|Battle of Grozny (1999–2000) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem (Arabic: سامر صالح عبد الله السويلم) (April 14, 1969 – March 20, 2002), more commonly known as Emir Khattab (also transliterated as Amir Khattab and Ameer Khattab) meaning Commander Khattab, or Leader Khattab, and also known as Habib Abdul Rahman, was a Muslim guerilla fighter and financier working with Chechen Mujahideen in the First Chechen War and the Second Chechen War.
The origins and real identity of Khattab remained a mystery to most until after his death, when his brother gave an interview to the press. He died on 20 March 2002 following exposure to a poison letter delivered via a courier that had been recruited by Russia's FSB.
Central Asia and the Balkans
At the age of 18, Khattab left Saudi Arabia to participate in the fight against the Soviet Union during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. During this time, he permanently incapacitated his right hand and lost several fingers after an accident with improvised explosives.
Al-Khattab (while leader of Islamic International Brigade IIB) publicly admitted that he spent the period between 1989 and 1994 in Afghanistan and that he had met Bin Laden. In March 1994, Khattab arrived in Afghanistan and toured fighter training camps in Khost province. He returned to Afghanistan with the first group of Chechen militants in May 1994. Khattab underwent training in Afghanistan and had close connections with Al-Qaida. Several hundred Chechens eventually trained in Al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.]
Armenian sources claim that in 1992 he was one of many Chechen volunteers who aided Azerbaijan in the embattled region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where he allegedly met Shamil Basayev, however the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence denied any involvement by Khattab in the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
From 1993 to 1995, Khattab left to fight alongside Islamic opposition in the Tajikistan Civil War. Before leaving for Tajikstan in 1994, Al-Khattab gave Abdulkareem Khadr a pet rabbit of his own, which was promptly named Khattab.
In an interview Khattab once mentioned he had also been involved in the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The fragment of this interview in which he makes this statement can be found in the 2004 BBC documentary The Smell of Paradise. His exact role or the duration of his presence there remain subject of debate.
First Chechen War
According to his brother, he first heard about the Chechen conflict on an Afghan television channel in 1995; that same year he entered Chechnya, posing as a television reporter. He was credited as being a pioneer in producing video footage of Chechen rebel combat operations in order to aid fundraising efforts and demoralize the enemy.
During the First Chechen War, Khattab participated in fighting Russian forces and acted as an intermediary financier between foreign Muslim funding sources and the local fighters. To help secure funding and spread the message of resistance, he was frequently accompanied by at least one cameraman.
His units were credited with several devastating ambushes on Russian columns in the Chechen mountains. His first action was the October 1995 ambush of a Russian convoy which killed 47 soldiers. Khattab gained early fame and a great notoriety in Russia for his April 1996 ambush of a large armored column in a narrow gorge of Yaryshmardy, near Shatoy, which killed up to 100 soldiers and destroyed some two or three dozen vehicles.
In the course of the war, Shamil Basayev became his closest ally and personal friend. He was also associated with Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who gave Khattab two of the highest Chechen military awards, the Order of Honor and the Brave Warrior medal, and promoted him to the rank of general.
A senior Chechen commander by the name of Izmailov told press how Khattab urged restraint, citing the Koran, when at the end of the war the Chechens wanted to shoot those they considered traitors.
After the conclusion of the war, Khattab, by then wanted by Interpol on Russia's request, became a prominent warlord and commanded the Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya, his own private army with a group of Arabs, Turks and other foreign fighters who had come to participate in the war. He set up a network of paramilitary camps in the mountainous parts of the republic that trained not only Chechens, but also Muslims from the North Caucasian Russian republics and Central Asia.
On 22 December 1997, over a year after the signing of the Khasav-Yurt treaty and the end of the first war in Chechnya, the Arab mujahideen and a group of Dagestani rebels raided the base of the 136th Armoured Brigade of the 58th Army of Russian Army in Buinaksk, Dagestan. Chechen sources reported destruction of all 300 vehicles in the base, including "50 brand-new T-72 tanks", while Russian sources reported only 10 destroyed and 15 damaged vehicles. During the war, the unit had been accused of committing atrocities against Chechens. The same year, Khattab survived a land-mine assassination attempt in Chechnya.
In 1998, along with Shamil Basayev, Khattab created the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade (IIPB) group (also known as the Islamic Peacekeeping Army). In August–September 1999, they led the IIPB's incursions into Dagestan, which resulted in the deaths of at least several hundred people and effectively started the Second Chechen War.
1999 bombings in Russia
An Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) investigation named Khattab as the mastermind behind the September 1999 Russian apartment bombings. However, on September 14, 1999, Khattab told the Russian Interfax news agency in Grozny that he had nothing to do with the Moscow explosions; he was quoted as saying, “We would not like to be akin to those who kill sleeping civilians with bombs and shells.”
The credibility of the FSB's accusations was questioned, by, among others, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, Johns Hopkins University/Hoover Institute scholar David Satter, and Russian lawmaker Sergei Yushenkov who asserted that the bombings were in fact a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the FSB in order to legitimate the resumption of military activities in Chechnya.
Other researchers such as Gordon Bennett, Vlad Sobell, Peter Reddaway and Richard Sakwa have criticized these claims, describing them as conspiracy theories and pointing out, among other things, that the theories' proponents have provided little evidence to support them.
According to Paul J. Murphy, a former United States counterterrorism official, the evidence for Al-Khattab's involvement in the attacks is clear.
During the course of the war, Khattab participated in leading his militia against Russian forces in Chechnya, as well managing the influx of foreign fighters and money (and, according to the Russian officials, also planning of attacks in Russia).
He led or commanded several devastating attacks, such as the mountain battle which killed at least 84 Russian paratroopers, and the attack on the OMON convoy near Zhani-Vedeno, which killed at least 52 Russian Interior Ministry troops.
Death and legacy
Khattab was falsely reported dead when Guantanamo captive Omar Mohammed Ali Al Rammah faced the allegations that he witnessed Khattab being killed in an ambush in Duisi, a village in the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia on 28 April 2002."
Khattab later survived a heavy-calibre bullet wound to the stomach and a landmine explosion. He was killed during the night of March 19–20, 2002, when a Dagestani messenger hired by the Russian FSB gave Khattab a poisoned letter. Chechen sources said that the letter was coated with "a fast-acting nerve agent, possibly sarin or a derivative". The messenger, a Dagestani double agent known as Ibragim Alauri was turned by the FSB on his routine courier mission. Khattab would receive letters from his mother in Saudi Arabia, and the FSB found this to be the most opportune moment to kill Khattab, rather than attack his mountain hideout and risk losing soldiers. It was reported that the operation to recruit and turn Ibragim Alauri to work for the FSB and deliver the poisoned letter took some six months of preparation. Ibragim was reportedly tracked down and killed a month later in Baku Azerbaijan on Shamil Basayev's orders. Ibn Al-Khattab was succeeded by Emir Abu al-Walid.