Pakistan roots to Moscow attack?
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - Monday's twin suicide attacks by female bombers in the Moscow metro
system in which at least 38 people were killed and 64 injured were most likely
planned and executed by people trained in Pakistan's tribal areas.
The head of the Federal Security Service (FSB - formerly the KGB), under whose
headquarters the attacks took place, immediately pointed a finger at insurgents
linked to the North Caucasus, saying the assumption was based partly on
fragments of the suicide bombers' bodies.
"Our preliminary theory is that these terrorist attacks were carried out by
terror groups linked to the North Caucasus region," Aleksandr Bortnikov said in
reference to Muslim rebels waging a
war of independence in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous region in the Russian
Russia last year declared an end to counter-terrorism operations in Chechnya
that had been ongoing for over a decade, but confidence in that declaration has
been shaken by a recent spike in violence, reports RFE/RL's Russian Service.
Well-placed contacts within jihadi circles confirm to Asia Times Online that
the attackers were in all probability from the North Caucasus, but add that
they could have been trained in Pakistan as part of a broad plan that al-Qaeda
has been working on for many years - to stir unrest across Central Asia. The
insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online point out that Monday's attack could
signal a new salvo in this battle. The last metro attacks in Moscow were in
2004, when 40 people were killed in two separate incidents.
The al-Qaeda vision is to use the separatist struggle in Chechnya as a rallying
point for a broader fight against Russia and its allies in Central Asia. In
this new war it is envisaged that Chechens will be joined by, among others,
ethnic communities of Uzbeks, Uyghurs and Tajiks under one front to establish
an Islamic emirate of Khurasan.
As top al-Qaeda ideologues see it, the map of ancient Khurasan (comprising the
present Central Asian republics, parts of Afghanistan, parts of Iran and parts
of Pakistan) would be revived. Victory here would then lead to the "end-of-time
battles" in the Middle East.
Seeds planted in Afghanistan
Preparations for Khurasan began in the late 1990s in Afghanistan when Taliban
leader Mullah Omar provided refuge to fighters from Central Asian Islamic
movements in Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Tajikistan. Militants from the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement were also accepted. This is an Uyghur organization
that advocates the creation of an independent Islamic state of East Turkestan
in what is currently the Xinjiang region of China.
Initially, these groups tried to fight their wars of liberation from bases in
Afghanistan, but al-Qaeda worked hard to convince them of the need for a joint
strategy throughout Central Asia. In the "war and terror" years after the
Taliban were thrown from power by the United States-led invasion of 2001,
thousands of Central Asian militants gathered in the border areas of
Afghanistan and Pakistan, but their participation in the Afghan resistance was
This became a serious point of friction between Taliban commander Haji Nazeer
and Uzbek militants who had settled in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area.
The discord turned bloody in 2007 when Nazeer's men killed hundreds of Uzbek
militants. The Uzbeks, with about 2,500 fighters, were the largest group of
foreign militants in the area.
Although the Taliban were upset that these militants were not pulling their
weight in Afghanistan, it was impressed on them by al-Qaeda that bigger things
were planned for the foreigners.
Asia Times Online has written how control of all foreign fighters in North
Waziristan and South Waziristan was generally in the hands of Arabs, who are
astute and trained commanders. (See
The Pakistani road to German terror Asia Times Online, September 7,
2007.) For example, Abu Nasir commands the Uyghurs and Pakistanis; Abu Akash
looks after the Uzbeks and Tajiks while Abu Hanifah takes care of Turkish
Kurds, Bosnians and Chechens.
After 2007, foreign fighters began to arrive in Pakistan in increasing numbers
as al-Qaeda had consolidated its position in the tribal border areas. Most of
the jihadis came from Turkey, where there are large Chechen and Uzbek
After mid-2009, the fighters were able to travel through Iran as al-Qaeda
struck a deal with the Iranian Jundallah militant group to allow them transit
through restive Sistan-Balochistan province in the southwest. The fighters were
also able to return via the same route.
Conceivably, this was the route taken by Monday's suicide bombers after
receiving training in the al-Qaeda camps that dot the border areas.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He is
writing an exclusive account of al-Qaeda's strategy and ideology in an upcoming
book 9/11 and beyond: The One Thousand and One Night Tales of Al-Qaeda. He
can be reached at [email protected]