Chechen rebels: fundamentalists betrayed us

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Aug 12 10:50:43 MDT 2000

The Gazette (Montreal), March 17, 2000, Friday, FINAL

Fundamentalists betrayed us: Chechen fighters


Exhausted Chechen rebel fighters escaping Russian forces say a split with
Islamic fundamentalists wrecked the insurgents' strategy of continuing the
war from bases in the mountains.

The haggard fighters, many suffering from frostbite and hunger, say that
Wahhabis, members of a fundamentalist sect who were supposed to prepare
bases in the mountains for the rebels, betrayed them.

The Wahhabis had been deployed in the mountains since December. After the
fall in February of the Chechen capital, Grozny, the rebels retreated to
the southern mountains.

But instead of aiding the retreating units, the Wahhabi fighters fled,
leaving the retreating rebels prey for Russian jets and artillery, rebel
commanders and fighters said in interviews.

''The Wahhabis betrayed us,'' said Saikhan, a fighter who would only give
his first name. ''They were supposed to prepare supplies and bases for the
guerrilla war. But when we got into the mountains after that grueling
march, hoping for a rest, they wouldn't give us a piece of bread.''

Another rebel fighter, Zubair, said his battered unit retreating from
Grozny reached the mountains and met a group of Wahhabis on a tractor.

''We asked them to put our wounded comrades on a trailer, but they
refused,'' Zubair said. ''They don't deserve the name of humans, let alone
(Islamic) faithful. They abandon the wounded and don't bury the dead.''

None of the rebels interviewed could explain the reason for the split.

Wahhabis, who are the dominant sect in Saudi Arabia, have imposed their
strict interpretation of Islamic law in parts of Dagestan and are disliked
by many in neighbouring Chechnya. Wahhabism is known for enforcing public
morals and compelling other Muslims to strictly observe Islamic duties such
as praying five times daily.

Most Chechens are Sufi Muslims, a moderate sect. The Wahhabis were also
resented for their wealth in the poor region, money that reportedly came
from kidnapping rings that amassed millions of dollars from ransoms.

Arbi Barayev, a Wahhabi chief, left the mountains with about 600 of his
men, reportedly buying safe passage from the Russians, according to other
rebels. Ordinary rebels, with no money, had to fight their way out.

Louis Proyect
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