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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Saturday, September 04, 2004

FBI Probes Jewish Sway on Bush Government

The FBI investigation into the Pentagon mole affair has expanded beyond data analyst Larry Franklin's immediate circle to encompass the entire issue of Jewish influence on the neoconservative part of the administration.

The FBI queries have recently been focusing on a number of officials, all from the neoconservative wing, who had access to the debates on Iranian affairs, the Washington Post reported yesterday.

The officials include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; Pentagon adviser Richard Perle; adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Wormser; and Iran specialist Harold Rhode, all of them Jews.

The Washington Post reported that FBI people recently spoke to administration officials and Middle East experts to sound them out on the suspicion that senior officials funneled secret material to Israel. They asked each official whether he believes that a certain group of people could spy for Israel and transfer secret information.

The investigation now appears to center on the claim made by the opponents of the neoconservatives in the administration - that the latter are responsible for the U.S. Middle East policy and that they are suspected of bias in favor of Israel's interests.

The issues being queried have also increased. It transpires that the FBI is investigating, in addition to funneling classified information to Israel, the possibility that secret information had been given to Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi opposition. Chalabi was close to many of the people mentioned in the affair and was a central source of information to the Americans on the goings-on in Iraq before the war.

The Washington Post said the FBI asked the administration officials about Israeli embassy officials in Washington who allegedly held contacts with administration officials to procure secret information. So far, only the name of Naor Gilon, the political adviser in the embassy, was mentioned as involved in the affair.

The L.A. Times reported on Friday that the American administration does not believe Israel's contention that it does not spy on America and that U.S. government officials say Israel secretly maintains a large and active intelligence-gathering operation in the U.S.

The officials said the FBI and other bodies spy on Israeli diplomats in Washington and New York as a matter of routine. The report said that Israel has long attempted to recruit U.S. officials as spies and to procure classified documents, according to the Times.

Israel said it set a policy of not spying on the United States after Jonathan Pollard's arrest in November 1985 and the damage it did to bilateral relations in general and to intelligence and security ties in particular. For 20 years, Israel said, that policy has translated into unequivocal directives to the intelligence and defense communities: They are not allowed to locate candidates for recruiting as agents, cannot recruit and operate agents, nor pay for information.

Nathan Guttman

AIPAC of Spies

On Monday, in this space, I stated what for me was obvious: that Larry Franklin, the apparent Israeli spy, and Ahmad Chalabi, the known Israeli spy and leading Friend of Neocons, were peas in a pod. I wrote:

Let's assume that Chalabi and Franklin, two lower-level operatives for the same machine, are still working together. And that the machine, the great Neoconservative Empire Machine and its Israeli right-wing allies, is what needs to be investigated.
Today’s Washington Post reports exactly that. It’s a stunning break in the Franklin case, which isn’t really the Franklin case at all, but a broader counterintelligence inquiry aimed at the Pentagon’s nest of spies run by Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and Bill Luti. The circle, it ought to be obvious, is blissfully leaking secrets to the likes of Chalabi and AIPAC, and apparently blundered not once, but twice now—most recently when they sent Franklin stumbling into a meeting with AIPAC and the Embassy of Israel. Says the Post:

FBI counterintelligence agents are investigating whether several Pentagon officials leaked classified information to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to a law enforcement official and other people familiar with the case.

Several sources familiar with the case say the probe now extends to other Pentagon personnel who have a particular interest in assisting both Israel and Chalabi, the former Iraqi dissident who was long a Pentagon favorite but who has fallen out of favor with the U.S. government.
Hmm. Who could that be? Which “personnel” might want to assist both Israel and Chalabi? Now the point is, assisting Israel and Chalabi makes sense because they are the same thing. And of course Chalabi isn’t spying for Iran, unless you think trying to build up the already existing Iran-Israel axis (remember Iran-contra) means spying for Iran. Chalabi is on Israel’s team, and vice versa, and so are the neocons. For a decade, they’ve been scheming to topple Saddam Hussein, wreak havoc in the Arab world, and boost the security of Israel. Before that, from 1979 to 1988, Israel supported Iran in its war with Iraq, helped arm the mullahs, and built strong connections to Iran’s military-industrial complex. Chalabi has multiple ties to the Israelis, and both have multiple ties to Iran and to various components of Iraq’s restive Shiite gangs.

The Post quotes a follower of Feith and Co. charging that the whole spy inquiry is just some petty CIA vendetta against “neoconservatives”:

Another official, an ideological ally of Feith's, said, however, that the investigation is part of an effort by some in the intelligence community to discredit Pentagon hawks. "This is part of a civil war within the administration, a basic dislike between the old CIA and neoconservatives," the official said.
But since when are “the CIA” and “neoconservatives” equal players? The CIA and the FBI are charged with protecting national security, a job that they do with, let’s say, uneven success. But the neoconservatives have a decades-long history of spying for Israel. This has long been known to U.S. counterintelligence officials. For the first time in memory it seems that the CIA and the FBI are actually doing something about it.

The N.Y. Daily News—the Daily News!—reports that the real target of the investigation is the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. (Anyone seen Abe Shulsky lately? What’s he doing anyway? Shulsky was the first director of OSP, and I was the first to out him in The American Prospect in 2002.). Anyway, the Daily News :

An unorthodox Pentagon outfit responsible for much of the Bush administration's discredited intelligence on Iraq is the target of a broad FBI national security probe, sources told the New York Daily News Wednesday.

The secretive Office of Special Plans and a related project are being investigated over how they obtained top-secret intelligence and whom they shared it with, according to four federal sources.

"It involves the improper transfer of information," said one source briefed on the case. "A lot more is going to come out."
So AIPAC is being watched, the Israeli Embassy has clammed up, AEI is not saying much and Franklin is getting ready to sing in front of a grand jury:

Franklin is expected to testify about his activities next week before a federal grand jury, said a fifth federal source.

The intelligence source said it's not clear what, if anything, Franklin will be charged with, "but I doubt it will be full-blown espionage."
No, it will be half-blown espionage. Or, make that fully blown.
Now since the investigation was announced to Condi Rice and Steve Hadley two years ago, the question is: Did they tell Elliot Abrams? If so, they blew the investigation, because Abrams is part of the conspiracy. I hope the FBI was watching who told who what at the White House, but it’s obvious that this investigation was known to all the principals since 2002. I suppose they assumed they were so powerful that no one, no one would accuse them of being spies. We’ll see. That rag, the New York Sun—home of Eli Lake, junior mouthpiece of neocons—is reporting that the Attorney General Ashcroft himself is intervening in the case, possibly because his special pipeline to Jesus told him that Zionists must be protected at all costs. From the Sun :

According to sources familiar with the investigation, the U.S. district attorney in charge of the probe, Paul McNulty, has ordered the FBI not to move forward with arrests that they were prepared to make last Friday when the story broke on CNN and CBS. 'He put the brakes on it in order to look at it,' a source familiar with the investigation told the Sun. 'To see what was there. Basically the FBI wanted to start making arrests and McNulty said "Woa, based on what? Let's look at this before you do anything.”

Mr. McNulty was only assigned the case by Attorney General Ashcroft last Friday when federal agents came to AIPAC's offices in Washington to request files and hard drives. 'Ashcroft wanted to make sure this case was being handled properly,' the source familiar with the probe said. 'I would not expect any action on this for at least three weeks.' This source added that a grand jury is now being selected, but it was likely the charges, initially reported as espionage, would be scaled back to the mishandling of classified information.
Sure, let’s “scale it back.” Why not? It’s only a few neoconservatives.

Tom Paine: The Dreyfuss Report

John Kerry's 1971 Testimony Before The House Foreign Relations Committee

Thank you very much, Senator Fulbright, Senator Javits, Senator Symington and Senator Pell.

I would like to say for the record, and also for the men sitting behind me who are also wearing the uniforms and their medals, that my sitting here is really symbolic. I am not here as John Kerry. I am here as one member of a group of 1,000, which is a small representation of a very much larger group of veterans in this country, and were it possible for all of them to sit at this table, they would be here and have the same kind of testimony. I would simply like to speak in general terms. I apologize if my statement is general because I received notification [only] yesterday that you would hear me, and, I am afraid, because of the injunction I was up most of the night and haven't had a great deal of chance to prepare.

We could be quiet, we could hold our silence, we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel, because of what threatens this country, not the Reds, but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.

I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago, in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit--the emotions in the room, and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told stories that, at times, they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam,in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

We are angry because we feel we have been used it the worst fashion by the administration of this country.

We call this investigation the Winter Soldier Investigation. The term "winter soldier" is a play on words of Thomas Paine's in 1776, when he spoke of the "sunshine patriots," and "summertime soldiers" who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough.

We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country, we could be quiet, we could hold our silence, we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel, because of what threatens this country, not the Reds, but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.

The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence.

I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.

As a veteran and one who felt this anger, I would like to talk about it. We are angry because we feel we have been used it the worst fashion by the administration of this country.

In 1970, at West Point, Vice President Agnew said, "some glamorize the criminal misfits of society while our best men die in Asian rice paddies to preserve the freedom which most of those misfits abuse," and this was used as a rallying point for our effort in Vietnam.

But for us, as boys in Asia whom the country was supposed to support, his statement is a terrible distortion from which we can only draw a very deep sense of revulsion. Hence the anger of some of the men who are here in Washington today. It is a distortion because we in no way consider ourselves the best men of this country, because those he calls misfits were standing up for us in a way that nobody else in this country dared to, because so many who have died would have returned to this country to join the misfits in their efforts to ask for an immediate withdrawal from South Vietnam, because so many of those best men have returned as quadriplegics and amputees, and they lie forgotten in Veterans' Administration hospitals in this country which fly the flag which so many have chosen as their own personal symbol. And we cannot consider ourselves America's best men when we are ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia.

We found that the Vietnamese, whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image, were hard-put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.... Most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy.

In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.

We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but, also, we found that the Vietnamese, whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image, were hard-put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.

American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how monies from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime.

We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Viet Cong, North Vietnamese or American.

We found also that, all too often, American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how monies from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by the flag, and blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs and search-and-destroy missions as well as by Viet Cong terrorism, - and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai, and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.

We learned the meaning of free-fire zones--shooting anything that moves--and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.

We watched the United States falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while, month after month, we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons against "oriental human beings" with quotation marks around that. We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using, were we fighting in the European theater. We watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and, after losing one platoon, or two platoons, they marched away to leave the hill for reoccupation by the North Vietnamese. We watched pride allow the most unimportant battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn't lose, and we couldn't retreat, and because it didn't matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point, and so there were Hamburger Hills and Khe Sanhs and Hill 81s and Fire Base 6s, and so many others.

Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of "Vietnamizing" the Vietnamese.

Each day, to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam, someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn't have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can't say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, "the first President to lose a war."

We are asking Americans to think about that, because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? We are here in Washington to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying, as human beings, to communicate to people in this country--the question of racism, which is rampant in the military, and so many other questions, such as the use of weapons: the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage at the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions; in the use of free-fire zones; harassment-interdiction fire, search-and-destroy missions; the bombings; the torture of prisoners; all accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is part and parcel of everything.

An American Indian friend of mine who lives in the Indian Nation of Alcatraz put it to me very succinctly: He told me how, as a boy on an Indian reservation, he had watched television, and he used to cheer the cowboys when they came in and shot the Indians, and then suddenly one day he stopped in Vietnam and he said, "my God, I am doing to these people the very same thing that was done to my people," and he stopped. And that is what we are trying to say, that we think this thing has to end.

We are here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatrick, and so many others? Where are they now that we, the men they sent off to war, have returned? These are the commanders who have deserted their troops. And there is no more serious crime in the laws of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The Marines say they never even leave their dead. These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their reputations bleaching behind them in the sun in this country....

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us. But all that they have done, and all that they can do by this denial, is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission: To search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war; to pacify our own hearts; to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more. And more. And so, when, thirty years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say "Vietnam" and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned, and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.

Leak Inquiry Includes Iran Experts in Administration

FBI counterintelligence investigators have in recent weeks questioned current and former U.S. officials about whether a small group of Iran specialists at the Pentagon and in Vice President Cheney's office may have been involved in passing classified information to an Iraqi politician or a U.S. lobbying group allied with Israel, according to sources familiar with or involved in the case.

In their interviews, the FBI agents have also named two Israeli diplomats stationed in Washington and asked whether they would be willing recipients of sensitive intelligence, the sources added.

The investigators have asked questions about personnel in the office of Pentagon Undersecretary for Policy Douglas J. Feith as well as members of the influential Defense Policy Board, an advisory panel for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to former U.S. officials who have been questioned and others familiar with the case.

Investigators have specifically asked about a group of neoconservatives involved in defense issues, including Feith, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Iraq and Iran specialist Harold Rhode and others at the Pentagon. FBI agents also have asked current and former officials about Richard Perle of the defense board and David Wurmser, an Iran specialist and principal deputy assistant for national security affairs in Cheney's office, according to sources familiar with or involved in the case.

"The initial interest was: Do you believe certain people would spy for Israel and pass secret information?" said one source interviewed by the FBI about the defense officials.

It remains unclear, however, how specific investigators' suspicions have become. And one official, a Feith ally, has said the investigation is an effort by some intelligence officials to discredit Pentagon hawks.

The sources interviewed for this article requested anonymity because it involves classified information or because of the ongoing investigation.

Perle, Rhode and Wolfowitz did not return telephone calls placed to their homes and offices late Friday. Reached at home, Feith declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

But Pentagon officials insisted yesterday that FBI questions about key policymakers did not mean they were the subjects of the intelligence leak investigation. Senior Pentagon officials have said they were told by the FBI that the investigation is focused on just one suspect in the Defense Department, Lawrence A. Franklin, an Iran specialist in Feith's office.

The FBI investigation first came to light last week with reports of a probe into whether Franklin passed a draft presidential directive on Iran to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and whether the directive was then passed to Israel, sources have said. AIPAC has strongly denied any involvement in espionage.

A federal grand jury in Alexandria may take up the Franklin case as early as next week, law enforcement sources said.

The questioning of Franklin is a recent part of an investigation that dates back more than two years and includes diverse threads, U.S. officials and people close to the case said. One aspect of the probe concerns AIPAC and another looks at whether intelligence on Iran ended up in the hands of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, a longtime Pentagon favorite once considered a possible replacement for Saddam Hussein.

Iran has been a particularly controversial issue within the Bush administration, which still does not have a formal policy more than 3 1/2 years after taking office. A small group of Pentagon neoconservatives opposed a draft directive because it did not support a change of governments in Tehran, which they advocated, current and former U.S. officials said.

The officials whose names came up during questioning have strong ties to Israel. They also share a long-standing position on Iran and other radical regimes. Wurmser, Feith and Perle were co-authors of a 1996 policy paper for then-Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." It called for removing Hussein from power in Iraq as part of a broad strategy to transform the region and remove radical regimes.

But current and former U.S. officials, including some who were interviewed by the FBI, are still puzzled by the nature of the investigation involving Israel, because its profoundly close ties with the United States date back six decades and have involved sharing sensitive intelligence. Yet officials also concede that Israel is one of the three countries most active in spying on the United States. Israel denies conducting espionage in the United States.

Also yesterday, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee demanded that a new prosecutor be assigned to investigate the alleged leaks, questioning the "political leanings" of the U.S. attorney in Alexandria who is handling the criminal portion of the case.

In a letter to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said the role of U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty in the case has "obvious political implications" in an election year, and Conyers cited anonymous allegations in a news report that McNulty had "put the brakes on" the probe.

"While I have no reason to question Mr. McNulty's integrity, he is not a career prosecutor, but instead is a political appointee whose previous employment was principally with Republican politicians," Conyers wrote.

Conyers suggested that either a special counsel or U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, who is overseeing a separate probe into the disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame, should take over the Pentagon probe.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo declined to comment on the specifics of Conyers's allegations. "We will review the congressman's letter and give it the attention it is due," Corallo said. A spokesman for McNulty also declined comment, referring a reporter to Corallo's statement.

Several law enforcement officials have said in recent days that the FBI had initially considered making rapid arrests in the Franklin probe when it became clear that news of the investigation was about to become public last week. But, these officials said, prosecutors urged caution, arguing that investigators needed more time to gather evidence and assess the case.

Franklin has been cooperating in the probe for several weeks, officials familiar with the investigation said. He has not responded to numerous requests for comment at his office and his home in West Virginia.

Robin Wright and Dan Eggen
The Washington Post

Staff writers Josh White and Jerry Markon contributed to this report.

Timeline of Key Events in Chechnya, 1830–2004

1830s Czar Nicholas I invades Caucasus, meets fierce resistance.

1859 Russia conquers, incorporates Caucasus.

1917 Russian Revolution, Dagestan (including Chechnya) declares its independence.

1923 Bolshevik troops occupy Dagestan, divide region, creating Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

1944 Stalin deports thousands of Chechens to Siberia and Kazakhstan, on suspicion of collaborating with Germany.

1957 Chechen-Ingush republic reestablished. Chechens return home.

1991 Soviet Union collapses, 14 regions become independent nations. Dzhokhar Dudayev elected president of Chechnya. Dudayev declares Chechnya independent. Russian President Boris Yeltsin refuses to recognize Chechen independence, sends troops. Confronted by armed Chechens, troops withdraw.

1994 Chechnya continues to assert its independence. Paramilitary bands accused of widespread kidnapping for ransom. Russia invades Chechnya; bloody war ensues.

1995 10,000 Russian troops occupy Grozny. Dudayev killed by Russian rocket. Total Russian force numbers 45,000. Chechens takes hostages.

1996 Chechens launch major counteroffensive, 5,000 troops invade Grozny. Unwilling to use maximum force and destroy Grozny to defeat rebels, Russians agree to ceasefire. Yeltsin orders troops withdrawn from Chechnya. Russian military humiliated. 70,000 casualties on all sides.

1997 Chechnya won't accept Moscow's authority. Aslan Maskhadov elected Chechen president. Name of capital changed from the Russian Grozny, to the Chechen Djohar. Lawlessness in Chechnya continues.

1999 Terrorist bombs explode in Moscow and other Russian cities. Russian authorities blame Chechen paramilitary commanders. Chechen insurgents enter neighboring Russian territory of Dagestan to help Islamic fundamentalists seeking to create separate nation.

Russian troops recapture breakaway areas of Dagestan. Yeltsin sends nearly 100,000 Russian troops into Chechnya. Russians occupy much of Chechnya, pulverize Grozny, driving rebels into hills. 250,000 refugees.

2000 Despite Russian claims of imminent victory, war continues. Russians are unable to defeat rebels in mountainous areas. United Nations officials call for investigations of alleged human rights abuses by Russian troops and by Chechen rebels. New Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees to human rights investigation, continues war.

2001 Russian president Putin appoints Stanislav Ilyasov as Chechen prime minister.

2002 On Oct. 23, Chechen rebels seized a crowded Moscow theater and detained 763 people, including 3 Americans. Armed and wired with explosives, the rebels demanded that Russian government end the war in Chechnya. Government forces stormed the theater the next day, after releasing a gas into the theater, which killed not only all the rebels but more than 100 hostages.

2003 In March Chechens voted in a referendum that approved a new regional constitution making Chechnya a separatist republic within Russia. Agreeing to the constitution meant abandoning claims for complete independence. While Moscow has presented the referendum as a way of bringing peace to the war-ravaged region, it is unclear how much power Russia would actually grant the separatist republic. A spate of Chechen suicide bombings followed throughout the year.

In September elections, Akhmad Kadyrov, the de facto Chechen president installed three years earlier by Russia, officially becomes president. Human rights groups as well as several nations questioned the fairness of the elections.

During 2003, there were 11 bomb attacks against Russia believed to have been orchestrated by Chechen rebels.

2004 On May 9, Chechnya's Moscow-backed leader, Akhmad Kadyrov, is killed in a bombing. Six others are killed and another 60 wounded. The assassination undermines Russian claims that Chechnya has been growing more secure. A warlord, Shamil Basayev, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

On Aug. 24, days before the Chechen presidential election, two nearly simultaneous plane crashes in Russia kill 90 passengers; Chechen terrorists are suspected.

On Aug.29, another Russian-supported leader, Alu Alkhanov, is elected president of Chechnya with 73.5% of the vote.

On Aug 31, Chechen terrorist attack at a Moscow subway stop kills ten.

On Sept. 1, dozens of heavily armed guerrillas seize a school in Beslan, near Chechnya, and take hundreds of young schoolchildren, teachers, and parents hostage. The guerrillas, still unidentified, have not yet expressed a clear set of demands for the release of the hostages.

David Johnson and Borgna Brunner

Crisis in Chechnya

A mountainous region, Chechnya has important oil deposits, as well as natural gas, limestone, gypsum, sulphur, and other minerals. Its mineral waters have made it a spa center. Major production includes oil, petrochemicals, oil-field equipment, foods, wines, and fruits. For centuries, the Chechen people's history and relationship with the regional power, Russia, has been full of turmoil.

The recent crisis during the past decade or so has seen numerous human rights violations and draws parallels to many other conflicts around the world. For example:

It is similar to the situation in Africa, where small nations have been trying to break free from their regional superpowers and colonial rulers.
It is similar to Kosovo or the Gulf War, where allied and NATO forces used humanitarian reasons and mass bombings with precise military technology to wage a high-tech war; here Russia attempts (and has attempted in the past) similar measures, albeit with less success compared to their NATO counter-parts.
It is similar to East Timor, Kosovo, various African and other recent conflicts where, again, the civilians are the main casualties who suffer most from this conflict.
It is similar to the above-mentioned conflicts as various international conventions, treaties and laws are violated by powerful nations in their sphere of influence.
And, as with most other conflicts throughout history, there are trade and access related reasons for this conflict as the issue of geopolitics, Caspian Sea oil and control of it comes to the fore.
Of course, that is not to simply degrade this conflict to “yet another conflict” as each war has unique situations and terrible consequences. However, it is another indication of how power struggles are at work throughout the world and throughout history.

Recognized as a distinct people since the 17th century, Chechens were active opponents of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus during the period 1818-1917. In 1858 Russia defeated leader Imam Shamil and his fighters who were aiming to establish an Islamic state. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, a declaration of independence by the Chechens was met with occupation from the Bolsheviks who later established the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Region in 1924. In the mid-1930s, it became an autonomous republic. Like their Ingush neighbors, Chechens are predominantly Sunni Muslim. As well as different cultural and religious beliefs, as for any group of people throughout history subdued by external rule or empire, external rule first by the brutal Russian Czarist empire and then by the Soviets, was unpopular and tenuous.

During World War II, Chechen and Ingush units collaborated with the invading German Nazis. As a result, in 1944 Stalin deported many residents to Central Asia and Siberia. The context of the deportation and hostility towards the Chechens is important.

Since the Soviet's came to power, many Western competing imperial powers cooperated to try to overthrow the regime, including direct intervention in their revolution, a world trade embargo, and Hitler's attempt to destroy them, (as well as the Cold War that followed which, as is slowly being uncovered, included training and flying in assassins and saboteurs). From the perspective of the Soviets then, a ring of steel was surrounding them preventing implementation of their system.
Perceiving a threat to their nation by “external powers manipulating internal ethnic groups”, Stalin's reaction was brutal.
Stalin believed Chechens would welcome Nazi-Germany in return for an independent Chechnya.
The mass deportation of Chechen people, among others, is estimated in the range of 400,000 to 800,000 with perhaps 100,000 or more of these people dying due to the extreme conditions.
With the death of Stalin in 1953, deportees were repatriated in 1956, and the republic was reestablished in 1957.
This legacy helps explain why Chechen nationalism has been more radical and anti-Russian than that of Russia's other Muslim ethnic minorities.
With the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, a number of regions managed to break away and gain independence. Ingushetia voted for separation from Chechnya in a referendum and became an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation the following year. General Dzhokhar Dudayev, seizing power in the capital Grozny in 1991, led Chechnya's drive for independence. The president of the newly formed Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, refused Chechnya's declaration of independence, sending in troops instead, only to withdraw when confronted by armed Chechens.

Chechnya was probably not granted independence for geopolitical and economic reasons. For example:

Russia never accepted Chechnya as a separate republic and was determined not to encourage other areas to secede (perhaps similar to how many have pointed out that western imperial countries were trying hard to prevent “their” colonies from breaking free in the aftermath of the Second World War);
The resulting anarchy in Chechnya strengthened Russian belief that the region should not become independent and undermine its territorial integrity;
Furthermore, oil is a significant factor in this region.
A major oil pipeline carries oil from fields in Baku on the Caspian Sea and Chechnya toward the Ukraine;
Grozny's major oil refinery along this pipeline and Russia's interest to ensure their oil needs are also met has led them to be more concerned that pipeline discussions by major western oil companies have not involved them;
As long as Chechnya is a part of Russia, Moscow would have a say in the oil flowing through it.
Tensions between the Russian government and that of Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev escalated into warfare in late 1994. When Russia invaded Chechnya, a bloody war ensued. Intending to crush separatist forces, this was Yeltsin's first major confrontation. However, the supposed awesome Russian military strength inherited from the Soviet Union, turned into a humiliating disaster. Grozny was devastated. Some 70-80,000 people died, mostly Chechen civilians, and in 1996, Russia withdrew defeated. In a move that looked as though Russia was trying to do to Chechnya what the U.S. had done to Iraq in 1991, the war instead revealed how poor Russian military capabilities were.

The aftermath of the 1994-96 war further eroded the Chechen government's control over the militias, while local warlords gained strength. The destroyed Chechen economy left armed but unemployed Chechens. Brutalized by war and atrocities committed by Russian troops, they were easily radicalized.

The Soviet-Afghan war had attracted Islamic militants as well as resistance fighters to Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan, emboldened because the area was free of Russian military. Side Note »It is a sad irony that some of those foreign militants would later form part of the terrorist groups alleged to have taken part in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., leading to the “war on terrorism”. Furthermore the United States' CIA had trained and aided some of those terrorists groups to help weaken the Soviet Union, and had “funneled more than $2 billion in guns and money to the mujaheddin during the 1980s.” Even Osama Bin Laden himself was trained by the CIA. For more on these aspects, see this site's section on the war on terrorism.

Dudayev, killed in a 1995 Russian rocket attack was replaced by Aslan Maskhadov, elected in 1997. At the beginning of 1999, Maskhadov declared Islamic Shari'ah law, to be phased in over the next three years. Some former rebel commanders announced a rival body to govern Chechnya, also based on Shari'ah law, calling on Maskhadov to resign, hinting at internal conflicts.

Side Note »
While it is generally believed that Islamic militants have come into Chechnya, after September 11, 2001, it was claimed by the Bush Administration and others that they specifically had ties with Al Qaeda and even fought in Afghanistan against the U.S. Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, assistant professor of Islamic History at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, vehemently denies this, pointing out that prior to September 11, 2001, Chechens were seen as moderate, but shortly after were claimed by U.S. President George Bush to be full of terrorists with links to Al Qaeda:

[After September 11, 2001] President Bush now declared that “Arab terrorists” linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization were operating on Chechen territory and ought to be “brought to justice.” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell went a step further and proclaimed “Russia is fighting terrorists in Chechnya, there is no question about that, and we understand that.”

This reassessment in Washington [would now see] the Chechens, a Sovietized nation of moderate Muslims that arguably knew the words of Marx better than Muhammad, ... suspected of being tied to Wahhabi-fundamentalist Arabs at war with the West and modernity. In the process, the Western media and government officials began the character assassination of an entire nation, one that had no previous history of animosity toward the United States or the West.

... [As Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan to route out Al Qaeda] Chechen-watchers and specialists on conflict and ethnicity in the Caucasus were stunned to hear a variety of newly discovered media “talking heads” matter-of-factly proclaim that, in Afghanistan, the United States and Coalition soldiers were confronting hordes of Chechens....

If one were to swallow uncritically the “expert” testimony of the media “pundits,” the outgunned Army of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (currently considered by Russian sources to consist of 1,200 mountain fighters engaged in a life-and-death struggle with 80,000 Russian Federal troops) had somehow developed the logistic capacity (and the desire) to project “hundreds” of apparently unneeded fighters across Eurasia and through American-controlled air space over Afghanistan to defend illiterate Pashtun-Deobandi-Taliban puritans.

-- Dr. Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, Shaterring the Al Qaeda-Chechen Myth, The American Committee for Peace In Chechnya, October 2003
Citing a number of journalists who tried to investigate, it turned out that it was not likely that Chechens were in Afghanistan.

It does seem plausible that while Chechnya may have attracted foreign terrorist members, Chechen rebels themselves were generally more interested in fighting for their own self-determination. However, it is a complex area, and militant or extremist groups are thought to now be influential there. Furthermore, as detailed further below, it is believed that Russian policy is now, ironically, breeding terrorists, potentially. This would almost be like a sad self-fulfilling prophecy.

Around mid-1999, Moscow accused the Chechen leadership of supporting extremist Islamic militants in Dagestan. While denied by the government, local warlords (mostly independent of the central government) did support militant Islamic groups there. Former members of the Chechen republican legislature established a Moscow-based State Council of the Republic of Chechnya, affording Moscow a reason to recognise it as the sole legitimate Chechen authority and to refuse negotiation with Maskhadov. In this manner, war could then be legitimized if needed.

Current ConflictFollowing the Chechen defeat in Dagestan, Moscow and other Russian cities suffered bomb blasts killing more than 300 people. Chechens were blamed for the attacks, though it was never proven. This has also led to a rise in racist sentiments against people mainly from the Caucasus regions. The response by the new Russian President, Vladimir Putin was brutal. Some analysts believe that Putin had calculated this response would help his 2000 election.

Russia' full scale war with Chechnya led to many bombing raids by Russian forces. Some one third to half of the 1.3 million Chechen people are said to have fled from Chechnya. Slowly Grozny and other parts of Chechnya were being pounded and destroyed, while civilian population were caught in the middle of the conflict. Civilian casualties were high and there was an international outcry at the brutal Russian crackdown and indiscriminate bombing and targeting of civilians.

Human Rights groups raised concern at the rampage that the Russian forces were on after having issued what appeared to be an ultimatum for citizens in Grozny to evacuate. (The previous link is to a report that admits that the Russian government tried to give an opportunity for citizens to leave but criticized how Russia would assume that those left behind would be considered terrorists.) The Russian troops were accused of looting and burning homes and buildings, even executing those who resisted. The rest of the G8 and the European Union had even threatened to isolate Moscow if they continued their campaign.

On April 20, 2000 there was an offer of a cease-fire by the Chechen President, Ashlan Mashkadov. But it was not clear at the time if it could have been maintained. Russian demands were stern and it was not certain if all factions would abide given the increasing number of criminal gangs and factions of warlords. And by June 2000, there was more rebel fighting, suicide attacks and increased guerilla warfare by Chechen combatants, indicating that the conflict was far from over.

As Human Rights Watch further reported, in April 2001, “the U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on Chechnya that condemned serious human rights violations by Russia's forces, and raised concern about forced disappearances, torture, and summary executions. Sponsored by the E.U., and with strong U.S. backing, the resolution called for U.N. special rapporteurs to investigate these abuses in the war-torn republic and for credible criminal investigations by domestic agencies into all human rights and humanitarian law violations. Russia rejected a similar resolution adopted by the commission last year, and refused to comply with its requirements. It has vowed to do the same this year.”

In May 2001, they also reported that Russian authorities covered up evidence of extra-judicial executions.

The Spoils of OilsA major oil pipeline carries oil from fields in Baku on the Caspian Sea and Chechnya toward the Ukraine. Grozny has a major oil refinery along this pipeline. For Russia it is important that the oil pipelines and routes they take so oil can be sold to the western markets also meet their needs. However, there are various pipelines in discussion that does not involve Russia.

Major Western oil companies and the American government managed to keep out Iran from the picture. In addition, by also getting oil pipelines routed through Georgia, Russian influence was reduced. As a result, Russia want to do what they can to control the spoils, while the West do the same, leaving Chechnya in the middle being fought for by the two.

There are accusations that external (Western) forces have been used to promote and help destabilize the region, to promote succession to ensure a split from Russia. This would allow them to benefit from a smaller, weaker nation (if Chechnya is successful) that will also make it easier for the West to ensure the resources they want can be further controlled. It has also been suggested that Islamic extremist terrorist groups such as Al Quaeda and others have been involved in some aspects of the Chechen war, and earlier, when such terrorist groups were supported by the west to destabilize the former Soviet Union. (Breaking down larger regions been a successful strategy used throughout history by Europe, the US and others, when they divided and ruled various colonial states. Keeping other nations small works to the advantage of powerful nations. For example, look at the resulting maps of Africa on this web site's Africa pages.) Yet at the same time, more recently, with Russia claiming to fight its own war on terrorism, it seems as though western leaders have been giving tacit support.

For more about oil related issues, check out the following:

Petrodollars Behind the Chechen Tragedy
America's Push on the Caspian Pipeline is Not Good Sense for the Oil Companies
The History and Politics of Chechen Oil
Why Should Chechnya Need a New Oil Pipeline?
What does Russia see in Chechnya? Oil
Petroleum, Pipelines and Paranoia in the Caucasus
A Comparison with KosovoRussia complained at NATO's actions against Milosevic. Yet various rights groups have accused Russia of doing the same thing.
NATO told its populations that it bombed Serbia on humanitarian grounds. Russia did the same regarding Chechnya.
As was revealed during the Kosovo crisis that some NATO members (e.g. the U.S.'s CIA) had long trained the KLA against Yugoslavia. That other western-trained Islamic terrorist groups have also been operating in Chechnya in the past, adds an interesting twist to the geopolitical ramifications. In that context, both the destabilization of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union can be seen as part of the on-going struggle in the 20th century for western powers to maintain control. That is,
World War I signified a beginning to the end of colonial and imperial world rule as those rulers fought it out even more so amongst themselves.
This culminated in a second World War. The end of World War II saw the third world finally begin to break free.
Post World War II geopolitics (the Cold War) by the U.S.-led West against communism and non-aligned nations (often unrelated to communism, but breaking free of western imperial rule) saw various destabilization attempts in Latin America, Middle East/Central Asia, Africa and Asia.)
This is too big an issue to cover in this section, and for now, therefore direct you to the Institute for Economic Democracy web site, for example, for more details on this crucial issue.)
Does Anyone Care if Russian Campaign is Breeding Terrorists?British journalist Lindsey Hilsum notes how the Russian hard line in Chechnya is breeding terrorists. Furthermore, she suggests the west doesn't really seem to care. Contrasting British Prime Minister's strong support for a war on Iraq, Lindsey notes:

Tony Blair maintains that intervention in one place where people are tortured and oppressed doesn't mean we can or should intervene everywhere. But Chechnya is a shameful example of western leaders refusing to confront another government on human rights abuses and war crimes because, in the end, strategic and political issues matter more. Chechnya is complex and dangerous and miserable, and we just don't care enough to try to make a difference.

-- Lindsey Hilsum, The conflict the west always ignores, New Statesman, January 26, 2004
The Challenge AheadIn March 2003, a Chechen referendum was approved favoring a new constitution stipulating the republic as part of the Russian Federation. However the referendum was met by criticism of not being truly representative of the desires of the Chechen people as conflict had still not been resolved.

In October that year, Akhmad Kadyrov won the presidency. But that election too was condemned by some Chechens as a sham, and international observers said the poll was questionable because of a lack of pluralism. Furthermore, Kadyrov was seen by Moscow as their key to their continued influence in the region. Kadyrov has actually been appointed deputy mufti (a Muslim legal expert who could give rulings on religious matters) in 1993, and in 1995 had declared a Jihad against Russia. But in 1999 he did an about turn, condemning warlord Shamil Basayev's attempt to forge an Islamic state by force in Dagestan. He was then sacked by separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov when he was the separatist leader. Kadyrov's critics saw him as too cozy with Moscow and he had many enemies as a result. Yet, according to the BBC's obituary for Kadyrov, he was very critical of Russia's policies towards Chechnya.

Propaganda has naturally accompanied the conflict. In an attempt to avoid the humiliation of the 1994-96 war, and trying to emulate NATO's spin on the Kosovo crisis, propaganda techniques such as media management of images and of views seen in debates, were employed in an attempt to convince a sceptical population for the need for war in 1999. Now Russia uses the “war on terrorism” for actions in Chechnya, gaining apparent tacit support from nations like the U.S. and Britain. On the other hand, Islamic militancy has called for a jihad, thus finding many recruits.

Around a third to maybe even half of the Chechen population have become refugees in neighbouring regions such as Ingushetia, many refusing to go back. Russian troops have been accused of torture, summary executions and large-scale extortion and looting while Chechen fighters kill many Russian soldiers each month.

On May 9, 2004, on the Russian national holiday to celebrate the World War II victory over Germany, Kadyrov was killed in a bomb blast at a stadium in the Grozny, which also killed a number of other people near him. For Russia, his death is seen as a huge blow in their attempts to restore control in the region.

The conflict of an Islamic democracy versus Islamic militancy within Chechnya is further complicated by Russia's desire to prevent secession. Numerous challenges must be overcome as well as determining the status of Chechnya, including security, return of refugees, reconstruction, rebuilding the economy, and dealing with corruption. Under these circumstances, it will be difficult to achieve a prompt resolution of the conflict, specially since there are various nations jostling for influence in the region.

Dog Chiarelli Panting For More Blood

1st Cav general says Army will spoil cleric's plot to rebuild his force.

The fight with renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is not over and the U.S. military must retake his stronghold in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, a top U.S. commander said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Fort Hood-based 1st Cavalry Division, said action is necessary before the volatile cleric has a chance to rebuild his Mahdi Army, which was devastated in recent fighting.

"He's decided the best thing for him to do is to go underground and regroup," Chiarelli said. "We're not going to allow that to happen."

The Mahdi Army hasn't launched a significant attack on U.S. troops in two days, Chiarelli said. The rebel leader has not made a public appearance since the remnants of his militia departed Najaf's Imam Ali Shrine after a peace agreement last week.

U.S. military officials think thousands of al-Sadr's fighters were killed in two series of battles in Shiite cities in south-central Iraq, as well as in the streets of Sadr City in east Baghdad, a district named after the cleric's father. That fighting began in April and flared again last month.

Militiamen remain heavily armed and in control of the northern half of Sadr City, a densely populated district of small alleys filled with booby traps and hidden bombs, Chiarelli said.

Now, the general said, his division needs to re-establish control over that area before al-Sadr's forces can regroup.

The job will take a matter of weeks, Chiarelli said, giving no timetable for the start of an operation.

"Were going to go in and first make Sadr City safe for the residents. We're going to make it very, very possible for the militia to disarm," Chiarelli said. "As long as there's a militia of any kind working at counter purposes to the government, we have a problem."

If it comes to a showdown with the U.S. military in Sadr City, no ultra-sensitive Muslim holy places will get in the Army's way, Chiarelli said, harking to how sensitivities over damaging the revered Imam Ali Shrine prevented a full-bore attack on al-Sadr's militia in Najaf.

Despite a peace deal that ended three weeks of fighting in Najaf last week, many members of al-Sadr's militia are thought to have returned to Sadr City with their weapons.

Jim Krane
The Associated Press

Militia Leaders Charging Betrayal by Iraqi Premier

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Leaders of the insurgent Mahdi Army declared Thursday that they had been betrayed by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who has been trying to lure away the militia's supporters with millions of dollars in aid.

Yusef al-Nasiri, a senior leader of the group, said efforts to renew peace negotiations failed again on Thursday. Mr. Nasiri accused Dr. Allawi of deliberately stalling, as he tries to isolate the Mahdi Army and block its efforts to disarm and enter democratic politics.

Mr. Nasiri raised the prospect of renewed fighting with American forces, of the kind that has repeatedly engulfed Sadr City, the huge Baghdad slum that forms the main base of the Mahdi Army's support.

Negotiations to disarm the militia, which is led by the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr, began last week, after the withdrawal of the Mahdi Army from the holy city of Najaf, but they broke down this week.

"The Iraqi government is not serious, they have ignored our efforts, and now the Americans are driving around Sadr City with their tanks, insulting people and acting aggressively," Mr. Nasiri said. "Nobody can guess what is going to happen next."

His frustration stems not just from the failure to revive the peace talks, but also from the aggressive efforts by Dr. Allawi to persuade some of the Mahdi Army's key backers to break with the rebel group and fall in behind the government.

On Tuesday, the same day that Dr. Allawi abruptly canceled a peace deal struck with the Mahdi Army, he met with a group of more than 300 prominent leaders from Sadr City and asked them to withdrawal their support from the militia. As an inducement, he offered some $300 million in reconstruction projects for the neighborhood.

The meeting ended inconclusively, according to tribal sheiks who were there, but the prospect of millions of dollars in aid set off excited discussions throughout the area. Sadr City, a vast and impoverished area of Baghdad, has as many as three million people.

The strategy employed by Dr. Allawi toward the Mahdi Army, which is Shiite, mirrors one he is using on the Sunni-driven insurgency north and west of Baghdad. In those areas, he is trying to coax members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party into the political mainstream, while he tries to isolate and crush hard-core Islamic fundamentalists, considering them irredeemable.

So far, the strategy in the Sunni areas has failed. Several former Baathist leaders who tried to reach accommodations with Dr. Allawi's government have been killed, and the Islamic fundamentalists, in places like Falluja and Ramadi, have tightened their grip.

With the Mahdi Army, Dr. Allawi is hoping that Sadr City's tribal leaders harbor little enthusiasm for Mr. Sadr and that they support him mostly because they have no alternative.

But Dr. Allawi is pursuing a risky course: he could incite the Mahdi Army or set off internecine strife among the Shiites in Baghdad.

Some of the tribal sheiks of Sadr City said they were concerned that Dr. Allawi might have abandoned his efforts to disarm the Mahdi Army and to bring it into democratic politics; it appears he wants to crush the group by force, they said.

"We want to follow the prime minister, but this is a mistake," said Sheik Shaker al-Saady, a tribal leader in Sadr City. "We were all happy to hear Moktada say he plans to enter politics and declare a cease-fire. It made the people happy."

"Now, if the prime minister wants to divide the tribal leaders from other residents, it could create two conflicts involving the militia: one with the Americans and another with the tribal leaders," Mr. Saady said. "The prime minister needs to make a political settlement."

Another tribal leader, Qarim al-Bikhaty, said Dr. Allawi could reach a political settlement that included the disarming of the Mahdi Army if he would agree to get the Americans out of Sadr City. That, he said, was the source of all the problems there.

"The people hate them," Mr. Bikhaty said of the American soldiers. "The Iraqi government must tell the Americans to stay out of the city."

In northern Iraq, militants bombed the oil pipeline to Turkey on Thursday, Reuters reported, halting exports.

In Falluja, American officers said they conducted an airstrike Wednesday night against what they believed was a safe house used by the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant suspected of carrying out several car bombings and kidnappings. The strike killed 17 people and wounded more than 13, according to Qasim Muhammad Abdul-Satar, a member a council of militants that controls the city.

Reuters quoted doctors in the city saying the dead included three children and one woman. There was no way to verify any of the claims.

The Americans said they staged the strike after they observed men killing a captive and burying a body. "The Zarqawi associates were observed removing a man from the trunk of a car, executing him, then burying the body," read a statement released by the American military.

The Americans said they had verified their intelligence on the strike from "multiple sources."

Dexter Filkins
The New York Times

Russia School Siege Ends in Carnage

Hundreds Die As Troops Battle Hostage Takers

BESLAN, Russia, Sept. 4 -- Hundreds of children, their parents and teachers died in the bloody culmination of a 52-hour siege that began when heavily armed Muslim guerrillas stormed their school Wednesday and ended in an hours-long battle with Russian troops Friday.

The battered, burned and scorched survivors of Beslan's School No. 1, many of them half-naked children, filled the region's hospitals as troops continued to fight through the afternoon with guerrillas holed up inside the school. Twenty-seven of the fighters, described as Chechens, Russians, Ingush and Arabs, were killed, and at least three were captured, officials said.

Only by late Friday did the scale of the bloodshed in this small town in the region of North Ossetia, west of war-torn Chechnya, become clear. A top Russian official admitted what anguished relatives had been saying for days: There had been more than 1,000 hostages inside the school, the majority of them children.

Between 500 and 700 injured former hostages were hospitalized Friday, more than 300 of them children, according to varying official accounts. Hundreds were still unaccounted for, though officials acknowledged early Saturday that the death toll would exceed 250.

The worst carnage, according to escaped hostages and rescuers, came at the start of the pitched battle just after 1 p.m. Friday, when the guerrillas exploded the bombs they had rigged inside the school's cavernous gym. The children had been held there without food or medicine, and scores perished when the gym's roof fell on them.

"The whole floor is covered in bodies," said Alan Karayev, a local sumo wrestler-turned-volunteer who entered the gym to recover the children's remains. "There is no ceiling at all. The roof all fell down on the children."

Their school turned into a battlefield, those hostages who could fled. "Many, many dead. Many dead children," said a young boy who said he had been blown out of a window by an explosion. He was distraught but apparently uninjured, flanked by his wailing grandmother.

President Vladimir Putin, whose only comment during the siege had been a pledge to "save the life and health of those who became hostages," remained silent throughout the long afternoon's battle and into the evening as Russians took stock of the losses. In the middle of the night, he visited Beslan and called the attack "inhuman and cruel." The whole country, he told local leaders, is "feeling your sorrow, thanking you and praying for you."

World leaders, including President Bush, offered condolences as they absorbed what Bush called "another grim reminder" of the brutal tactics used by terrorists.

Russian officials said the battle was started by the guerrillas and denied any intention to launch a rescue attempt, a tactic Putin had ordered two years earlier during a Moscow theater siege that resulted in 129 deaths. "We didn't expect this to happen," said Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Putin's top aide for Chechnya, who flew to Beslan on Friday to participate in negotiations that never took place. "What has happened today you know yourselves was started by terrorists."

The siege of School No. 1, attended by 6- to 16-year-olds, began just after 9 a.m. Wednesday when the guerrillas blasted their way into the building at the end of the opening-day assembly. Though Russian officials never confirmed it publicly, the hostage takers demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and the release of prisoners taken after a guerrilla raid this summer in the neighboring region of Ingushetia. They also demonstrated their seriousness by mining the school with explosives and threatening to blow it up if Russian forces moved in on them.

For 52 hours, that didn't happen.

Then came what looked to be progress midday Friday, when the hostage takers agreed to allow Russians to collect several bodies -- how many remains unclear -- of adults killed in the initial shootout. At 1 p.m., four doctors from the Emergency Situations Ministry arrived to do so.

Instead, a battle erupted.

Russia School Siege Ends in Carnage

First, two powerful explosions from inside the building rocked Beslan. Soon, scores of hostages started fleeing, some of them dodging gunfire from the guerrillas. "When the children ran, they began to shoot them in their backs," said Putin aide Aslakhanov.

"Bandits opened fired on the escaping children and adults," said Valery Andreyev, regional head of the Federal Security Service. "To save their lives, we retaliated." In the chaos, some of the hostage takers also tried to escape, officials said.

After initial confusion, the Russian attack began. Helicopters roared overhead, special forces stormed the building, tanks swerved into position. Many of Beslan's anxious fathers also ran toward the school, some armed, some not -- intent only on rescuing their children.

Amidst the shooting, many young hostages, most of them barefoot and almost naked after three days in the withering heat of their gym-turned-prison, ran or limped or were carried to safety. Those still standing gulped bottles of water handed to them by rescue workers. "They're killing us," a young girl on a stretcher told a police officer. "They're exploding everything."

At the local House of Culture, where parents had held vigil for three long days, women cried and hugged each other as the sounds of the nearby battle sank in. One of them screamed, "Why? Why?" No one had an answer.

By 2:30, a traffic jam of ambulances crowded outside the school, and civilians turned their Zhigulis and Ladas and BMWs into rescue vehicles, as well. There were nowhere near enough. Many of the injured were bloodied and burned and covered in dirt. A man came out carrying a naked girl, her hair matted, her body streaked with shrapnel cuts, her head lolled back. He laid her on the ground and tried to revive her. When she didn't respond, he started to cry.

The rescue operation was interrupted by a new round of shooting, right near the line of makeshift ambulances. Rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire from automatic rifles sent the volunteers retreating a block farther from the school, and it was there that four children's corpses soon appeared, laid out under bloodstained white sheets. Several parents came up and looked under the sheets, searching. Then an old woman in a torn flowered dress was brought out on a stretcher, also dead, and rolled onto the grass next to the four children.

"Are there dead children? Where are the dead children?" a woman shouted as she ran up to inspect the bodies. She was looking for her 12-year-old nephew but did not find him there.

Across the railroad tracks that divide Beslan, the scene at the hospital was bedlam. The courtyard was crowded with rank upon rank of stretchers with injured and dazed children. Hundreds of relatives clamored to inspect the handwritten lists of the wounded.

Through it all, the battle with the remaining guerrillas continued. Some apparently remained inside the school well into the evening -- eight, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. Others escaped and fought elsewhere in Beslan with Russian troops. As night fell, the school's gym was still smoldering, its massive windows blown out. The walls inside were pocked with bullet holes and echoed with periodic gunfire and explosions.

Only well after 11 p.m. did Russian officials announce an end to the battle. "Resistance of the terrorists has been fully suppressed," said a statement from the emergency headquarters.

The Kremlin kept tight controls on information during the crisis, failing to give accurate counts of the hostages, confirm the demands made by the hostage takers or describe the identity of the guerrillas.

When the battle began, Russian networks did not broadcast live for more than half an hour. When they went on the air, they avoided reporting any information except from official sources, which later proved inaccurate. Within three hours, all three Russian networks had dropped the story to return to regularly scheduled entertainment programs.

The school seizure capped an already deadly week of terror across Russia blamed on Chechen separatists, with the nearly downing of two airliners and a suicide bombing at a Moscow subway station that together claimed 100 lives.

From the start, relatives in Beslan feared mass fatalities, remembering the outcome in previous hostage-takings in Russia, such as the 2002 Moscow theater siege and the takeover of a hospital in 1995. In a sign that Russian authorities were considering a different course, however, government mediators reached out to Chechen separatist leaders for the first time in years to help resolve the crisis.

In the past, Putin has refused to negotiate with the Chechen rebel government-in-exile, led by Aslan Maskhadov, instead calling the separatists terrorists and resisting efforts to hold peace talks.

But just two hours before Friday's battle broke out, the president of North Ossetia, Alexander Dzasokhov, and another politician telephoned Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev in London. Zakayev, who represents Maskhadov, said in an interview that they wanted his assistance "because the demands of the hostage takers were directly related to the situation in Chechnya." He told them he was ready to fly to Beslan and try to "convince these people that through such acts Chechnya will never become independent."

The two mediators thanked him and said they would be back in touch in two hours to talk specifics, a follow-up phone call made moot by the battle.

The guerrillas reportedly represented another Chechen faction and were led by Ingush fighter Magomet Yevloyev, who went by the code name "Magas." Yevloyev allegedly worked in close connection with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, and he was also blamed by Russians for a raid on police posts in Ingushetia this summer that killed more than 90. Estimates on the number of rebels in the school had varied from less than 20 to 40 or more, though when it was over, officials said they had killed 27.

Russian officials have long claimed that Chechen rebels were connected to international Islamic fighters, including al Qaeda. Late Friday, they announced that 10 of the dead guerrillas in the school siege were Arabs, and state television showed video from inside the building showing several dead fighters who appeared to be foreign.

Peter Baker and Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 4, 2004
Glasser reported from Moscow. Special correspondent Yulia Solovyova contributed to this report.

With Florida in Mind: Prayer for Shelter Against the Storm

God of heaven and earth, God who carries our lives and the lives of our whole community in your hands, be with us in the peril of this day/night. Help us to release our anxieties and fears into those same caring hands, knowing in faith that your will for us is life and everlasting good. Send your holy angels to watch over us and guard us. May they spread their holy wings to give us shelter against the storm. For you alone, O God, are all good, all life, all love, and that love is for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

- Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel