No one has so far claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on January 24 at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, killing 35 and injuring 84, but chances are that it would be attributed to the Chechen Islamist warriors of North Caucuses. The terrorist outfit is called the Islamic Caucasian Emirate and has attacked many cities in the past decade, challenging Russia’s sovereignty in the Caucasian region. The latest attack is far more lethal and symbolically far more potent than the one carried out in the Moscow subway system in March 2010, killing 40, or the one carried out at the Moscow-St Petersburg rail line in 2009.
Many of the terrorists killed fighting the separatist Chechen war against Russia have been of Arab origin, indicating the strong links the Caucasian region of Russia has with the Gulf region, going back to the uprising of Imam Shamyl against the Tsar in the 19th century. The emir of the Islamic Caucasian Emirate is a Chechen, Doku Umarov, and succeeds a number of earlier leaders killed by Moscow. The al Qaeda-linked Arab terrorists killed so far have been: Ibn al Khattab in 2002, Abu al Walid al Ghamdi, killed in 2004, Abu Hafs al Urduni, killed in 2006 and Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Saif al Tamimi and Saif al Islam al Masri, killed in 2005.
The emirate terrorists are spread out in the mountains of North Caucuses and in Dagestan and are directed by al Qaeda from its stronghold in Pakistan. The extension of al Qaeda activity into Central Asia and the Caucasus began after 1996, when it returned to Afghanistan from Sudan and was able to interface successfully with the Pakistan-supported Taliban regime in Kabul. Jihadi outfits fighting Pakistan’s covert war aligned themselves with the al Qaeda strategy, foremost among them being Dawat wal Irshad, headquartered in Lahore, facilitating the movement of such Central Asian rebels as Juma Namangani of Tajikistan.
Afghanistan was persuaded by those handling the Afghan civil war to recognise the rebel state of Chechnya under ex-Soviet army officer Dzhokhar Dudayev, leading the Chechen revolt. This step was most unfortunate because the world was not ready to recognise a province of Russia, after having established the rule of recognising the breakaway republics of the Soviet Union as independent states. Not even the Organization of the Islamic Conference was willing to pass a resolution in favour of an independent Chechnya.
Pakistani security agencies incorrectly took on Russia by encouraging the Taliban to accept a Chechen poet-statesman and ex-president of the breakaway Islamic republic, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, as a roving ambassador in Afghanistan. This was followed by extensive visits by Zelimkhan in Pakistan, where he went around meeting prominent religious leaders and outfits busy fighting Pakistan’s covert war. As reported by Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency on February 22, 2000, General Musharraf asked “former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev to leave the country immediately”. Islamabad had finally corrected course on what it had earlier initiated. But by then, Afghanistan was reaching the dreaded date of 9/11 when it was to send its exiled Chechen warriors across the Durand Line to the tribal areas of Pakistan to join Central Asian Uzbeks to swell al Qaeda’s international ranks. Zelimkhan thereafter ran away to Qatar, where he was killed in a bombing, allegedly carried out by Russian security services.
The latest Moscow blast will be linked to al Qaeda and, unfortunately, al Qaeda will be linked to Pakistan, because speculations abound about its leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri hiding somewhere in Fata. Pakistan has been a victim of the warriors al Qaeda has brought along. Chechens and Uzbeks have attacked innocent Pakistani citizens and killed them mercilessly. Their allies in Pakistan, the jihadi and sectarian outfits, have broken free of the state’s patronage and are now killing their own former murders as well as innocent Pakistanis. They, in all likelihood, will have been behind the suicide bombing in Lahore on January 25 when a teenaged bomber struck a police checkpost, killing over a dozen people. This, one could say, is yet another blowback of our misguided policy of so-called ‘strategic depth’.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2011.