The United States may have become a target for Chechen terrorists in the wake of the harrowing Beslan school hostage crisis nearly 10 years ago, an expert explained today.
The world watched in horror in 2004 as armed Islamic separatist militants, some Chechen, occupied a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, and killed more than 380 people.
Security expert Simon Bennett said the tragedy bridged a gap between the US and Russia by establishing a mutual threat - fundamental Islamic terrorism.
Dr Bennett, director of the Civil Safety and Security Unit at the University of Leicester, said: “One of the few things in the past five or 10 years that has brought the Russians and the US closer together is the perceived threat from Islamic terrorism.”
He explained that in the wake of the Beslan crisis there would have been close collaboration between the Russians and the West through agencies such as the CIA.
Dr Bennett went on: “The Chechnyans and fundamentalists would have been aware of the bridging of the gap between Russia and the US.
“If Chechnya want an easy target, why not fly to the US on a temporary visa and attack a prestige event.
“If those two guys had carried out that attack in Moscow, the repercussions would have been severe because the Russian state under (president Vladimir) Putin is not reluctant to go in hard. They would know that wouldn't happen in America.”
The Chechens are a largely Muslim population who have lived for centuries in the mountainous North Caucasus. They have resisted Russian rule for the past 200 years.
A report on Chechen terrorism by Preeti Bhattacharji for the independent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) explains that the US State Department believes the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade (IIPB) is the primary channel for Islamic funding of the Chechen rebels, in part through links to al Qaida-related financiers.
The US also defines the Chechnya-based Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) and the Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs as terrorist entities, the CFR report said.
Chechnya's long and violent conflict with Russia has also attracted a small number of Islamist militants from outside Chechnya, some of whom are Arab fighters with possible links to al Qaida, the paper said.
Among the Islamist militants, the most prominent was now-deceased Shamil Basayev, formerly Russia's most wanted man, who ordered the attack on the Beslan school.
Chechen terrorists have been behind several attacks in Russia including the 1999 bombings of a shopping arcade and apartment building in Moscow and the 2002 siege of Moscow's Dubrovka Theatre.
There are several ties between the al Qaida network and Chechen groups, the CFR paper said.
A Chechen warlord known as Khattab is said to have met al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden while both men were fighting the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted for his involvement in the September 11 attacks, was reportedly a former “recruiter for al Qaeda-backed rebels in Chechnya”.
However, some experts have warned that Russian authorities, including Mr Putin, have repeatedly stressed the involvement of bin Laden associates in Chechnya in part to generate Western sympathy for its military campaign in the region.