As if America’s relationships with Saudi Arabia and Russia weren’t murky enough.
According to a report leaked through Russian and Lebanese sources and reported by the London Telegraph, Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan told Russian President Vladimir Putin the Arab kingdom has control over the Chechen jihadists, who have been unleashing terrorist bombings in Russia and have been threatening the Olympics scheduled to begin in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 6.
The leaked reports detail a “stormy” meeting this summer between Bandar and Putin, in which the Saudis were offering an oil deal in return for favors in Syrian relations.
Part of Bandar’s “carrot-and-stick” negotiations, however, reportedly included the statement, “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”
Putin reportedly responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism.”
William J. Murray, chairman of The Religious Freedom Coalition, explains in a blog post why Bandar’s confession is so significant, particularly to events happening right now.
“Even if untrue, this story surrounding Bandar’s visit raises disturbing questions about ongoing Saudi ties to Chechen jihadists,” writes Murray. “The Bandar controversy from August remains ominous given ongoing attacks by Chechen jihadists across Russia. A Dec. 29, 2013, Volgograd train station suicide bombing, for example, killed 18, only to be followed the next day in the city by a trolleybus suicide bombing claiming an additional 16 lives.
“Volgograd is a key transportation hub on the way to Russia’s volatile Caucasus region including Chechnya and the Black Sea city of Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympics will open,” he continues. “Doku Umarov, Chechen ‘emir’ of the terrorist Imarat Kavkaz (IK or Caucasus Emirate), called in a July 3, 2013, online video for the games’ disruption. Umarov condemned the Olympics as ‘satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.’”
Murray suggests, however, that Bandar’s alleged claim of controlling the Chechen terrorists is perfectly plausible and only increases suspicions of Saudi Arabia’s involvement – despite the nation’s closer ties to the U.S. and allegedly pro-Western sentiments – in the 9/11 attacks in America.
“Past evidence suggests that Bandar could have made a veiled threat concerning Chechen jihadists to Putin,” Murray writes. “Jihadist groups through the years such as those from Al-Qaeda ‘have increasingly sought to co-opt the Chechen movement as their own,’ Islamism scholar Lorenzo Vidino has noted. As a result, the Russian military estimated in 2003 that Arabs were about one-fifth of Chechnya’s some 1,000 active fighters, providing the Chechens with most of their expertise in communications in mine laying.
“Saudi native Umar Ibn al-Khattab, for example, joined the Chechen insurgency as a jihadi cause in 1995,” Murray writes. “Khattab made a ‘qualitative contribution to the fight against the Russians,’ according to Vidino, with his combat experience fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (where he reportedly met Osama bin Laden) and in Tajikistan in the 1990s.
“The Pakistani Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Al-Qaeda’s ‘mastermind’ for its Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.,” Murray notes, “failed in his attempt to join Khattab while traversing Azerbaijan, the 9/11 Commission Report noted (Page 149). Merely a ‘chance meeting’ with an Al-Qaeda operative on a German train diverted 9/11 hijackers Muhammad Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah from fighting in Chechnya to Afghanistan (165), the 9/11 Commission Report additionally recounts. Foiled 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, meanwhile, worked as a recruiter for the Chechen rebels.
“Along with fighters, the Chechen jihad has received foreign funds, often from the same sources supporting Al-Qaeda,” Murray continues. “The Saudi-based Al-Haramain, a charity whose American assets have been frozen since 2004, sent for years $50 million to Caucasian mujahedeen. The Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation similarly financed Chechen jihadists before American authorities closed it in December 2001. In a 2002 estimate, Russian security forces calculated that £1.3 to £2.5 million came from the Gulf States including Saudi Arabia each month to finance terrorist activities in Russia. As further evidence of this relationship, Russian security services claim to have intercepted phone calls to various Gulf States from Chechen jihadists involved in a deadly Moscow theater attack on Oct. 23, 2002.”
Murray says it all points to evidence that Bandar – if he actually claimed “control” of the Chechen terror wing – may indeed be telling the truth.
“Chechnya’s connections to a global jihadist movement are thus well-established and not merely the invention of Russian efforts to garner world support for repressing Chechnya,” Murray writes. “In this context it is not impossible for Bandar to have indicated to Putin a possible Saudi influence over Chechen jihadists endangering Russia and the Winter Olympics. Such a thinly cloaked dagger would have been merely one more bargaining chip between two countries, both of significant concern to the United States, increasingly at odds in the Middle East. At any rate, the Chechen jihad with foreign support will continue.”