planting a container with radioactive materials in Moscow and threatening to detonate it. Russia's second campaign, which began in the fall of 1999, has already seen Chechen-based radical separatists plant explosives in tanks filled with chemical substances, scout nuclear facilities and establish contacts with an insider at a nuclear power plant."
    B Raman is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and presently director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. Email:

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