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Chechnya: Basaev Pledges More Attacks

  • Jan Jun --> Shamil Basaev (file photo) London, 4 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Shamil Basaev, the radical Chechen field commander behind a series of terrorist acts, including last autumn's bloody school siege in Beslan, says he is planning more such attacks for the future.

His comments came in a taped interview broadcast yesterday on Britain's Channel 4.

In the interview, a bearded man sits in a relaxed pose in front of an Islamic banner, a computer at his side. His black T-shirt reads "Anti-terrorist" in Cyrillic script, and he carries a six-barreled grenade launcher.

Britain's Channel 4 news yesterday broadcast excerpts from a nearly hour-long interview with Basaev filmed within the past month by the warlord's aides. Basaev was responding to questions drafted by Channel 4 reporters immediately after the Beslan siege and passed to the warlord through a complex network of contacts.

Russian Anger

The airing of the interview outraged Russia, which has put a $10 million bounty on Basaev's head. It also appeared to dissolve recent speculation that the shadowy militant -- the man behind a number of devastating terror attacks in Russia in recent years, who has consistently eluded capture -- had finally been killed in a battle with Arab mercenaries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry today blasted Channel 4 and the British government for airing the views of Basaev, who they accuse of links to Al-Qaeda. A ministry statement said the broadcast "gives direct information support to terrorists in the North Caucasus."
"Shamil Basaev declares in the interview that he regards as his war enemies not only Russian troops but also those Russian citizens who pay taxes which finance the war." -- RFE/RL correspondent Natalia Golitsina

But Channel 4 defended its right to air the interview, saying the move was no different than the West's frequent broadcasting of videotapes by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Channel 4 announcer, Jon Snow, explained the station's decision to air Basaev's comments.

“The Russian government has intervened, and asked the British authorities to stop this material being broadcast. This program recognizes that people will find Basaev’s views repugnant, but does believe there is a public interest in subjecting to scrutiny his attempted rationale for killing children. This report from our foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller does contain distressing scenes," Snow said.

Basaev has admitted to involvement not only in the Beslan siege, but in the 2002 Moscow theater siege that left 120 people dead, as well as a series of metro explosions in the Russian capital and the near-simultaneous explosion of two Russian passenger jets just days before the events in Beslan.

In the comments aired by Channel 4, Basaev says he originally planned for his militants to seize a school in Moscow or St. Petersburg -- or both simultaneously -- but switched to Beslan due to lack of money.

At the same time, he expressed shock at what he called the "cruelty" of Beslan's bloody conclusion, in which 330 children, teachers, and parents were killed after Russian special forces stormed the building.

Natalia Golitsina, an RFE/RL correspondent in London, described Basaev's comments about the siege.

"He says that he himself was shocked by what happened there [in Beslan]. Basaev blames the Beslan tragedy, the deaths of the children, on the Russian special forces, who he says fired flame-throwers at the school, which according to him caused a fire and the collapse of the building's roof," Golitsina said.

The Channel 4 broadcast showed footage of the Russian forces storming the Beslan school, but also noted that videos allegedly shot by Basaev's guerrillas show they also tormented and terrorized the child hostages.

War In Chechnya

In vowing to continue such attacks, Basaev lashed out at the Russian leadership -- specifically, President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly refused to negotiate with separatist militants in breakaway Chechnya. As many as 200,000 Chechens have died in the past decade of war, and kidnappings and murders of Chechen civilians continue. Until they stop, Basaev said, he will continue to plot attacks against Russia.

Golitsina cited Basaev as saying he considers not only federal forces, but also Russian citizens as legitimate targets for attack.

"Shamil Basaev declares in the interview that he regards as his war enemies not only Russian troops but also those Russian citizens who pay taxes which finance the war, those who send soldiers off to the war, and even priests who give their blessing to military operations," Golitsina said.

Basaev recently appeared to support a call for a temporary cease-fire by Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov. A pro-separatist website on 2 February posted a statement saying Maskhadov signed a cease-fire order on 14 January, and called on the Kremlin to open negotiations for a peaceful settlement to the war.

The statement was accompanied by an order from Basaev for pro-Chechen fighters to "end all offensive military actions" until 22 February.

Maskhadov has in the past condemned the Beslan siege and said Basaev and his militants should face trial for the tragedy. Nicholas Sturdee, a Channel 4 freelance correspondent who helped compile and deliver the list of questions for the warlord, tells RFE/RL that Basaev in the interview offered to stand trial -- but only if Russian forces withdraw from Chechnya.

"He told us he was ready to stand trial for his all his actions before a Sharia court, and he said he would accept any decision by such a court, but only on condition this trial takes place after the end of the war," Sturdee said.

Channel 4 also cites Basaev as saying Russian actions in Chechnya will "boomerang" back, enveloping not only Russia, but also "Europe and the wider world."

The Russian Embassy in London yesterday tried to block the broadcast, but refused to send a representative to appear in the news broadcast.

Russia said today it wants to see what it termed an "adequate" reaction from Britain's court system in response to the broadcast.


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