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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Tape Raises Questions

A videotape obtained in Afghanistan by U.S. newspaper Newsday shows footage of Osama bin Laden and Khattab, and the Kremlin spokesman on the Chechnya war said Tuesday that this should prove to the world that al-Qaida is financing the Chechen rebels.

Analysts, however, said there is no way to know whether the tape is genuine, and it is unlikely to lessen Western criticism of Russia's conduct in Chechnya.

Newsday reported Sunday that it bought the tape for $500 from a Kabul landlord, who said it was left behind by his tenants, al-Qaida members, when they fled the Afghan capital. Afghans have offered other such tapes and documents for sale.

The videotape shows footage of bin Laden and Khattab, an Arab who is among the leading commanders of Chechen rebels, but the Newsday report indicated that the two men are never shown together. The Newsday correspondent who bought the tape could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the newspaper account, the video opens with an episode set in an al-Qaida camp in the Afghan mountains, where bin Laden talks to his followers about their duty to fight the infidels. He does not mention Chechnya or Russia.

The video then shows Chechen rebels shooting what appear to be already dead Russian soldiers. Closeups show bullet wounds in their heads, suggesting they were executed. The next scene is of Khattab at a table with Chechen leaders, including Shamil Basayev, listening to a motivational speech by a man identified by the newspaper as an Arab.

The last segment of the tape is of two suicide bombings, one said to be south of Gudermes and the other in Argun. Newsday suggested these could have been suicide attacks carried out against Russian troops in 2000.

One purpose of the videotape might have been to show potential donors how al-Qaida was helping the Chechens, Newsday said.

This one tape, which could easily have been produced by any interested party, cannot serve as proof of a link between al-Qaida and the Chechen rebels, said Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow branch of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.

"There must be a critical mass of evidence of the regular exchange of such documents like that tape," he said.

Videotapes featuring Chechen rebels' attacks and executions of Russian soldiers circulate widely in the Northern Caucasus and are openly sold in local video shops.

"It is not important whether the tape was made up or not," said Dmitry Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "It cannot change the critical position of the West, which knows that international terrorism is only a small element of the Chechen resistance, which also comprises homegrown terrorism, separatism, banditry and, most of all, the exasperation of the suffering people in Chechnya."

Although it is impossible to determine whether the tape was really used to solicit financial support for the Chechens, its existence plays into the Kremlin's hands, said Alexander Iskandaryan, the head of the Moscow-based Institute of Caucasian Studies.

"The attempt to connect internal enemies with the international terrorists against whom the United States has taken up arms is what Moscow naturally wants," Iskandaryan said. "However, the West's attitude to the war in Chechnya will depend not on such evidence but on the pragmatic political priorities of the Western governments."

The office of the Kremlin spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said Tuesday the videotape proves that Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov and his representative, Akhmed Zakayev, are not being truthful when they deny connection to al-Qaida, Interfax reported.

Zakayev, appointed by Maskhadov last fall to represent him in peace negotiations with Russia, is representing the rebel leader at this week's session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where Russia is expected to be criticized for its poor progress in negotiating with Maskhadov.

"It is impossible to successfully fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan and at the same time actually encourage its action in Chechnya, calling for negotiations with those who deny a connection between Chechen rebels and this organization," Yastrzhembsky's office was quoted by Interfax as saying.