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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The U.S. Declares Basayev a Threat

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday designated Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev a threat to the security of the United States and to U.S. citizens.

Powell, in a notice in the Federal Register, said Basayev, 38, "has committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism" against U.S. interests.

The State Department said Basayev has "links" to the al-Qaida terror network. Together with Britain and Russia, the United States asked the United Nations to impose travel sanctions on him and to block shipment of arms and financial contributions to the rebels by all UN members.

"We believe that Basayev, as leader of his group and individually, took part in planning and perpetrating terrorist acts," State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said.

He claimed responsibility for seizing the Dubrovka theater in Moscow last October, an act of terrorism that resulted in the death of 129 hostages, including a U.S. citizen, Reeker said.

And last December, Chechen suicide bombers destroyed the Chechen administration complex in Grozny, killing 78 people and wounding 150, Reeker said in a statement. It cited other terror attacks and said last November that Basayev warned governments that were members of international organizations in Russia they would be targets.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control moved to freeze any assets Basayev might have in the United States and any attempt to transfer the funds.

U.S. officials have been trying to trace funding to Osama bin Laden and his terror network.

The U.S. action supports Russia's efforts to win acceptance of its widely criticized four-year war in Chechnya and its refusal to negotiate with rebels.

In Moscow, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya, said Powell's announcement "is a step in absolutely the right direction. It is another confirmation that within the anti-terrorist coalition there is a deepening understanding that what is happening in Chechnya is inseparable from the battle against terrorist threats in the world."

A Foreign Ministry statement praised the move as "a further step in strengthening global anti-terrorist cooperation."

Akhmad Kadyrov, the head of the Kremlin-backed administration in Chechnya, said Saturday that Washington's designation of Basayev as a terrorist could help cut foreign support for his rebels' operations.

"Few countries or organizations will want to be caught maintaining either direct or roundabout ties with Basayev," Kadyrov said in comments reported by Interfax.

He also said the rebels had been deprived of the moral support "that was implicitly expressed when they were called separatists or freedom fighters."

Since Russian ground forces poured into Chechnya in September 1999, the Kremlin has insisted on characterizing the conflict as an "anti-terrorist operation" rather than a war. It has bluntly rejected international calls for talks with the rebels, saying that negotiations cannot be held with terrorists.

Criticism of the Russian campaign faded notably after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, and the West has appeared increasingly inclined to accept the Kremlin's stance.

The U.S. announcement did not specify what sorts of terrorist acts Basayev might threaten the United States with, but he has taken credit for some of the most grisly violence that has hit Russia over the past year, including the seizure of hundreds of hostages at the Moscow theater in October and suicide bombings that killed about 100 people in May.

The Chechen rebel forces are not believed to operate under a central command, and it is not clear whether freezing Basayev's assets would deprive the insurgents of significant resources. The United States ordered sanctions on three other Chechen groups in February, but the tempo of the fighting has not slowed.

The Treasury Department on Friday also moved to freeze any financial assets found in the United States belonging to former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The UN anti-terrorism committee recently added Yandarbiyev to a list of people with alleged links to al-Qaida.

The value of any assets that Yandarbiyev or Basayev may have in the United States was not known. By having their names added to the United States' list of specially designated global terrorists, both men not only have their assets blocked, but Americans also are forbidden from doing business with them.

Jim Heintz contributed to this report from Moscow.