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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FBI Offers New Chechen Terror Link

APMilitary police escorting a detainee at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Seven Russians are reportedly being held there.
New evidence of links between Chechen rebels and the al-Qaida terrorist network emerged this week as the FBI warned that al-Qaida had planned to use Muslims of "non-Arabic appearance," including extremists from Chechnya, to hijack a commercial airliner in the United States.

"Purportedly, al-Qaida members have discussed using Chechnyan [sic] Muslims affiliated with al-Qaida but already present in the U.S. for such operations in order to avoid security scrutiny at airports,'' the FBI said in a bulletin released Wednesday and quoted by the Los Angeles Times.

The warning, which appears to be based on "discussions'' among al-Qaida members prior to last year's Sept. 11 terror attacks, implicitly serves to buttress Russian claims about cooperation between Chechen rebels and international terrorist groups.

An FBI spokesman said, however, that the media had made more of the bulletin than it was worth.

"It was routine information sent out to local law enforcement and reiterating past information," the spokesman said by telephone from Washington. He said the bulletin had not been intended for public release.

The bulletin said that, "once aboard the aircraft, as many as 10 or 20 hijackers seated in first class would overwhelm the crew and seize control,'' the Los Angeles Times reported. The newspaper also quoted the document as saying that al-Qaida members have discussed using "improvised explosive device components transported onto commercial aircraft in carry-on luggage."

There have been numerous reports of links between Chechen rebels, whom Russia has been fighting since 1994, and international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida. However, the scale of cooperation remains unclear.

"Although al-Qaida functions independently of other terrorist organizations, it also functions through some of the terrorist organizations that operate under its umbrella or with its support, including [jihad groups in] ... the Chechen region of Russia," an FBI counterterrorism official said in a congressional statement last December.

A terrorism expert with the Federal Security Service said Thursday that the FBI bulletin merely confirmed what had already been known.

Osama bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, slipped into Russia in 1997 to scope out Chechnya as a possible base for his cause and even spent several months in a jail in neighboring Dagestan before fleeing to Afghanistan.

Several news reports have pointed to Chechens fighting alongside al-Qaida in and near Afghanistan. As of early this month, seven Russian nationals were reported to be among the suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters held at Guantanamo Bay. It was not clear whether any of them were ethnic Chechens.

The links between Chechen rebels and al-Qaida have also fanned the flames of Russia's conflict with Georgia, which Moscow accuses of harboring terrorists who pose a direct threat to Russian security. U.S. officials have confirmed that there may be al-Qaida fighters hiding among the 6,000 or so Chechen refugees in Georgia's crime-ridden Pankisi Gorge.