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Russia: Moscow Hostage Takers May Represent Chechen 'Fringe' Element

What is the ideological background of the armed Chechen militants who took hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theater yesterday? Are they members of a fringe group or is there a growing tendency among Chechen fighters to rely on more extreme tactics?

Prague, 24 October 2002 (RFE/RL)-- Chechen field commander Movsar Baraev is believed to be leading the group of armed militants who are holding as many as 700 people hostage in a Moscow theater.

Baraev, who is in his early 20s, is the nephew of Chechen field commander Arbi Baraev, who was killed by Russian forces last year.

The director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Aslan Doukaev, said Arbi Baraev was the leader of a well-known Muslim fundamentalist splinter group fighting the Russians in Chechnya. "From Arbi Baraev's background, I know that there was a great element of religious extremism to his group. He was often accused of being the main proponent of the Wahhabi conservative movement in Chechnya. So I would presume that Movsar Baraev is following in the footsteps of his uncle," Doukaev said.

Doukaev said the elder Baraev's group was long known as the center of the conservative Muslim Wahhabi movement in Chechnya. However, Doukaev said Baraev and his group were never very popular in the breakaway republic. "He was never a popular commander. He was never a respected commander in Chechnya. He was very often accused of being behind many kidnappings," Doukaev said.

Doukaev said that neither Arbi Baraev nor his nephew Movsar were or are controlled by the leader of the separatist Chechen leadership, Aslan Maskhadov.

Doukaev noted that Maskhadov has condemned the current hostage taking in Moscow. Maskhadov's deputy, Akhmed Zakaev, and the separatist leadership's foreign minister, Ilyaz Akhmadov, have also criticized the action.

Doukaev said Maskhadov and those around him are not Muslim fundamentalists. He said that's why Baraev's group may be called a fringe group in the Chechen resistance. "They [Baraev's group] seem to have their own objectives, their own agenda, which differ very much from the agenda of Maskhadov and his government," Doukaev said.

Doukaev said it would not be accurate to say that Muslim extremism is on the rise in Chechnya. "I don't really have that impression. There are, of course, extremist groups or extremist people in Chechnya. But on the whole, the Chechen resistance movement is about independence, not about Islamic ideas or Islamic principles or Islamic government," Doukaev said.

He said that, although many Chechen groups use Islamic rhetoric, their demands are first and foremost related to the pullout of Russian troops from the republic.

On the Chechen website, however, former Chechen Press Minister Mavladi Udugov approved the actions being taken by Baraev. Doukaev said the website is not the best place, however, to get the official position of the Chechen separatist government. " is not connected with Maskhadov's government or Maskhadov or those ideas which Maskhadov and his people fight for. is controlled by the former press minister, Mavladi Udugov. It has a clear extremist [bent], clear extremist tendencies, and there's been actually an open conflict between ChechenPress [] and on many occasions. ChechenPress is supervised by Akhmed Zakaev, Maskhadov's deputy," Doukaev said.

Doukaev said the Internet is widely used by Chechen separatists and that there are many Chechen websites. "There are several pro-Maskhadov sites like ChechenPress,, and several others," Doukaev said.