Cairo, Oct. 24--(AP) The chilling imagery was all too familiar--black-clad zealots blending the poetic phrases of the Quran with the rhetoric of martyrdom in a message transmitted to the world by the same Arabic television broadcaster favored by Osama bin Laden and his followers. In their first public communication since seizing hundreds of Moscow theatergoers, Chechen rebels said in a videotape broadcast Thursday on the Al-Jazeera satellite channel that they had come to the Russian capital to stop the war in Chechnya "or gain martyrdom."

The parallels to public statements issued by bin Laden and his followers in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks were striking. Like al-Qaida fighters, the Chechens declared their willingness to die for their cause. "Each one of us is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of God and the independence of Chechnya," one of the Chechens said. "I swear by God that we are more keen on dying than you are on living."

The Chechens spoke in front of a dark curtain with white Arabic lettering containing the Arabic words for the Islamic profession of faith: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger." Below were the Arabic words "Allahu Akbar"--God is Great.

To distribute their message, the Chechens chose Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic news station that gained fame outside the Arab world last year for its broadcasts of statements by bin Laden and his allies. Al-Jazeera would not comment formally on the tape or explain when and how the station received it. However, a station employee, who spoke on condition he not be named, said the tape was received early Thursday by its bureau in Moscow. He said the station believed the tape was recorded Wednesday--presumably before the operation began.

Many Chechens were believed to have been among the thousands of al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan before the United States and its allies toppled the ruling Taliban. The tape, however, made no mention of bin Laden or his terrorist movement.

Instead, the Chechens said their actions were in response to Russian repression in their homeland. "Even if we were killed, thousands of brothers and sisters will come after us who are ready to sacrifice themselves for God to free their nation," one hooded woman said. "Why are our nationalists described as terrorists when Russia is the real terrorist. Russian saboteurs have carried out horrendous crimes on our land."

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