With the help of President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a high-ranking Chechen separatist leader accused of terrorism by Russia was granted political asylum in the U.S. and lived for a period of time in Boston.
Ilyas Akhmadov, who also served as Chechnya’s foreign minister, insists he was falsely accused by the Kremlin.
He has been on Russia’s most-wanted list, charged with organizing terrorist training camps and armed insurgent actions. Despite Russian objections, Akhmadov now lives in Washington, D.C., after the U.S. said it could find no links to terror.
Akhmadov was once the deputy to the radical Chechen Islamist leader Shamil Basayev, who was killed in 2006 before being described by ABC News as “one of the most-wanted terrorists in the world.”
Also living in Boston is Chechen surgeon Khassan Baiev, a physician who was granted asylum after treating the wounded on both sides of the Chechnya conflict, including Basayev.
Baiev’s political asylum was sponsored by the George Soros-funded Physicians for Human Rights after both Chechnya and Russia viewed his actions as treasonous and multiple death threats were made against him.
The cases of the high-profile Chechens may warrant further scrutiny after it came to light the family of the Russian-born brothers accused in the Boston bombing received asylum in the U.S.
One of the brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, traveled to Russia in January 2012 and visited the North Caucasus, including Chechnya, where Basayev’s predecessors continue to operate. Shamil Basayev’s picture was reportedly found in the deleted Instagram account of the second brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The story surrounding Akhmadov is complicated by accusations and counter-accusations, as well as by the support his asylum application received from prominent political figures, including Brzezinski, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Alexander Haig, and former defense secretary Frank Carlucci.
Akhmadov received asylum from an immigration judge in Boston. The ruling became effective in August 2004 after the Department of Homeland Security’s abrupt withdrawal of its notice of appeal to the judge’s decision.
He also received a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say that one of the happiest days of my life was when I called Ilyas to tell him that he would be able to stay in America,” said Brzezinski in an interview with his nephew, Matthew Brzezinski, who wrote an extensive August 2004 profile of Akhmadov for the Washington Post.
Zbigniew Brzezinski also wrote the forward for Akhmadov’s 2010 book, “The Chechen Struggle: Independence Won and Lost.”
Russia: ‘He’s a terrorist’
Russia strongly oppposed the asylum.
“He’s a terrorist, there is no doubt about it,” Aleksander Lukashevich, a senior political counselor at the Russian Embassy in Washington, told the Washington Post in 2005. “We have proof. … Our foreign minister has made Russia’s position on extradition quite clear.”
“How would Americans feel if Russia offered sanctuary to Osama bin Laden?” asked the Russian online newspaper Pravda.
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of hypocrisy for granting Akhmadov asylum.
“We cannot have double standards while fighting terrorism, and it cannot be used as a geopolitical game,” Putin said.
Akhmadov was charged with organizing terrorist training camps and leading 2,000 armed insurgents in a deadly 1999 Dagestani incursion.
Akhmadov was also once an aide to Shamil Basayev, leader of Chechnya’s deadly jihadist movement.
Basayev led the most famous Chechnya rebel attack, dubbed the Budyonnovsk hospital hostage in 1995.
In the attack, more than 1,000 hostages were held for a week, and 100 of them were killed when Russian forces stormed the hospital. Russia says the hostages were mainly executed by Basayev’s men, while the rebels claimed Russian forces killed the hostages in the firefight.
Akhmadov told Matthew Brzezinski in 2004 that he distanced himself from Basayev after the war leader became an Islamic fundamentalist. Akhmadov went to work at the Chechen foreign ministry.
“I found him someone whose life was dedicated to peace, not terrorism,” Albright assured then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in a 2003 letter endorsing Akhmadov’s request for political asylum.
“I have met with Mr. Akhmadov on three occasions,” McCain wrote to DHS. “I have found him to be a proponent of peace and human rights in Chechnya.”
With additional research by Joshua Klein