8 January 2004, Volume 4, Number 1
THE OCTOBER 2002 MOSCOW HOSTAGE-TAKING INCIDENT (Part 2)
For Part 1 of this three-part article, see "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch" of 18 December 2003.By John B. Dunlop
The Nominal Leader Of The TerroristsA young man who called himself Movsar Baraev served as the titular leader of the group of terrorists that took control of the Moscow theater. Movsar Baraev -- who also went by the names Mansur Salamov and Movsar Suleimenov(28) -- had but a single claim to fame: He was the nephew of the late Chechen Wahhabi kidnapper and murderer Arbi Baraev. According to a report appearing in the military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda," Arbi Baraev "had personally participated in the murder of 170 persons."(29) Nonetheless, Baraev, Movsar's uncle, "had moved freely about the [Chechen] republic showing at federal checkpoints the documents of an officer of the Russian MVD [Interior Ministry]."(30) "On the windshield of [Arbi] Baraev's vehicle," journalist Anna Politkovskaya has noted, "there was a pass, regularly renewed, which stated that the driver was free 'to go everywhere' -- the most cherished and respected pass in the Combined Group of [Russian] Forces."(31) Arbi Baraev also had reported shadowy ties to both the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian Military Intelligence (GRU).(32)
In January 2003, a well-known French journalist, Anne Nivat, author of the book "Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya" (2001), who had conducted a number of incognito visits to Chechnya, reported: "Two months before the hostage taking, the GRU, the secret service of the Russian army, had announced [Movsar] Baraev's arrest. The implication is that he would have been held until his 'arrest' to lead the hostage taking at the Dubrovka theater."(33)
Good reasons exist to doubt that Movsar was the actual leader of the group. "Under his [Movsar Baraev's] control," Sanobar Shermatova has stipulated, "were [only] five to six rebels, and he never demonstrated either the military or organizational abilities necessary for a commander.... The Chechens [sources of "Moskovskie novosti"] say that Baraev himself was not fully initiated into the plan [to seize the theater]. He was supposed to play his role and then burn up like a rocket booster." The former pro-Moscow head of the Chechen Interior Ministry, also a former FSB officer, Said-Selim Peshkhoev "proposed that this group of terrorists was led not by Movsar Baraev but by another person."(34)
Further testimony that Movsar was not the real leader comes from Shamil Basaev. In late April 2003, Basaev recalled: "I included [Movsar] Baraev in this group only in late September . I had only two hours to talk to him and give instructions."(35) If Movsar Baraev was at this time in the custody of the GRU (as Nivat's sources claim), then Basaev could only have met with Baraev through the good offices of that elite organization. Such a scenario is not unimaginable. It is known that Basaev himself worked closely with a purported GRU officer named Anton Surikov when Basaev was serving as deputy defense minister of the separatist (from Georgia) republic of Abkhazia in 1992-93. During the course of a 2001 interview, Surikov assessed "extremely positively" Basaev's role in that conflict.(36) "In the beginning of the 1990s," Surikov affirmed, "he [Basaev] was materially supported by us."
A number of Russian journalists and political analysts have expressed their belief that Basaev and Surikov met together once again some years later -- this time together with the chief of the Russian presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, at the estate of a Saudi international arms dealer in southern France in July 1999, in order to seal an agreement which led to Basaev's invasion of Daghestan the following month.(37) In the summer of 2000, when the newspaper "Versiya" published an article about the alleged meeting complete with a group photograph of Voloshin, Basaev, and Surikov, the paper approached Surikov and he "rather severely" told its correspondents to leave him alone. However, Surikov did not deny that the meeting took place. Moreover, almost a year later, when asked about the possible role of the security forces in organizing the invasion of Daghestan, Surikov replied somewhat mysteriously: "A positive answer to your question would sound unproven, although, in my view, such a perspective on events in part has a right to existence, but only in part." Among the more prominent individuals who have voiced this perspective was the former secretary of the Russian Security Council, retired General Aleksandr Lebed. He affirmed his belief in October of 1999 that "Basaev and the Kremlin had concluded an agreement," which had led to the August 1999 invasion of Daghestan.(38)
Among the suicide bombers who were present in the Moscow theater, Nivat has also reported, there were two women, who, like Movsar Baraev, had already been placed under arrest by the federal authorities: "At Assinovskaya, a village close to the border with Ingushetia, which is where two of the [Baraev] unit's women came from, their mothers say they had been arrested [by the Russian authorities] and taken to an unknown destination at the end of September . Secretive in the presence of the outsider that I am, and still considerably shocked, they won't say more."
In a similar vein, in January 2003, the late Duma Deputy and journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin wrote in the newspaper "Novaya Gazeta": "Unexpectedly, last week I learned that one of the female terrorists in the Nord-Ost building was not just anyone but a woman who had been imprisoned for a long time in one of the Russian [penal] colonies. She was recognized on television by her mother, a resident of Shelkovskii Raion in Chechnya. She cannot understand how her daughter reached Moscow as a terrorist from a prison cell."(39)
In addition, the well-connected investigative journalist Aleksandr Khinshtein has reported that some eight of the women suicide bombers were able to take up residence in a former "military city [gorodok]" in Moscow, located on Ilovaiskaya Street, not far from the Dubrovka theater. This complex, which housed a large number of illegal residents prepared to pay bribes to the authorities, was apparently under the protection of corrupt elements among the Moscow police.(40)
The Active Phase of the Operation BeginsBy mid-October 2002, the terrorists had shifted over to the active phase of their operation. During a face-to-face meeting with "Abubakar," Aslambek Khaskhanov learned that "Shamil Basaev had ordered him [Abubakar] to prepare 'a very large action' with a seizure of hostages."(41) The action referred to was, of course, the taking of the theater at Dubrovka.
A series of powerful explosions had been set to go off, beginning on 19 October 2002, with the hostage-taking episode itself having originally been planned for 7 November, the former anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. Several vehicles were fitted with explosive devices, most likely at the terrorist base at Chernoe in Moscow Oblast, and then moved to a garage at 95 Leninskii Prospekt. "An explosion [at a McDonald's restaurant in southwest Moscow] took place on 19 October, at approximately 1:05 p.m., that is not during rush hour and not in the most crowded area of the city." This account by the former chief procurator of Moscow, Mikhail Avdyukov, continues: "Two other vehicles [fitted with explosives] were also parked: one next to the Tchaikovsky Theater Hall on Triumfalnaya Square, the other near a busy subway transit point in the center. But the more powerful explosives [contained in these two vehicles] did not work."(42) According to one version, the watch mechanism failed to work in the vehicle that had been parked at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall.
On 20 October, Aslambek Khaskhanov, who had placed the explosives in the three vehicles, flew from Moscow to Nazran, Ingushetia, using false documents. His decision to leave town has been assessed by one journalist as being due to "banal cowardice." On that same day, his confederate, "Abubakar," according to one report, removed the large bomb from the vehicle at the Tchaikovsky Theater." On 23 October, that bomb was then "placed in the house of culture at Dubrovka."(43)
This powerful bomb placed in the theater, it was later revealed, was in fact incapable of detonating: "The power [ministries] have admitted," "Kommersant" reported in July 2003, "that the most powerful of the homemade bombs which were placed by the Baraevites in the seized theater center at Dubrovka were not in a condition in which they could be detonated. They lacked such important elements as batteries, which made the bombs harmless bolvanki [dummies]. And it was precisely this circumstance that permitted the conducting of a completely successful storm of the theater center."(44)
According to one press report, the powerful bombs placed by Khaskhanov did not go off because of a key design failure. Two of the vehicles that had failed to explode were later located by the Moscow Criminal Investigations Department (MUR) (in January 2003 in a parking lot located off the Zvenigorod Highway), who determined the reason for the failure of the bombs: "The gas tanks of the vehicles were divided hermetically into two parts: in one half was gasoline while the other was filled with a substance similar to plastic explosive together with nails and fragments of steel barbed wire. However, an examination showed that the amount of plastic explosive was so small that even if an explosion had happened, the explosive force would have been insignificant."(45) (As we have seen, other reports mention a faulty timing mechanism in the bombs.)
The explosion of the small bomb contained in the "Tavriya" vehicle that had been parked next to McDonald's restaurant on Porkryshkin Street and had resulted in the death of one person attracted the attention of a unit of MUR, an elite police body designed to combat organized crime and terrorism, commanded by Colonel Yevgenii Taratorin. "The police learned that the 'Tavriya' vehicle that had been blown up had been sold by proxy to a certain Artur Kashinskii...whose real name turned out to be Aslan Murdalov, a native of Urus-Martan in Chechnya, who had been living in Moscow for 10 years."(46) Working quickly, the MUR identified Murdalov and took him into custody on 22 October.
It was the arrest of Murdalov that forced the terrorists "to accelerate their activities and the seizure of the hostages at Dubrovka, which had first been planned for 7 November."(47) As journalist Zinaida Lobanova has noted: "The original seizure of the musical 'Nord-Ost' was planned for 7 November, the day of Accord and Reconciliation [the postcommunist name for the holiday], and that seizure was to have been preceded by the explosion of cars in the center of the capital, in order to sow panic."(48) On 22 October, "A.S. Mezhiev informed Abubakar about the taking into custody of A.M. Murdalov.... [Abubakar] told him that in the next few days a powerful operation would take place."(49)
The failure of the two car bombs to explode in crowded locations in the center of the capital required the terrorists to speed up and to alter their plans. The hostage-taking operation at Dubrovka had been intended (at least, apparently, by certain of its planners) to be the culmination of a terror bombing campaign directly reminiscent of the one visited on the capital in September of 1999. Deprived of this sanguinary "introduction," the October 23 hostage-taking action commenced shorn of its spectacular first act. The MUR had gotten on the trail of the terrorists and their associates sooner than had been expected. (In this sense, the entire episode bears a certain resemblance to the "Ryazan incident" of September 1999, in which the local police interfered with an operation that was under way.). Once the theater had been taken over by the terrorists on 23 October, the officers of the MUR realized that "the terror act at McDonald's and the seizure of the Nord-Ost had been prepared by one and the same people." On 28 October, just two days after the theater had been stormed by Russian special forces units, the MUR took the two Mezhiev brothers into custody.(51)
To return to 23 October -- the day on which the Moscow theater was seized by the terrorists -- shortly before the raid occurred: "Abubakar designated a meeting with [Akhyad] Mezhiev near the Crystal Casino. Abubakar was at the wheel of a Ford Transit [minibus]. He handed over to Mezhiev two Chechen girls on whom suicide belts with explosives had been attached. Abubakar ordered that the girls be taken to a populated place where they could blow themselves up and thus draw the attention of the law-enforcement organs away from the seizure of the House of Culture [at Dubrovka]."(52) "At first," the account continues, "Mezhiev decided to let the suicide women off at the Pyramid Cafe, but, having learned by radio of the seizure of the House of Culture, he exhibited cowardice."
A bomb blast at this normally crowded cafe located in the very center of Moscow would have been a catastrophic event. In his taped confession to the police, Akhyad Mezhiev related that, on the night of 23-24 October, Abubakar called him on his mobile phone and demanded angrily: "Why has there been no wedding?" Wedding was "the code word for the designated stage of the terrorist act. Women-bombs was what they had in mind." "Abubakar wanted me," Mezhiev continued, "to send the girls that same night. They had everything ready. Everything depended on me." Mezhiev drove the suicide bombers to the Pyramid Cafe on Pushkin Square. "Here there were always a lot of people. The 'brides of Allah' were to blow themselves up in the crowd." Mezhiev, however, "did not let the women out of the vehicle. Why? We don't know."(53)
Mezhiev then relates (on the police videotape) how he took the belts away from the would-be suicide bombers and then drove them to a train station where he bought them tickets to Nazran, Ingushetia, and bade them farewell. He then gave the "martyrs' belts" to his brother Alikhan, who, at the command of Abubakar, handed them over to Khampash Sobraliev, one of the two terrorists based in the village of Chernoe in Moscow Oblast.(54) "In a telephone conversation with Abubakar, he [Mezhiev] said that he was afraid and wanted to leave town." This he proved unable to do, and on 28 October he was placed under arrest by the MUR. "He was 'caught out' because of his telephone conversations with Abubakar."(55)
An alternative explanation to the version Mezhiev recounted to the police would be that the women terrorists in fact had been let out of the vehicle but their "martyr-belts" had failed to detonate. Shamil Basaev seemed to allude to such a development in his already-cited statement posted on Kavkaz Tsentr on 26 April 2003: "The detonators of our martyrs had not worked: this occurred with those who were inside [the theater at Dubrovka] and four female martyrs who were outside. They returned here. I personally talked to three and they claimed that their detonators had not worked."(56) It is entirely possible, however, that Basaev was aware that the belts would not work and was merely embellishing his tale for the sake of potential donors in the Gulf states and the Muslim world.
"According to the information of the FSB," the newspaper "Kommersant" reported on 29 October, "the entire building [at Dubrovka] was mined, and the explosion of only a part of the bombs could have brought about the collapse of the theater building. But only a pair of the bombs that were contained in the belts of women-kamikaze exploded. At the moment of the explosion, they [the women] were outside the hall guarding the approach to it. It turns out that all the other bombs were either fakes or they had not been readied for use. For example, they lacked batteries or a detonator."(57)
One of the Russian emergency workers who entered the building after it was stormed by the special forces, Yurii Pugachev, has recalled: "Personally I saw the bodies of several women in black clothing whose stomachs had literally been blown apart. Evidently the explosive was not very strong."(58) "If one is to believe the sources of 'Moskovskie novosti,'" Sanobar Shermatova and Aleksandr Teit wrote in an article appearing in April 2003, "several of the women suicide fighters, having understood that gas had been let into the hall, tried to connect the lead wires on their suicide belts. They didn't work, because, instead of explosives, there was a fake there. Was that really the way it really was?"(59)
Shamil Basaev has claimed that the original targets of the terrorists were the buildings of the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council. In an article appearing in an underground rebel newspaper, "Ichkeriya," Basaev even "provides the measurements of the vestibules of the two buildings."(60) Since, however, Basaev is a habitual distorter of the truth, one must at this point must remain agnostic about what precise building(s) the terrorists intended to target first.
The Russian authorities, it has also been reported, had been forewarned of the impending terrorist attack by none other than the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to Duma Deputy Yurii Shchekochikhin, he was telephoned on 25 October 2002 by "a high-ranking individual in Washington," who told him that, during the first half of October, the CIA had alerted the Russian government that "a new Budennovsk [a reference to the southern Russian town attacked in June of 1995 by a force headed by Shamil Basaev] was being prepared in Moscow."(61)
In April 2003, there occurred a brief flap when a dissident former FSB officer, Aleksandr Litvinenko, living in London, and a leading Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, reported that an FSB agent of Chechen nationality, Khampash Terkibaev, had been present inside the theater building but had left it before the storming of 26 October.(62) Politkovskaya went on to publish the text of an interview with Terkibaev in which he confirmed that he had indeed been in the building. It emerged, however, that both Litvinenko and Politkovskaya had fallen into an extremely intricate and clever trap, evidently laid by for them by the FSB. Terkibaev, a murky adventurer with almost certain links to the secret police, had boasted during a visit to Baku that he had been in the building at Dubrovka, but he had evidently been lying. Sanobar Shermatova and a co-author pointed out on the pages of "Moskovskie novosti" that Terkibaev, "who in 2000 even found a way to receive a document of amnesty in the FSB office in the city of Argun," had for a number of years been engaging in anti-Wahhabi activities and would not therefore have been acceptable to the Movsar Baraev/Abubakar group. "Terkibaev," they noted, "does not deny that after the events around 'Nord-Ost,' he introduced himself in Baku as a participant in the seizure of the hostages."(63)
Another Chechen, Zaurbek Talikhigov, was arrested by the police following the storming of the theater building. He was apparently a walk-on volunteer who, using a borrowed cell phone, attempted to inform the terrorists from outside the building where the Russian forces were positioned. His phone conversations were, of course, monitored and taped by Russian law-enforcement authorities.(64)
The Terrorist Assault On 23 OctoberOn 23 October, shortly after 9:00 p.m., 40 Chechen terrorists whose titular leader was Movsar Baraev -- but whose de facto leader was the shadowy "Abubakar" (Ruslan El'murzaev) -- stormed (there were no armed guards present so the task was not overly difficult) and took control of the House of Culture at Dubrovka in Moscow, which was putting on the popular musical "Nord-Ost." A total of 979 people were taken captive (there were slightly more than 900 present in the building at the time that it was taken back on 26 October).(65) According to a statement made by the former procurator of Moscow, the terrorists were carrying 17 automatic weapons and 20 pistols, as well as various homemade bombs, suicide belts, and grenades.(66) Twenty-one of the terrorists were men and 19 women.(67) As opposed to the "terror bombings" in Moscow in 1999 -- when the announced suspects had been ethnic Karachai --on this occasion there could be little doubt that the perpetrators were ethnic Chechens, though elements among the hostage takers, with the likely support of the special services involved in the operation, sought to convey the impression that there were Arab terrorists among them.
One website, utro.ru, which on occasion elects to convey the views of the Russian secret services, focused attention upon one of the terrorists, the mysterious "Yasir" (another name, as we have seen, used by "Abubakar"): "As 'Utro' has learned from sources in the Russian special services," the website wrote, "there were several rebels who were non-Chechens, including an Arab called (his code-name) Yasir. About him the following is known: this international terrorist is a subject of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is on the international wanted list. Yasir entered into the leading link of the cells of 'Al-Qaeda'.... The Wahhabi Movsar Baraev...was in fact a marionette in the hands of experienced puppeteers."(68) When a deputy minister of the interior, Vladimir Vasilev, was asked by RTR television on 26 October: "Abubakar is an Arabic name, isn't it?" he replied misleadingly: "Naturally, it is."(69) Even one year after the Dubrovka episode, some Russian security officials were continuing to push the fictional "Yasir's" involvement in the hostage-taking events: "The investigation," gzt.ru reported on 23 October 2003, "has not yet established the identity of a mercenary, an Arab who called himself Yasir. He was using a Russian Federation [internal] passport in the name of Alkhazurov, Idris Makhmudovich, born 1974."(70) One day after the publishing of this information, however, the newspaper "Izvestiya" reported that it had been the titular leader of the terrorists, Movsar Baraev, who in fact had been carrying "a passport in the name of Idris Alkhazurov."(71)
On 24 October 2002, the day following the seizure of the theater at Dubrovka, it was reported by the media that President Vladimir Putin "sees the seizure of the hostages in Moscow as one of the links in a chain of the manifestations of international terrorism, in one row with the [recent] terrorist acts in Indonesia and the Philippines. 'These same people also planned the terrorist act in Moscow,' said Putin."(72)
These "Arab" and "radical Islamic" themes were also heavily accented by the hostage takers themselves. At 10:00 p.m. on 23 October, just 50 minutes after the taking of the building: "The [former] minister of propaganda of the Ichkerian republic [i.e., Chechnya], Movladi Udugov, speaks to the BBC Service of Central Asia and the Caucasus. He confirms that the group of field commander [Movsar] Baraev organized the hostage taking. According to Udugov, the group consists of kamikaze terrorists and about 40 [sic] widows of Chechen rebels who are not going to surrender. The building is mined."(73) Udugov was at the time widely believed to be living in Qatar or another of the Gulf states. Two hours later, a website associated with Udugov, Kavkaz-Tsentr (kavkaz.org), reported the same information, adding: "The terrorists are demanding the withdrawal of [Russian] troops from Chechnya."(74)
The following day, 24 October, it was reported by the website gazeta.ru, as well as by other media, that: "The Qatar television company Al-Jazeera broadcast a tape of the Chechen rebels in which they state that they are prepared to die for the independence of their homeland and to deprive of life the hostages located in the building in the theater center." "For us," the hostage takers affirmed on the tape, "it is a matter if indifference where we die." "We have chosen to die here, in Moscow, and we will take with us the souls of the unfaithful," added one of the five women in masks standing in the frame under the sign, 'Allah akbar!' written in Arabic." In another fragment, one of the rebels is shown declaring, "Each of us is prepared for self-sacrifice, for the sake of Allah and the independence of Chechnya."(75) The veiled women were shown dressed entirely in black. Al-Jazeera television also showed one of the male rebels "seated in front of a laptop with the holy Muslim book the Koran by his side." "We seek death more than you seek life," said the man, who was also dressed in black. "We came to the Russian capital to stop the war or die for the sake of Allah," he asserted.(76) Al Jazeera reported subsequently that the interview had been taped on 23 October in Moscow shortly before the Chechens had assaulted the theater.(77)
The rebels also exhibited a militant radical Muslim stance over the course of the few interviews that they granted to Russian and Western media. As NTV correspondent Sergei Dedukh reported on 25 October (the footage was shown the following day): "The two girls in black whom the rebels called their sisters have explosives on their belts with wires sticking out of them. Could you please tell us what your clothes and the explosives in your belt mean?" An unidentified woman hostage taker replied: "They mean that we shall not stop at anything or anywhere. We are on Allah's way. If we die here, that won't be the end of it. There are many of us, and it will go on."(78) Movsar Baraev is then quoted by Dedukh as asserting that "the terrorists' only and final goal is the end of the military operation in Chechnya and the withdrawal of [Russian] federal troops."
In an interview with journalist Mark Franchetti of London's "The Sunday Times," Abubakar is quoted as saying: "We are a suicide group. Here we have bombs and rockets and mines. Our women suicide bombers have their fingers on the detonator at all times. Time is running out.... Let the Russians just try to storm the building. That's all we are waiting for. We cherish death more than you do life." When he was finally allowed to interview Baraev, Franchetti witnessed this scene: "Baraev and his men paraded three Chechen women dressed in black with headscarves covering all but their eyes. In one hand each held a pistol, in the other a detonator linked to a short wire attached to 5 kilograms of explosive strapped to her stomach. Except for a beam of light from inside the auditorium, the foyer was dark. One of Baraev's men used a torch to show off the explosives belts. 'They work in shifts,' explained Baraev. 'Those on duty have their finger on the detonator at all times. One push of the button and they will explode. The auditorium is mined, all wired up with heavy explosives. Just let the Russians try to break in and the whole place will explode.'"(79) (These statements, as we have seen, were an apparent bluff by the terrorist leaders -- the explosives were not in reality in a condition in which they could be detonated.)
Putin and his team, manifestly, now had an 11 September 2001 of their own, though it remains unclear whether or not they had been surprised by this development. Signs in Arabic, the brandishing of the Koran, veiled women suicide bombers dressed all in black -- what more could the Russian leadership need? Moreover, as distinct from 1999, the terrorists on this occasion were unquestionably Chechens, except, perhaps, for a sprinkling of Arabs such as the fictional "Yasir." The seizing of the theater building, it was heavy-handedly suggested, constituted a link in a chain leading back to the infamous Al-Qaeda.
Blackening MaskhadovIn addition to seeking to depict the hostage-taking incident as a second 9/11, a second aim behind the regime's response to the crisis appeared to be to fully discredit Aslan Maskhadov, and thus render the possibility of negotiations with him or other moderate Chechen separatists unthinkable. Early on the morning of 25 October, the website newsru.com (affiliated with NTV) reported: "There has come information that the order to seize the hostages was given by Aslan Maskhadov. One of the Chechen terrorists stated this. A tape of [Maskhadov's] declaration was shown by the channel Al-Jazeera. In it Maskhadov says, 'In the very near future, we will conduct an operation which will overturn the history of the Chechen war.'"(80)
This statement by Maskhadov was cited later on the same day by official spokesmen for both the FSB and the Interior Ministry as self-evident proof of his responsibility for the raid. On 31 October, Putin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii emphasized at a news conference that there could be no question of holding future talks with Maskhadov. "Maskhadov can no longer be considered a legitimate representative of this resistance," Yastrzhembskii told reporters. "We have to wipe out the commanders of the movement," including Maskhadov, he stressed.(81)
This aggressive campaign by the Russian leadership seems to have borne significant diplomatic fruit. On 30 October, the "Los Angeles Times" reported that "a senior U.S. official" in Moscow had termed Maskhadov "damaged goods" with links to terrorism. The senior official went on to assert that "the Chechen leader should be excluded from peace talks."(82) In more judicious fashion, one influential Russian democrat and parliamentary faction leader, Grigorii Yavlinskii, confided on 27 October "his view of Maskhadov has changed. If Maskhadov commanded the rebels in the theater, he said, he could never participate in a political settlement."(83)
But how strong was the evidence linking Maskhadov to the terrorist action? Journalist Mikhail Falkov looked into the issue of the tape of Maskhadov's statement that had been shown over Al-Jazeera and learned that: "Russian television viewers had been presented only with a fragment of the original tape. On the tape it was distinctly evident that the filming had been conducted not in October but toward the end of the summer." This discovery appeared to back up the claim of Maskhadov's official spokesman in Europe, Akhmed Zakaev, that "the question [in Maskhadov's taped statement] concerned not the seizure of hostages but a military operation against federal forces."(84) It should also be noted that, on 24 October, the day following the hostage taking at Dubrovka, Zakaev had written to Lord Judd of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and unambiguously declared: "The Chechen leadership headed by President A. Maskhadov decisively condemns all actions against the civilian population. We don't accept the terrorist method for the solution of any kind of problems.... We call on both sides, both the armed people in the theater and the government of Russia, to find an un-bloody exit from this difficult situation."(85)
In an article appearing in "Moskovskie novosti," journalists Shermatova and Teit reported that a careful analysis of a hushed conversation that had been conducted in Chechen between Abubakar and Movsar Baraev and had been accidentally captured by NTV on 25 October showed the following: "Here is Movsar Baraev answering the questions of NTV correspondents before a television camera. Next to him stands a rebel, known as Abubakar: he in an undertone in Chechen corrects Movsar. When Baraev declares that they had been sent by Shamil Basaev, Abubakar quietly suggests, 'Pacha ch'ogo al,' 'point to the president.' After that, Movsar obediently adds: 'Aslan Maskhadov.'"(86) Abubakar thus sought publicly to tie Maskhadov directly to the hostage-taking incident.
That Abubakar and not Movsar Baraev was the de facto leader of the terrorists also becomes clear from Franchetti's report: "At one point he [Baraev] lowered his guard. Perhaps succumbing to the lure of fame, he offered to let me film the hostages in the auditorium. His right-hand man [Abubakar] fiercely disagreed.... They briefly left the storage room to confer in the dark foyer.... Baraev came back. There would be no more filming."(87) Abubakar had prevailed over Baraev in a test of wills.
It seems that Abubakar may also in a subtle way have been involved in helping the federal forces to prepare the storming of the theater. "Several sources in the special services," the newspaper "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 28 October, "have informed us that in the juice which the negotiators took to the hostages, without their knowledge, there was admixed a substance which was to soften the toxic action of the gas."(88) Abubakar himself raised this topic. Summing up one of her discussion/negotiations with Abubakar, journalist Politkovskaya has recalled: "We agree that I will start bringing water into the building. Bakar suddenly throws in, on his own initiative, 'And you can bring juice.' I ask him if I can also bring food for the children being held inside, but he refuses."(89)
A leading journalist writing on the pages of "Moskovskie novosti," Valerii Vyzhutovich, looked into the issue of Maskhadov's supposed responsibility for the raid and concluded: "There are no direct proofs convicting Maskhadov of the preparation of the terrorist act in Moscow." He added that "not a single court, not even ours, the most humane and just," would uphold the admissibility in a trial of the edited and highly selective footage shown over Al-Jazeera television -- "a propagandistic soporific" -- in Vyzhutovich's words.(90)
When Politkovskaya, in a one-on-one private conversation with Abubakar, directly asked him, "Do you submit to Maskhadov?" he replied, "Yes, Maskhadov is our president, but we are making war by ourselves." "But you are aware," she pressed him, "that Ilyas Akhmadov [a separatist spokesman loyal to Maskhadov] is conducting peace negotiations in America and Akhmed Zakaev in Europe, and that they are representatives of Maskhadov. Perhaps you would like to be connected with them right now? Or let me dial them for you." "What is this about?" Abubakar retorted angrily. "They don't suit us. They are conducting those negotiations slowly...while we are dying in the forests. We are sick of them."(91) Abubakar's feelings concerning Maskhadov and other Chechen separatist moderates are revealed in these words.
The regime, for its part, seems to have concluded that it now possessed ample, indeed overwhelming, evidence to prove to both Russian citizens and to Western leaders two key points: first, that the hostage takers were dangerous and repugnant international terrorists in the Al-Qaeda mold; and, second, that the leader of the separatist Chechens, Aslan Maskhadov, had been irretrievably discredited by the raid, rendering the possibility of any future negotiations with him unthinkable.
(John B. Dunlop is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.)
FOOTNOTES(28) Vadim Rechkalov, "Vdovii bunt," izvestia.ru, 25 October 2002; and Zinaida Lobanova, "Tolko on otvetit za Nord-Ost," "Komsomolskaya pravda," 22 April 2003. See also "Passport terrorista," izvestia.ru, 24 October 2003.
(29) In "Krasnaya zvezda," 26 June 2001.
(30) Sanobar Shermatova, "Glavnyi rabototorgovets," "Moskovskie novosti," 29 October 2002.
(31) In "Novaya gazeta," 28 June 2001.
(32) Sanobar Shermatova, "Tainaya voina spetssluzhb," "Moskovskie novosti," 8 August 2000.
(33) Anne Nivat, "Chechnya: Brutality and Indifference," crimesofwar.org, 6 January 2003.
(34) Sanobar Shermatova, "Glavnyi rabototorgovets," "Moskovskie novosti," 29 October 2002.
(35) Kavkaz-Tsentr News Agency, 26 April 2003.
(36) "Tainyi sovetnik VPK," "Zavtra," 1 June 2001. At the time of this interview, Surikov was serving as head of the State Duma's Department on Industry. On Surikov, see also: Maksim Kalashnikov, "Chelovek, kotoryi verboval Basaeva," stringer-news.ru, 10 July 2002.
(37) See Petr Pryanshnikov, "Voloshin i Basaev na lazurnom beregu: foto na pamyat," "Versiya," 4 July 2000. This article can be found at: http:www.compromat.ru/main/voloshin/basaev.htm. See also: Andrei Batumskii, "Sgovor," "Versiya," 3 August 1999.
(38) "Doslovno," "Novaya gazeta," No. 37, 4-10 October 1999, p. 3. Lebed''s statement originally appeared in the French newspaper "Le Figaro" on 29 September 1999.
(39) Yurii Shchekochikhin, "Nezamechennye novosti nedeli kotorye menya udivili," "Novaya gazeta," No. 4, 20 January 2003.
(40) Aleksandr Khinshtein, "Chernye vdovy pod 'kryshei' Petrovki," "Moskovskii komsomolets," 23 July 2003.
(41) Statement of Moscow's chief procurator Mikhail Avdyukov in "V Moskve gotovilos chetyre 'Nord-Osta,'" "Rossiiskaya gazeta," 20 June 2003.
(42) "V Moskve gotovilos..."
(43) Khinshtein, "Glavnyi terrorist..."
(44) Otdel prestupnosti, "U terroristov problemy so vzryvchatkoi," "Kommersant," 7 July 2003. The same claim is made in Sergei Topol, Aleksandr Zheglov, Olga Allenova, "Antrakt posle terakta," "Kommersant," 23 October 2003.
(45) "U terroristov...," "Kommersant," 7 July 2003.
(46) Khinshtein, "Glavnyi terrorist..." Khinshtein's source for this information was officers of the MUR.
(47) Statement of Colonel Taratorin over Russian central television: Leonid Berres, "MUR opravdalsya za 'Nord-Ost,'" izvestia.ru, 7 February 2003.
(48) Zinaida Lobanova, "Tolko on otvetit..."
(49) Khinshtein, "Glavnyi terrorist..."
(50) On this episode, see Chapter 5, "Proval FSB v Ryazani," in Aleksandr Litvinenko, Yurii Feltshtinskii, "FSB vzryvaet Rossiyu" (Internet Edition, 2002). English translation: "Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within" (New York: S.P.I. Books, 2002), pp. 62-104. See also Aleksandr Litvinenko, "Ryazanskii sled," Chapter 10 in his "LPG (Lubyanskaya prestupnaya gruppirovka)" (Internet Edition, 2003).
(51) Khinshtein, "Glavnyi terrorist..."
(52) Ibid. Khinshtein identified Abubakar as being Ruslan Elmurzaev, 30 years old, a native of Urus-Martan in Chechnya, and a former Russian police employee. Subsequently the procurator of Moscow confirmed most of this information, noting also that Elmurzaev's patronymic is Abu-Khasanovich: "V Moskve gotovilos..."
(53) Zinaida Lobanova, "Tolko on otvetit..."
(56) Kavkaz Tsentr News Agency, 26 April 2003.
(57) Sergei Dyupin, Aleksei Gerasimov, Leonid Berres, "Zakhvat zalozhnikov v Moskve," "Kommersant," 29 October 2002.
(58) Sergei Dyupin, "Peredozirovka," "Kommersant," 28 October 2002.
(59) Sanobar Shermatova, Aleksandr Teit, "Shestero iz baraevskikh," "Moskovskie novosti," 29 April 2003.
(60) Sanobar Shermatova, "'Nord-Ost' ne planirovalsya?" "Moskovskie novosti," 24 June 2003.
(61) Yurii Shchekochikhin, "TsRU predupredilo," "Novaya gazeta," 28 October 2002.
(62) See "Litvinenko: Yushenkova ubili za rassledovanie terakta v 'Nord-Oste,'" lenta.ru, 25 April 2003; and Anna Politkovskaya, "Odin iz grupppy terroristov utselil. My ego nashli," "Novaya gazeta," 28 April 2003.
(63) Sanobar Shermatova, Aleksandr Teit, "Antivakhkhabitskii emissar," "Moskvovskie novosti," 13 May 2003. Terkibaev was killed on 15 December 2003 in an automobile crash that some commentators found to be suspicious. "The double agent Terkibaev was removed as a dangerous witness," the website newsru.com observed on 16 December 2003.
(64) "Posobnik terroristov ne uspel spasti zalozhnikov," "Kommersant," 11 June 2003.
(65) grani.ru, 28 November 2002. The website provided a list of the names of 979 individuals taken captive on 23 October. As of 25 October, 58 of the captives had been released. ("The Moscow Times," 26 October 2002).
(66) "V Moskve gotovilos chetyre 'Nord-Osta,'" "Rossiiiskaya gazeta," 20 June 2003. A 41st terrorist, the procurator noted, turned out to be an ethnic Russian, the father of one of the hostages, who had foolishly entered the theater on 25 October and had then been shot by the terrorists.
(67) "Genprokuratura ustanovila imena 33-kh terroristov, zakhvativshikh zalozhnikov v Moskve," newsru.com, 6 November 2002. Seven remained unidentified as of October 2003.
(68) Oleg Petrovksii, "V bande Baraeva byl terrorist iz 'Al-Kaedy,'" utro.ru, 30 October 2002.
(69) "Moskva, zalozhniki," vesti7.ru, 2 November 2002. This program was broadcast on 26 October.
(70) "Polnyi spisok opoznannykh terroristov," gzt.ru, 23 October 2003.
(71) Vladimir Demchenko, "Passport terrorista," izvestia.ru, 24 October 2003.
(72) In newsru.com, 24 October 2002.
(73) gzt.ru, 25 October 2002. Item posted in English.
(74) newsru.com, 24 October 2002. The item was reported at 00:04 a.m. on 24 October.
(75) In gazeta.ru, 24 October 2002.
(76) "Jazeera Shows Taped Chechen Rebel Statements," Reuters, 24 October 2002.
(77) Associated Press, 26 October 2002.
(78) "Russian NTV Shows Previously Filmed Interview with Hostage Takers' Leader," BBC Monitoring Service, 26 October 2002.
(79) Mark Franchetti, "Dream of Martyrdom," "The Sunday Times," 27 October 2002.
(80) In newsru.com, 27 October.
(81) "Russia Seeks to 'Wipe Out' Chechen Leaders," Reuters, 31 October 2002.
(82) Robyn Dixon and David Holley, "U.S. Rejects Chechen Separatist Chief," "Los Angeles Times," 30 October 2002.
(83) Sharon LaFraniere, "Setback Seen for Rebel Cause," "The Washington Post," 28 October 2002.
(84) Mikhail Falkov, "Kto i gde gotovil moskovskii terakt?" utro.ru, 31 October 2002.
(85) "Chechen Press Release on Moscow Hostage Crisis," chechenpress.com, 24 October 2002.
(86) Sanobar Shermatova, Aleksandr Teit, "Shestero iz baraevskikh," "Moskovskie novosti," 29 April 2003. The transcript reads: "[Movsar Baraev]: 'We are acting on orders from the supreme military emir. Our supreme military emir there is Shamil Basaev. You know him very well. And Maskhadov is our president.'" ("Russian NTV shows...," BBC Monitoring Service, 26 October 2002.
(87) Mark Franchetti, "Dream of Martyrdom," "The Sunday Times," 27 October 2002.
(88) "Gibel zalozhnikov -- rezultat oshibki spetsluzhb?" "Moskovskii komsomolets," 28 October 2002.
(89) Anna Politkovskaya, "My Hours Inside the Moscow Theater," Institute for War and Peace Reporting, No. 153, 31 October 2002.
(90) Valerii Vyzhutovich, "Usyplayuyushchii gaz," "Moskovskie novosti," 29 October 2002.
(91) Anna Politkovskaya, "Tsena razgovorov," "Novaya Gazeta," No. 80, 28 October 2002.