To fully comprehend the Chechens and their purported links to Al Qaeda transnational terrorism, one must understand an ingredient that is absent in the war of Al Qaeda terrorism experts -- the Chechens themselves. A point that will become glaringly obvious from works dealing with the Chechens is that their real enemy is Russia. Like the localized separatist movements of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army ) or the Kurdish PKK, the Chechen resistance is not in and of itself a threat to the West. All Chechen resistance elements have their hands full with the enemy at hand, the Russian Federation.
This clear absence of any Chechen propensity to attack U.S. or other Western targets is in marked contrast to the modus operandi of true Al Qaeda terrorism. The goal of Al Qaeda--demonstrated by bombings of double Jewish and British targets in Istanbul, dual Australian-Western targets in Bali, twin U.S. targets in Washington and New York, and the two embassies in Kenya and Tanzania--is to engage in simultaneous mega-attacks designed to inflict maximum Western casualties. The purpose of Al Qaeda attacks is also not to make specific demands, as was the case with the Nord Ost theater hostage takers, who demanded a Russian withdrawal from their homeland.
To understand the 'Chechen-Arabs' one most go back to 1995, when an exploratory group of first-generation 'Afghan-Arabs' led by Amir (Commander) Khattab arrived in Chechnya to assist the out-gunned Chechens in their struggle against Russian Federal Forces. Amir Khattab (the nom de guerre of Saudi citizen Samer ben Saleh ben Abdallah al Sweleim) was a member of the roaming brotherhood of jihadi paladins that continued to wage holy war on behalf of front line Muslim groups long after the 'divine' victory over the Soviets in the Afghan jihad of 1979-1988. In the aftermath of the Soviet defeat, Khattab and other members of the Afghan alumni swore an oath to the patron saint of the international jihad movement, Abduallah Azzam, to continue the defense of other Muslim groups worldwide.
By 1995, a major component of this movement began to trickle to Chechnya as the jihad in Bosnia came to an unexpected halt following the Dayton Peace Accords. Unlike the Bosnians or Kosovo Albanians after them, however, the diplomatically-isolated Chechen insurgents received no support from the West. In 1995, the Chechen nationalist rebels finally received help from an unexpected source, when Khattab and his group of fighters arrived to wage a holy war against their old enemies from the Afghan jihad, the Russians.
While Khattab's fighters were few, they brought the outgunned Chechen resistance access to the immense financial resources of his powerful supporters, the quasi-official charities of Saudi Arabia. While the hard-drinking Sovietized Chechen Sufi Muslims initially found Khattab's bearded jihadi-puritan Wahhabis to be something of an oddity, the scrappy Chechens soon came to appreciate the contribution these professional infidel-killers could make to their cause.
The influence of Khattab's International Islamic Battalion (IIB) in Chechnya began to grow after the Chechens' most prominent field commander, Shamil Basayev, declared Khattab his 'brother' and began to coordinate activities with the jihadis. It was this alliance between the 'Second Shamil' (the first being the 19th century guerilla commander Imam Shamil) and a Saudi holy warrior (who saw himself as something of an Islamic Che Guevera) that had negative consequences for hundreds of thousands of innocent Chechens who simply dreamed of rebuilding their lives following Russia's defeat in the 1994-96 Russo-Chechen War.
We cannot underestimate the importance of this alliance between Basayev and Khattab--it gave the Kremlin a pretext for later reinvading the Chechen state and painting the Chechen secessionist leadership as 'Al Qaeda.'
After Russia withdrew from Chechnya in 1996, Khattab and many of his Arab jihadis stayed on in Chechnya and continued to coordinate activities with Shamil Basayev. At this point, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and his moderate supporters began to call on Khattab and his IIB jihadis to decamp from Chechnya and move to some other zone of jihad. But far from leaving Chechnya, Khattab signaled his intention to stay on in the wartorn Chechen republic by marrying a Muslim woman from the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan and gradually joining the anti-Maskhadov resistance in Chechnya.
Most ominously, Khattab further signaled his real intentions by opening training camps in southeastern Chechnya, which trained unemployed young Chechen men and Muslims from throughout Russia for a never-ending jihad that was far greater in scope than the republic originally envisioned by Chechnya's nationalist leadership.