#12 - JRL 7188
Chechen warlord says he was behind suicide attacks
May 19, 2003
By Maria Golovnina
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Chechen separatist warlord said Monday his men were responsible for last week's suicide bombings in Chechnya, and the moderate fugitive president of the shattered region distanced himself from the violence.
The attacks killed more than 70 people, mostly civilians, and signaled a fresh upsurge in rebel activity in the mainly Muslim region, dealing a setback to Moscow's plans to end a decade of conflict.
"By the grace of Allah, mujahideen fighters from our suicide... brigade carried out two successful operations against the Russian occupiers and their local lackeys," Abdallakh Shamil Abu-Idris, more commonly known as Shamil Basayev, said in a statement published by the rebel www.kavkazcenter.com Web site.
Basayev, Russia's most wanted man in Chechnya, said the attacks were "a tiny part" of a new campaign against what the Kremlin calls its "anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya.
"And inshallah (God willing), this whirlwind will rage everywhere," he said in his statement.
President Vladimir Putin has vowed to press forward with plans to stage elections for a Chechen president and assembly after securing overwhelming support for continued Russian rule in a March referendum, according to official results.
Putin has refused all talks with even moderate separatists. All rebel groups have denounced the Kremlin plan.
EXILED PRESIDENT DENIES INVOLVEMENT
Chechnya's exiled President Aslan Maskhadov, accused by pro-Moscow officials of plotting last week's attacks, said he would never have sent his men to kill innocent people or Chechens working for the local pro-Moscow administration.
"I am totally convinced that those who kill Chechnya's civilians operate under the umbrella of Russian special forces with the aim of discrediting Chechen resistance fighters," he said in response to questions submitted by Reuters.
Suicide bombers last week drove a truck packed with explosives into a government complex in Chechnya and a woman blew herself up at a religious festival.
Maskhadov, elected Chechen president in 1997, was accused by the Kremlin of masterminding the hostage-taking at a Moscow theater last year which left more than 100 dead. He said he had given up long-standing calls for peace talks with the Kremlin.
"Today, any rational person should see it is pointless to pursue a peaceful solution with Russia's current leadership as it came to power only thanks to this war," said Maskhadov.
"Russia, which has killed so many innocent people, has not left any chance for a peaceful settlement."
Maskhadov said his fighters were gearing up for a "summer campaign" to "clear our land of the occupiers."
Putin was propelled to power in 2000 largely on the strength of his launching a second military campaign in Chechnya in 1999. A Kremlin envoy has held a single brief meeting with a Maskhadov representative, but there have been no serious talks.