Friday, April 4, 2014

Chechnya Past Weapons Future Threats: The Risk to Russia and the West

Chechen Terrorists photo: syriafreepress

In September 2004, a radical Chechen terrorist named Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for an attack many recall, as the worst hostage event in recent history. Basayev, an explosives expert, claimed responsibility for the siege which killed over 350 people, most of them children. As the world watched in horror, School Number One, in Beslan, North Ossetia, which had been nested with bombs, exploded killing almost everyone inside. See: Years prior to this, in November of 1995, Basayev had planted cesium 137 in Moscow's Ismailovsky Park. Cesium 137 is a radioactive isotope with a half life of 37 years and generally used in nuclear medicine. The original source of the cesium was never identified. Basayev was known to have strong ties to Al Qaeda. Basayev who began using the nom de guerre Emir Abdallah Shamil Abu-Idris was killed in an explosion in 2006. In his memoirs, CIA director George Tenet revealed his concerns "The most senior leaders of Al-Qaeda are still singularly focused on acquiring WMD." See:
What few may recall were efforts by Chechen affiliated Al Qaeda (AQ) to work weaponizing biological pathogens and toxins in the Pankisi and Korda Gorges. In a 2005 report, French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin noted that "terrorists were highly likely to use weapons of mass destruction including germ weapons." He further noted that documents were available that prove Al Qaeda was seeking access to biological weapons and had developed methods for use of these weapons. When the Talib regime was overturned in Afghanistan, some of the projects were relocated too and continued in the Pankisi Gorge close to the Chechen boarder."  (See: Just to note, in response to French Interior Minister's comments Vano Merabishvili, from the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that within the past year no foreign special services had reported there may be terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge who develop chemical and biological weapons. He added that in 2000-2002 special services of several countries reported there were terrorists in Pankisi Gorges. He said an anti-terrorist operation conducted in 2002 together with the United States solved the problem. He then emphasized that Georgian military structures now control the Pankisi Gorge. ( .While Russian intervention should be noted as well as countering terrorism in the Caucus, the movers and shakers of this operation were associates of Basayev. Russia has fought a protracted counter-terrorism war with Chechen 'rebels,' a term which probably doesn't quite do them justice, so for the purpose of this article I will refer to them as 'terrorists.' Chechen terrorists work closely with Al Qaeda. 

Whatever views one may hold with regard to Vladimir Putin, he has taken exceptional and commensurate action against Chechen terrorists organizations who, if in possession of BW pose a considerable threat to global health security. Putin has done more than can be said for others in similar positions who are probably guilty of dereliction of duty for not protecting us from known AQ BW threats. So Putin is the hero of the day on this one. The FSB, as perhaps only second to one other state in professionalism and experience, has done a remarkable job in containing and countering the threat posed by AQ terrorists in the Ciscaucasus and Transcaucus. While I note the threat from the Pankisi Gorge no longer exists and in fact evidence of BW research there is light, the risk of Chechen's associated with AQ acquiring this capability from a state lab or diverting highly pathogenic agents from other repositories remains a significant concern. Unlike nuclear isotopes, materials and say dirty bombs, biological warfare agents are weaponized to be highly infectious and often highly transmissible. An attack on Russia using BW will not be limited to Russia, not to spell out the obvious, so countering this threat is worthwhile. 

Taking a closer look at Chechen ties to AQ and their quest for WMD, it is notable that several hundred, if not a higher number, of Chechen terrorists have trained in Afghanistan and a few of their high ranking leaders were known to have met with Osama bin Laden. While the preoccupation of Chechen terrorists in terms of WMD, appears to focus on acquiring nuclear materials in order to perhaps manufacture a dirty bomb (the PIR Center has produced a nice report on this see:, it is still worth considering that BW in the hands of Chechen terrorists should be an international concern. In 2005, Middle East Quarterly produced an excellent article entitled: "How Chechnya Became a Breeding Ground for Terror", by Lorenzo Vidino. In this report he quite accurately contends: 

"Over the last decade, Islamist terrorists have co-opted the Chechen cause as part of a global jihad. Umar Ibn al-Khattab, a Saudi native who became the leader of the foreign mujahideen in Chechnya, said "This case is not just a Chechen matter but an Islamic matter, like Afghanistan ."(4)"According to Georgian officials, in early 2002, some sixty Arab computer, communications and financial specialists, military trainers, chemists, and bomb-makers settled in the gorge. The group used sophisticated satellite and encrypted communications to support both Ibn al-Khattab's operations in Chechnya and terrorists planning attacks against Western targets. The 'Pankisi Arabs' later tried to buy explosives for what Georgian security officials believe was to have been a major attack on US or other Western installations in Russia."(54)

"A 2003 plot involving ricin, a virulent and deadly toxin, demonstrated the Islamist co-option of the Chechen nationalist conflict and its transformation into a global jihadist training ground. According to U.S. intelligence sources cited in the Italian indictment, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist alleged to mastermind much of the Iraqi insurgency, dispatched Adnan Muhammad Sadiq (Abu Atiya), a former Al-Qaeda instructor at a Herat, Afghanistan training camp, to Pankisi. In the gorge, Abu Atiya, a Palestinian who had lost a leg during the Chechen war, trained terrorists in the use of toxic gases.[55] He also was behind a 2002 scheme to stage biological and chemical attacks against Russian or American interests in Turkey."[56]

"Undeterred by his compromised Turkey plot, in autumn 2002, he tasked a number of Islamist cells from North Africa to travel to Europe to conduct poison and explosive attacks.[57] In December 2002, French authorities arrested four terrorists planning to blow up the Russian embassy in Paris. According to the French Interior Ministry, three of the individuals arrested—Merouane Benahmed, Menad Benchellali, and Noureddine Merabet—had fought alongside Chechen mujahideen and had received training in toxic substances from "high-ranking Al-Qaeda operatives" in the Pankisi camps. The terrorists said they wanted to attack the Russian embassy to avenge Ibn al-Khattab's death."[58]

"Information extracted from the detainees in France led investigators to another cell in north London, which possessed a stock of ricin.[59] The ensuing investigation led to raids on London's Finsbury Park mosque,[60] a raid in Manchester during which an Algerian terrorist fatally stabbed a British police officer,[61] and arrests in Spain."[62]

"The global reach of Al-Qaeda's Chechen cells was demonstrated by the fact that the ricin's manufacture was consistent with descriptions in Al-Qaeda manuals and in a notebook found by Russian Special Forces during a raid of a Chechen rebel base.[63] According to the Kremlin's spokesman for Chechen issues, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the ricin investigation showed that Chechnya had become part of a "network of international terrorist organizations."[64] For full report see:

While reports of Al Qaeda Chechen cells BW efforts since around 2006 have leveled off, the fact that Western European targets were selected and toxins and BW were considered for use and in some instances developed, remains highly concerning. 

"While much has been made over the last twelve years of American Special Operations Forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and other locations around the world, Russian Special Operations have been almost completely overlooked. What American and Russian SoF share in common is the War on Terror. Both nations have had to tangle with extremist Islamic ideologies and the terrorists that draw inspiration from them. Many Americans may recall Russia's battles in Chechnya during the 1990's but most are unfamiliar with the efforts of Russian Special Operations to conduct strikes against High Value Targets, or HVTs. High Value Targets are those individuals within a terrorist group who represent a significant node within that network, such as the leaders of that particular organization." Read more at: 

It is worth considering that Russian SoF play a key role in the War on Terror and that they have successfully prevented thus far the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in a mass casualty attack. 

Dragon voice recognition

Jill Bellamy is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and defence. She has formerly advised NATO and for the past seventeen years has represented a number of bio-pharmaceutical and government clients working on procurement strategy between NATO MS and Washington DC. Her articles have appeared in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, Le Temps, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post among other publications. She is a CBRN SME with the U.S. Department of Defence, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Information Analysis Center and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, a private consultancy based in the Netherlands. She currently serves as Associate Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, UK. 

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