Russians, Chechens Deny Warlord Khattab in Afghanistan
Chechen rebels and the FSB Russian intelligence service (the former KGB) on Saturday denied reports that feared Chechen rebel warlord Khattab had gone into Afghanistan.
The Russian state-run RTR television reported on Friday that Khattab was now fighting for the Taliban in the Afghan city of Kunduz, the militia's last foothold in the north.
A source at rebel command told AFP that this was wishful thinking on the part of the Russians. "We deny Russian and foreign media reports that Khattab has left Chechen territory."
The source added that "the unit led by Khattab carried out a successful operation in eastern Chechnya overnight," without giving details.
The head of the FSB in Chechnya, Sergei Babkin, also denied reports that Khattab had left the breakaway republic.
"Somebody wants to make us believe this so that we stop looking for him in Chechnya," he was quoted as saying by the news agency Interfax in a dispatch from the Chechen capital Grozny.
The first indication that the warlord might have crossed into Afghanistan came last Monday in Paris in a statement by the head of Russia's security council Vladimir Rushailo carried by ITAR-TASS news agency.
RTR's correspondent in Kabul on Friday quoted "non-official sources" as saying Khattab had taken a plane from Azerbaijan three days ago and arrived in Kunduz on Friday morning from Pakistan.
Northern Alliance forces have surrounded Kunduz where a large garrison of Taliban troops, including many foreign fighters linked to Osama bin Laden, are holding out.
Russia says that Khattab commanded foreign mercenaries who were part of bin Laden's network in Chechnya.
Mystery and myths surround Khattab, believed to be a Jordanian whose age is variously given as 33 or 36.
He is said to have waged a holy war against Russia for 15 years, first in Afghanistan then in Tajikistan and to have also supported Muslims in Azerbaijan during the conflict in Nagorny-Karabakh.
Russia says he arrived in Chechnya in the first Chechen war from 1994-96 and in August 1999 led armed incursions into the Russian republic of Daghestan – Moscow (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)