given the full context of Russia’s double game in Chechnya,
we ought to entertain the possibility
that China and Russia secretly supported
the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11.
Weekly Column - Tuesday, July 16, 2002
"Ayman al-Zawahiri's Russian Adventure"
by J. R. Nyquist
A fascinating piece by Andrew Higgins and Alan Cullison recently appeared in The Wall Street Journal [July 2] with the title: “How a Secret, Failed Trip to Chechnya Turned Key Plotter’s Focus to America and bin Laden.” The key plotter in this case was 9/11 mastermind and bin Laden’s Egyptian lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The article’s title suggests that Zawahiri’s failure to settle in Chechnya (due to his “detention” by the KGB/FSB in 1996-97) led him to Afghanistan and an alliance with bin Laden. But according to ranking U.S. terrorism expert, Yossef Bodansky, Egyptian Jihad leader Zawahiri was preparing a massive terrorist assault on America as early as 1993, years before he “disappeared” into Russia for six months.
Dressed in Western-style clothing with his beard shaved, the university-educated Zawahiri had long worked in Europe, organizing an elite network specifically designed for “future terror operations” against the United States. Bodansky alleges that Zawahiri established his operational headquarters in Geneva Switzerland in early 1994. In addition to this, Zawahiri mobilized Islamist Bosnian forces in the aftermath of the Yugoslav breakup. His command center for the Balkans was located in Sofia, Bulgaria. It is hard to believe this was done without the full knowledge and consent of the Moscow-directed and trained Bulgarian secret police. It is also hard to believe that the KGB/FSB later had Zawahiri in their custody for six months without knowing who he was (as alleged by Wall Street Journal writers Higgins and Cullison).
An inconsistency in the story of Zawahiri’s Russian adventure also appears in the fact that he did not simply go to “independent” Chechnya, but was arrested after crossing over into Russian-held Dagestan. In addition, Higgins and Cullison tell us that Zawahiri arrived in Russia after visiting China where he had money dealings with a mainland Chinese bank in Guangdong province. One ought to ask what kind of Islamist sets up a command center in Bulgaria, does banking in China and pays extended visits to Russia?
Radical Islam was long ago infiltrated by Moscow’s agents -- as evidenced by East German and Cuban support for the Saudi Islamists who attacked the Grand Mosque in 1979, as well as the KGB’s clandestine role in provoking the Iranian hostage crisis during the Carter administration (see Bodansky’s Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, p. 9). It is therefore unlikely that the Russians would fail to identify Zawahiri (as he was the most important Egyptian terrorist in the Islamist movement). They knew they had an Arab in custody. Any Arabist in the Russian intelligence service would be able to tell an Egyptian from a local yokel. Furthermore, since Moscow was secretly supporting the Serbs against the Bosnians in Yugoslavia, the Kremlin could not have missed Zawahiri’s activities in organizing resistance to the Moscow-backed Yugoslav central government. But things are not so simple in “former” communist countries. As with the Chechen War, the civil war following the breakup of Yugoslavia has an interesting pre-history in the literature of Russian grand strategy.
In his 1982 book, We Will Bury You, Czech communist defector Jan Sejna described Moscow’s long-range strategy in detail. With reference to Yugoslavia, Sejna wrote that Moscow “intended to exploit the nationalities question by infiltrating the nationalist [i.e., Croation, Serbian and Bosnian] leadership, and to penetrate the various opposition movements….” If Yugoslavia fell into the hands of a pro-Western group, wrote Sejna, “the Russians would try to break up Yugoslavia into separate states….”
It is highly probable that clandestine Kremlin support was funneled to double agents within Bosnia via Zawahiri in Bulgaria. Such incitement would bind Belgrade to Moscow once and for all while leaving a useful Muslim front organization in Bosnia with which to attack future Western targets. Controlling both sides in the Yugoslav civil war meant that the conflict in the Balkans could be used to bring whatever results the strategists in Moscow desired. “The Soviet objective,” wrote Sejna, “was to destroy [Yugoslavia’s] established economic order to enable their own agents to emerge at the top….” As convoluted as this sounds, the breakup of Yugoslavia did occur as Sejna’s 1982 testimony suggested it would. In this regard we are left to wonder about the true role of 9/11 mastermind Zawahiri, who not only operated against Yugoslavia by way of “former” communist Bulgaria, but who later traveled to communist China and then to Russia where he was swallowed up for six months only to emerge in May 1997.
Given Zawahiri’s travels to Russia and China, given the full context of Russia’s double game in Chechnya (described in last week’s column), we ought to entertain the possibility that China and Russia secretly supported the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11.
Higgins and Cullison report that the Russians released bin Laden’s Egyptian lieutenant, Zawahiri, returning his cash, communications gear and computer (its documents allegedly unread by the Russian secret police). This is not characteristic of an intelligence service that has successfully arrested and executed countless foreign spies, making the penetration of Russia’s inner sanctum virtually impossible. But when it comes to an Egyptian (Zawahiri) who suddenly appears in Russia, the infamous KGB suddenly turns “nice” and “stupid.” They are unable to identify him and uninterested in reading the documents on his hard drive. Does this sound as implausible to you as it does to me?
Higgins and Cullison say that after “Dr. Zawahiri’s” release, he “spent 10 days meeting secretly with Islamists in Dagestan. ”One of Zawahiri’s men even met with Chechnya’s resident Arab terrorist, Abu Khattab (a close associate of Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, suspected by many observers of being the secret creature of the Russian General Staff). Not surprisingly, Zawahiri’s disappearance into the bowels of Russia led to “intense questioning” by his followers. Higgins and Cullison admit that Zawahiri lied about his Russian adventure. He made up a story about being kidnapped by a criminal gang. Then Zawahiri “developed an ulcer.”
Why should an honest Islamist leader lie to his followers about a visit to Russia?
The idea that bin Laden and Zawahiri are authentic Muslim believers may be naïve. In politics one should never take a profession of faith at face value. Such professions are sometimes used to manipulate simple-minded followers. In the case of al Qaeda, why believe in the piety of leaders who are proven liars and murderers? Why accept the religious pretensions of people who not only act like communist revolutionaries, but who hold super-secret meetings in “former” communist countries (e.g., Albania, Bulgaria, China and Russia) under the auspices of the KGB or its sister services?
Those who are naïve about international politics will remain naïve about Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is one of those radicals calling for “maximum casualties” in America. One ought to wonder, given the number of Muslims killed by the Russians in Afghanistan and Chechnya why Zawahiri doesn’t call for “maximum casualties” in Russia. America has not invaded and occupied Muslim territory. Meanwhile Chinese and Russian troops stand guard over the Islamic people of Central Asia.
On Monday Reuters reported that bin Laden is planning “more attacks” on the United States. No attacks have been announced against Moscow or the overtly “godless” regime in Beijing.
Are we beginning to understand that there is a method to bin Laden’s madness?
© 2002 Jeffrey R. Nyquist
July 16, 2002