- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

The United States has placed three Chechen rebel groups on its blacklist of foreign terrorist organizations, linking them to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and freezing any assets they may have on U.S. territory, the State Department said yesterday.
Russia has been urging the United States to designate the groups the Islamic International Brigade, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment and the Riyadus-Salikhin Battalion as terrorists for more than a year. It cited various violent acts they have committed, including the hostage-taking at Moscow's Dubrovka Theater in October, in which 129 persons died.
But Washington dismissed suggestions that the move rewards Moscow at a time when its vote on the U.N. Security Council is badly needed in support of a war in Iraq. U.S. officials insisted that they had blacklisted the groups because they "threatened the safety of U.S. citizens and U.S. national security or foreign policy interests."
"We recognize that there are terrorist elements among those fighting Russian forces in Chechnya," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. "At the same time, we do not consider all Chechen fighters to be terrorists."
He urged Russia, which has been involved in a bloody conflict with the breakaway republic on and off since 1993, "to pursue a political settlement and to establish meaningful accountability for human rights violations by its armed forces in Chechnya."
The measure, approved by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Feb. 14, prohibits "any U.S. persons from making or receiving any contribution of funds, goods or services for the benefit of these groups," Mr. Boucher said.
U.S. officials said the three groups did not exactly match the ones Russia wanted to see blacklisted. Riyadus-Salikhin, Arabic for Fields of the Righteous, was not known until the theater attack and drew its members from the two other organizations, they said.
The officials identified Shamil Basayev as a key rebel, whom they described as the leader of Riyadus-Salikhin and former commander of the International Islamic Brigade.
The State Department said that, apart from taking part in the theater attack, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment had executed two suspected of being traitors, the mayor of a village in June 2001 and a resident of Alkhan-Kala in July 2001. A U.S. official said Washington considered this terrorism.
The United States, which repeatedly criticized Russia's campaign against Chechnya for abusing human rights, has softened its stance since September 11, viewing the conflict as part of the global fight against terrorism. Mr. Boucher said the matter has also been taken up by the United Nations.
"Because these three groups are linked to al Qaeda, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China and Spain have requested today that the United Nations 1267 Sanctions Committee include the groups on its consolidated list," he said.
The spokesman said France has indicated it will join the designation, which would be the first time all five permanent members of the Security Council have joined in submitting names to the sanctions committee.
"All U.N. member states are obligated to impose arms and travel sanctions on, and to freeze without delay, assets of any individual or entity on the consolidated list, and to prohibit their nationals or persons in their territories from making available any funds or other resources to such entities," he said.

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