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Saturday, September 04, 2004 - Page updated at 12:14 A.M.
Suspected mastermind had talked of revenge
By The Associated Press
MOSCOW The Chechen warlord who is suspected by Russian officials of masterminding the hostage-taking at a school in southern Russia threatened earlier in the summer to launch new attacks to avenge the killing of a Chechen rebel leader.
Russian security officials accused Shamil Basayev of planning the seizure of the school with al-Qaida financing, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported yesterday.
Basayev, a militant in his late 30s who has fought Russian rule in Chechnya for more than a decade, has been behind a string of ruthless and dramatic hostage-takings, most of which have ended tragically with numerous captives dead.
He took responsibility for the seizure of a Moscow theater in October 2002, during which 800 audience members were held for days until Russian security forces pumped the building full of nerve gas.
The gas debilitated the captors but also caused 129 hostage deaths.
In June 1995, Basayev personally led some 200 heavily armed fighters into Budyonnovsk in a region neighboring Chechnya and took doctors and patients hostage at the local hospital.
Russian forces stormed the hospital a blunt strategy that critics said accomplished nothing except to kill innocents. More than 100 civilians died, and Basayev and his men escaped back into Chechnya.
Basayev reportedly lost a leg in a minefield while fleeing Grozny after Russian troops re-entered Chechnya in 1999.
More recently, he claimed responsibility for the assassination of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov in a bombing that killed five other people at a stadium in the republic's capital of Grozny in May.
In July, Basayev made a rare appearance in a video, threatening new attacks to avenge the killing of Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in a car bombing in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. Two members of the Russian security force were convicted in the slaying.
It was the first appearance by Basayev in two years.
Basayev has been a leading figure throughout Moscow's bloody conflict in Chechnya since the early 1990s.
He was causing trouble even before the Soviet Union collapsed, helping hijack an airliner in 1991 to draw attention to the Chechen separatist cause. In early 1995, shortly after Russian forces entered Chechnya, a container of radioactive material was found buried in a Moscow park. Basayev claimed it was planted by his cohorts as a warning of the mayhem they could inflict.
After humiliated Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996, Basayev ran for president in elections held in what was at the time a de-facto independent region. He lost to rebel commander Aslan Maskhadov and became his deputy.
But much of his activity in this period remains a mystery and there were persistent rumors of his being spotted in Afghanistan, where the Taliban were cementing power and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist organization was training recruits.
By 1999, Basayev was a fighter again. He and the Saudi-born rebel leader called Khattab led fighters on an incursion into Dagestan, adjacent to Chechnya, with the reported aim of setting up an Islamic state.
The incursion galvanized the Kremlin's determination to reassert control over Chechnya, and after some 300 people died in apartment bombings that officials blamed on the rebels and that Basayev denied the Russian army roared back into the republic.
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