- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2000

A grenade attack yesterday on the Russian Embassy in Lebanon could foreshadow a new wave of international terror as Moscow presses its campaign against Islamic radicals in Chechnya.

Authorities in Beirut said yesterday that Ahmad Raja Abu Kharub, 30, a resident of Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, fired four rocket-propelled grenades into the embassy compound in the western part of the city. A Lebanese policeman was killed and seven persons were injured before Mr. Kharub was gunned down by security forces after an hourlong battle.

State-owned Tele-Liban reported that the attacker carried a note in his pocket saying he wanted to be a "martyr for Chechnya."

Russian officials said no Russian diplomats were hurt in the attack.

"It's hard to say this was especially surprising or that there won't be more incidents like it," said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Rand Corp.'s Washington office and an author on international terrorism.

"In Chechnya itself, Russia can largely control the news flow, so terrorism outside the country against Russian targets is a classic way to get international attention for your cause," he said.

John C.K. Daly, director of programs at the Middle East Institute, noted that a delegation from the Organization of Islamic Countries received a sharp rebuff during a recent visit to Moscow seeking an end to the crisis.

"The Russian action in Chechnya is still rippling through the Middle East," he said.

Lebanese Muslim groups have been active in the protests against Russia over Chechnya, and have been raising funds for their fellow Muslims in Chechnya.

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly blamed Chechen "bandits and terrorists" for unrest in the breakaway North Caucasus republic and for a series of apartment bombings in Russian cities this summer that killed nearly 300 people.

Moscow maintains that the war in Chechnya is part of a larger global struggle against international terrorist organizations, including the network headed by Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist believed to be behind the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Lebanese security forces said they found grenade-launchers, ammunition, and a Kalashnikov assault rifle beside the body of Kharub after the attack yesterday.

But the air and ground war waged in Chechnya since September by Russian forces has sparked sharp criticism in the West.

U.S. officials say they share Russia's concerns about the unchecked campaign of terror and kidnapping in Chechnya over the past few years, but charge the military offensive has indiscriminately targeted civilians, produced a massive refugee crisis and will ultimately prove "counterproductive."

Mr. Putin is "riding a tiger," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright warned Sunday.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday the United States condemned the "cowardly attack" on the Russian compound in Beirut, but said the U.S. government had no information on whether any terrorist groups were linked to the attack.

While the old Soviet Union was a prime sponsor of violent "national liberation movements" that targeted the West, U.S. officials say cooperation with Russia on international terrorism has been generally good since 1991.

The State Department's latest annual survey on global terrorism notes that Russia has itself been the target of numerous terrorist attacks in recent years. Russia chaired a U.N. Security Council debate in October that adopted a resolution calling for stepped-up efforts to curb terrorism and beef up international coordination efforts.

"Russia has actually been in the forefront in publicizing Osama bin Laden and the international links that terrorist groups enjoy," noted Mr. Hoffman. "It does show how much the world has changed since the Cold War."

But Martha Brill Olcott, an expert on Russia and its former territories in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region, said the dynamics of the region are complex, with religion, nationalism and ethnic tensions all playing a part.

Many of the largely Muslim states of Central Asia are far more concerned with the integrity of their fragile new governments than they are with Islamic solidarity. They tend to be very nervous about the violence and chaos in Chechnya the past few years, and very sympathetic to Russia's position, she said.

"Even Russia's Islamic community isn't lined up behind the Chechens, who are seen as more concerned with nationalist than religious motives," Mrs. Olcott said. "It all depends on where you fit along the continuum."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide