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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report Says Chechen Terrorists Target Cities

Four groups of trained Chechen terrorists are headed to Russia with plans to launch major terrorist attacks in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large cities, according to an internal Interior Ministry report described Tuesday by newspapers.

The Russian daily newspapers Kommersant and Segodnya said in prominent front-page reports that the terrorists had been trained by Khattab, a Jordanian citizen who is a field commander in Chechnya, and who Russian media have linked with the notorious Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The newspapers did not saw how they had come into possession of the report, which they said was encrypted, but they insisted on its authenticity.

"The explosion at the central market in Vladikavkaz is just the beginning," Kommersant quoted unidentified officials at the Interior Ministry as saying. Police have made no arrests in connection with that blast, which killed more than 50 people last week, but have characterized it as an attack by Chechen-trained terrorists.

The report said the terrorists "graduated" last month from a terrorist training camp Khattab runs in Chechnya and have already left on an itinerary that will take in Volgograd, Saratov, Samara, Voronezh and Krasnoyarsk, in addition to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

It was difficult to know what to make of the reports Tuesday. On one hand, there is some reason to believe that Khattab is training terrorists - and there is always the Vladikavkaz bombing, which has yet to be explained. One Interior Ministry official, on condition of anonymity, confirmed the existence of the internal ministry report.

But officially, the Interior Ministry confirms nothing - and it insists it is not increasing security in any of those cities. Some observers, moreover, thought it suspicious to see the same internal, encrypted document on the front pages of two different newspapers on the same day.

Alexander Iskandaryan, head of the Center for Caucasus Studies, was among those who thought it could be a fabrication - perhaps as a prelude to the executive branch of the federal government preparing a coup.

Coup rumors come and go in Russia, and of late they have been popping up in the media again - so much so that State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov made news Tuesday by telling Interfax that he "has no reason" to believe the Kremlin is preparing a coup.

As evidence that the internal report might be an utka, or a canard, Iskandaryan questioned the idea of putting more police on the streets to keep an eye out for terrorists. "Any professionally trained terrorist would be fully prepared to pass random document checks and move on," he said.

Khattab, who was one of the most ruthless of the Chechen warlords during the 1994-96 war, is believed to run an entire network of terrorist training camps reportedly financed by Moslem countries.

He belongs to the Wahabbite Islamic movement, a sect that has been involved in destabilizing neighboring Dagestan.

In a telephone interview from Grozny, Chechen State Security Minister Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev confirmed the existence of a training center in Chechnya run by Khattab. But Atgeriyev insisted that the center trains "bodyguards" and not terrorists.

"This center welcomes all those willing to learn, just like any bodyguard school in, let's say, the Moscow region," the minister said.

Kommersant reported that all Interior Ministry units have been notified about the possible coming wave of terrorism and have been ordered "to boost security at vital facilities, industrial enterprises and medical facilities."

An Interior Ministry official reached by telephone Tuesday said he had heard talk within the ministry about the report, which he said was prepared by the ministry's North Caucasus directorate, but he would not elaborate.

The ministry's chief spokesman, Yevgeny Ryabtsev, said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a report. He did say that no additional security measures have been taken in Russian cities recently except for in Moscow, where troops have been dispatched to protect the embassies of NATO-member countries in the wake of violent protests against the alliance's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.

Another official with the ministry's press service said the document described in Kommersant and Segodnya, which reportedly called for heightened security in cities, might not exist at all. "It might be a fabrication coming from the south," said the officer, who refused to give her name. She would not elaborate.

A Federal Security Service spokesman said his agency was not aware of any Chechen-trained terrorists planning to set bombs in Russian cities.