Videotape shows al-Qaida link to Chechen insurgents

Supports Russia's claim network backed rebels

January 20, 2002|By Matthew McAllester | Matthew McAllester,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A videotape found in a former al-Qaida residence here appears to buttress Russia's claim that Osama bin Laden's militant Islamic network has been backing rebels in Chechnya.

The tape, obtained by Newsday from Afghan sources, features bin Laden and a prominent Arab militant who has played a leading role in the Chechen insurgency. It includes footage of ambushes and suicide-bomb attacks, main tactics of the Chechen rebels, and shows bodies of Russian soldiers, some of whom appeared to have been executed.

A Kabul landlord said he found the tape after al-Qaida activists, including his tenants, fled this city 10 weeks ago. Newsday bought the video for $500. The tape appears to have been produced in 2000 for propaganda or fund raising, perhaps to show potential donors how al-Qaida helps Chechens in what bin Laden considers part of his holy war against Christian forces.

The video features an Arab fighter named Khattab who has become famous in Russia and Chechnya as one of the key leaders of the Chechen uprising. With a long black beard, frizzy hair, a black beret and a certain flair for drama, Khattab is a man about whom more is whispered than known. His full name could be Omar Khattab. He is reportedly in his 30s, Saudi- or Jordanian-born and perhaps from a wealthy family.

Disparate accounts agree that Khattab joined the Arabs, coordinated by bin Laden, who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Since then, Khattab has been reported fighting among Islamic militants in Bosnia and Tajikistan.

In the video, Khattab is shown at a meeting of Chechen rebel fighters, introducing two Arab men in combat fatigues. "They are here to help us," he says.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and his government have made broad accusations that al-Qaida has funneled millions of dollars to the Chechen rebels through Khattab. Russian officials have said Khattab has commanded hundreds or thousands of Arab and other Islamic militant fighters who Russian officials have sometimes said form the bulk of Chechen forces. They have used such claims to help justify Moscow's heavy use of force in Chechnya, which Western governments and rights groups have criticized.

Independent analysts and a scattering of evidence suggest that the scale of Arab and al-Qaida support has been much less. The video found here gives no clues about how much money, weaponry and manpower al-Qaida might have sent to Chechnya.

Matthew McAllester is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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