Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pakistan roots to Moscow attack?

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - Monday's twin suicide attacks by female bombers in the Moscow metro system in which at least 38 people were killed and 64 injured were most likely planned and executed by people trained in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The head of the Federal Security Service (FSB - formerly the KGB), under whose headquarters the attacks took place, immediately pointed a finger at insurgents linked to the North Caucasus, saying the assumption was based partly on fragments of the suicide bombers' bodies.

"Our preliminary theory is that these terrorist attacks were carried out by terror groups linked to the North Caucasus region," Aleksandr Bortnikov said in reference to Muslim rebels waging a war of independence in
Chechnya, a semi-autonomous region in the Russian Federation.

Russia last year declared an end to counter-terrorism operations in Chechnya that had been ongoing for over a decade, but confidence in that declaration has been shaken by a recent spike in violence, reports RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Well-placed contacts within jihadi circles confirm to Asia Times Online that the attackers were in all probability from the North Caucasus, but add that they could have been trained in Pakistan as part of a broad plan that al-Qaeda has been working on for many years - to stir unrest across
Central Asia. The insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online point out that Monday's attack could signal a new salvo in this battle. The last metro attacks in Moscow were in 2004, when 40 people were killed in two separate incidents.

The al-Qaeda vision is to use the separatist struggle in Chechnya as a rallying point for a broader fight against Russia and its allies in Central Asia. In this new war it is envisaged that Chechens will be joined by, among others, ethnic communities of Uzbeks, Uyghurs and Tajiks under one front to establish an Islamic emirate of Khurasan.

As top al-Qaeda ideologues see it, the map of ancient Khurasan (comprising the present Central Asian republics, parts of Afghanistan, parts of Iran and parts of Pakistan) would be revived. Victory here would then lead to the "end-of-time battles" in the Middle East.

Seeds planted in Afghanistan

Preparations for Khurasan began in the late 1990s in Afghanistan when Taliban leader Mullah Omar provided refuge to fighters from Central Asian Islamic movements in Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Tajikistan. Militants from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement were also accepted. This is an Uyghur organization that advocates the creation of an independent Islamic state of East Turkestan in what is currently the Xinjiang region of China.

Initially, these groups tried to fight their wars of liberation from bases in Afghanistan, but al-Qaeda worked hard to convince them of the need for a joint strategy throughout Central Asia. In the "war and terror" years after the Taliban were thrown from power by the United States-led invasion of 2001, thousands of Central Asian militants gathered in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but their participation in the Afghan resistance was minimal.

This became a serious point of friction between Taliban commander Haji Nazeer and Uzbek militants who had settled in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area. The discord turned bloody in 2007 when Nazeer's men killed hundreds of Uzbek militants. The Uzbeks, with about 2,500 fighters, were the largest group of foreign militants in the area.

Although the Taliban were upset that these militants were not pulling their weight in Afghanistan, it was impressed on them by al-Qaeda that bigger things were planned for the foreigners.

Asia Times Online has written how control of
all foreign fighters in North Waziristan and South Waziristan was generally in the hands of Arabs, who are astute and trained commanders. (See The Pakistani road to German terror Asia Times Online, September 7, 2007.) For example, Abu Nasir commands the Uyghurs and Pakistanis; Abu Akash looks after the Uzbeks and Tajiks while Abu Hanifah takes care of Turkish Kurds, Bosnians and Chechens.

After 2007, foreign fighters began to arrive in Pakistan in increasing numbers as al-Qaeda had consolidated its position in the tribal border areas. Most of the jihadis came from Turkey, where there are large Chechen and Uzbek communities.

After mid-2009, the fighters were able to travel through Iran as al-Qaeda struck a deal with the Iranian Jundallah militant group to allow them transit through restive Sistan-Balochistan province in the southwest. The fighters were also able to return via the same route.

Conceivably, this was the route taken by Monday's suicide bombers after receiving training in the al-Qaeda camps that dot the border areas.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He is writing an exclusive account of al-Qaeda's strategy and ideology in an upcoming book
9/11 and beyond: The One Thousand and One Night Tales of Al-Qaeda. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

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