Chechen rebel leader makes rare video appearance, saying the fight will continue

Sunday, July 4th 2004, 10:54 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ In a rare videotape address, Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev vowed to continue the separatist fight but said insurgents would not strike outside of Russia.

Basayev's address was received Friday by Arab television station Al-Jazeera in Qatar and broadcast over the weekend, the head of the station's Moscow bureau, Akram Khazam, told Ekho Moskvy radio on Saturday.

Basayev, shown wearing a military-style cap over his shaved head and with his trademark long, black beard, said that rebels will not target any Russians outside of the country, even those responsible for ``slaughtering'' Chechens, Ekho Moskvy reported.

It was the first public appearance in two years by Basayev, who commands more authority than any other rebel leader, according to Ekho Moskvy.

The new pledge contradicted Basayev's warning in a letter on a Web site in March that Russians outside of the country would be attacked to avenge the killing of Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in a car bombing in Qatar.

The video was released after a Qatari court on Wednesday sentenced two Russian intelligence agents to life in prison for Yandarbiyev's death.

The Qatari judge said that Moscow approved the February attack on Yandarbiyev, although Russian authorities have insisted that neither the agents nor the Russian government played any part.

The decision was regarded by some as a major embarrassment for President Vladimir Putin, whose government has waged a fierce crackdown on rebels in the breakaway Chechen republic.

Khazam told Russia's Interfax news agency that the station did not communicate with Basayev directly and did not know where the videotape was made. Chechen rebel leaders typically make pronouncements through letters or interviews published on a rebel Web site and the appearance of the videotape was relatively unusual.

Basayev has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Russia, including a string of suicide bombings in Moscow and southern Russian cities, the brazen seizure of a Moscow theater in October 2002 and the assassination of Chechnya's Moscow-backed president, Akhmad Kadyrov.

Some Russian officials also blamed Basayev for organizing last month's attacks on law enforcement facilities in the Russian region of Ingushetia, which killed 88 people.

The Russians fought an unsuccessful 1994-96 war against separatists that left the region de facto independent.

They returned in September 1999, after rebels made incursions into a neighboring region and after deadly apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other cities were blamed on the militants.