The Magazine

The Road from Riyadh to Beslan

How Islamists hijacked the Chechen separatist movement.

Sep 20, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 02 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THREE ROADS led to the horror at Beslan in the Russian republic of North Ossetia, in which at least 330 people, most of them children, died: one road beginning in Grozny, the capital of neighboring Chechnya; one road beginning in Moscow, to the north; and one road beginning in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, far to the south. Americans need to know how such frightful events are connected to the global war on terror, and the degree to which they must threaten our own peace of mind.

The main culprits in Beslan were Islamic extremists. Since at least 1999, these violent fanatics, with backing from the Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia and financial support from radicals throughout the global Muslim community, have assiduously agitated to take over the Chechen national movement (about which more in a moment).

The participation of "Arabs"--meaning Saudis and other Wahhabi-influenced Muslim foreigners--is a constant in reportage and comment on Beslan and earlier terrorist incidents in Chechnya, as well as in neighboring Ingushetia, in Georgia, and in Russia itself. The majority of Chechens, most of whom want only to be left alone, are not avid for the Wahhabi offensive, which is one reason most attacks now take place outside Chechnya.

Meanwhile, the Islamists hope to exploit old rivalries between the Chechens, Ingushes, and other Muslim peoples of the Caucasus mountains and their Christian neighbors, including the majority of Ossetians. In Russian and Soviet history, Chechens were always the arch-opponents of Russian penetration into the mountains, and the Ossetians the most enthusiastic Russian supporters.

Al Qaeda-promoting websites accessible almost anywhere are replete with propaganda extolling terrorism against innocents in Russia, exalting suicide bombers, and seeking to intoxicate Muslim youth with the glamour of dying in the Chechen campaign (see, for example, In mosques across the globe, from New York to Nairobi, Wahhabi extremists collect money and recruits for combat in Chechnya, which at times overshadows Iraq as a symbol of so-called martyrdom.

To cite an example on American soil, the 25th National Convention of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a front for the radical Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan, was held in 2000 in Baltimore. There, Tayyib Yunus, head of the group's youth section, complained, "We all want to see our youth to succeed to become doctors, to become engineers; but how many of you can actually say that you want to send your sons to jihad, to Chechnya? How many of you can actually say that you want to send your youth to fight in jihad?" Chechen advocates claim that money collected in mosques in America and other Western countries never reaches the Caucasus.

Wherever al Qaeda and its supporters operate--which means wherever Wahhabis are to be found, including in the United States--atrocities like those in Beslan may occur. Why should a conspiracy capable of the attacks of September 11, 2001, known to have been plotting the use of nuclear dirty bombs, and guilty of bloodshed from the nightclub bombing in Bali to the Madrid metro massacre shrink from taking children hostage anywhere? To defeat the perpetrators of Beslan and its like must be the goal of all who would protect civilization. Yet two questions must be posed: How can we defeat the terrorists? And, is Russia under Putin truly an ally in the struggle?

The Wahhabi conspiracy that has taken over a section of the Chechen movement is controlled from Riyadh. To stop another Beslan from occurring, the United States and other leaders in the global war should do everything necessary to terminate al Qaeda, capture bin Laden and his command staff, and quiet the storm in Falluja. That is, they must force the rich Saudis and Saudi state institutions to halt their international promotion of Wahhabism. Notably, the terror-financing charities operating in the Chechen refugee camps in Ingushetia must be dismantled.

Action by President Bush calling the Saudis to order on this matter would be more effective than waiting while Vladimir Putin further mishandles a problem that the Russians have never been able to deal with. The Russians respond to such challenges by attempting to manipulate them for political purposes, rather than by trying to save lives and catch terrorists. In dealing with al Qaeda and its allies, Russia can be as slippery an ally as the Saudi kingdom.