Two female suicide bombers infiltrated a religious festival in Chechnya yesterday and killed 30 people in an attack that Russia immediately linked to Monday's Riyadh bombings. President Vladimir Putin said: "The signature in both places is identical."
Mr Putin said a Saudi-born Islamic fundamentalist named Abu Walid had planned the attack, but had no proof to back up the claim.
Mr Abu Walid is believed to have replaced Omar bin Khattab as one of the Chechen rebel movement's main leaders. Khattab, a Saudi-born warlord, is alleged to have been killed by poisoning last year in Chechnya.
The attacks came two days after suicide bombers detonated a truck bomb in a government compound in northern Chechnya, killing 59. Russian officials claim the attacks are not the work of rebels, but part of a global assault on non-Muslim powers by international terrorists. By linking unrest in Chechnya to the US-led war on terror, Russia has largely avoided Western criticism for its crackdown on the Chechen population.
Yesterday's bombers were apparently trying to kill Akhmad Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya's Moscow-backed administration.
Russian news reports said Mr Kadyrov was among 15,000 people attending the Muslim religious festival in the village of Byelorechye, near the capital, Grozny, but he escaped unharmed when the bombers detonated explosive-laden belts amid the crowds.
Chechnya has fought two wars with Russia since declaring independence when the Soviet Union was breaking up in 1991. Russian officials say the first war, between 1994 and 1996, was motivated by Chechen nationalism.
But after Chechnya won de facto independence, they say the republic was flooded with money and hardened Muslim fighters – veterans of the war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Chechnya then became a launchpad for a terrorist campaign against Russia and the West, officials claim.
The Kremlin is eager to convince Western countries that have been critical of Russia's often-brutal war in Chechnya that Chechen rebels are merely a branch operation of the same world terrorist conspiracy responsible for the 11 September attacks.
Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, head of the FSB security service's operations in Chechnya, said yesterday: "All terrorist acts committed on Chechen territory are financed by international terrorist organisations, including al-Qa'ida."
He said Chechnya's rebel leaders were "puppets in the hands of international terrorists and do everything they are told to do".
Russian officials handed an identical message to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, and Yashwant Sinha, India's External Affairs Minister, who were both in Moscow yesterday. India strongly backs the Russian position, arguing that it has endured frequent suicide bombings from the same terrorists over its 55-year occupation of Kashmir.
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