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A time for anger

"A time for anger" Continued...

Issue: "Education: Sick schools," Sept. 18, 2004

Al-Qaeda also took interest in the Chechen struggle, collaborating with Chechen Islamists over the last decade. The group ran a training camp in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to train jihadis to fight in Chechnya. One of al-Qaeda's chemical and biological weapons scientists reportedly transferred his activities to the camp after the Taliban's fall in Afghanistan. At least one of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya.

Still, while foreign fighters and funding have flooded into Chechnya, no Chechen warriors have been discovered returning the favor in al-Qaeda's international jihad. The relationship, says Russia expert Larry Uzzell, has so far been a "one-way street," with Chechen separatists still focused on winning their own independence.

The Beslan siege nonetheless carves out new frontiers of brutality in that fight. Russian officials have said Mr. Besayev is behind the attack-a possibility, says Mr. Uzzell, but as yet unverified in a Kremlin campaign of disinformation after the crisis. "I think Besayev himself is such a fanatic that he would not accept peace," said Mr. Uzzell, who interviewed the warlord in 1995. "Besayev has adopted rhetoric and imagery that is more Arabic than Chechen."

Where Chechen moderates like former president Aslan Maskhadov fit into the Arab-Chechen friendship is unclear. He and his officials have been in hiding since 1999, though he publicly condemned the Beslan attack. Most Chechens are secularized Muslims, and separatists like Mr. Maskhadov have traditionally received funding from the Chechen diaspora. Organized crime also funds secessionists, creating worsening security in the region.

"Maskhadov claims to be independent of Besayav, but these things are shadowy," Mr. Uzzell said. "With each passing year there's more and more independence among various field commanders. There isn't a single command structure controlling everything Chechen separatists are doing." The Kremlin nonetheless blamed both Mr. Maskhadov and Mr. Besayev for the Beslan attack.

More worrying, however, is that the Beslan terrorists may widen the war in the Caucasus. Mostly Christian Ossetia, an island in the predominantly Muslim region, fought a territorial war with neighboring Ingushetia in 1992. With at least one attacker an Ingush, ethnic tensions between the two are aflame again, and Mr. Uzzell believes the terrorists were aiming for just that. Already residents of Beslan have talked of arming themselves and killing Ingush children in retaliation, Ms. Abydyonova said.

At the memorial service for the Totiev children, some men shouted back angrily in Ossetian at visiting pastors who called for peace and forgiveness. Then Sergey Totiev spoke. "We don't want to curse anybody," he said. "We don't want to hate anyone. We want even the death of our children to be a shining light. We know that our children are with God and we want everybody in this community to have the same hope." The men fell silent, listening with tears in their eyes.

To support the Totievs contact: Russian Ministries, P.O. Box 496, Wheaton, IL 60189; (888) 462-7639; www.russian-ministries.org

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