MOSCOW — Russia on Thursday hailed a decision by the United States to designate the Caucasian insurgent leader Doku Umarov a terrorist, a step announced on the eve of President Dmitri A. Medvedev’s visit to the White House.NOTE: A few years ago, I attended a seminar at Georgetown University on terrorism. When I asked a quesiton about Chechen terrorists, I was emphatically scolded by the professor, who had served in a national security position in the Bush administration: "You can't call Chechens 'terrorists.'"
The State Department late Wednesday released a statement describing Mr. Umarov, formerly a Chechen separatist commander, as being part of a radical jihadist movement that poses a threat to the United States as well. Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said that Mr. Umarov’s recent attacks on Russian targets “illustrate the global nature of the terrorist problem we fight today.”
Western governments have historically been reluctant to consider Caucasian militants in the same light as organizations like Al Qaeda, in part because they evolved out of a secular push for independence that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. [Editors note: I think reason was more likely had been US support for Chechen independence as an anti-Soviet measure during the Cold War] The designation received approving news media coverage in Russia, whose leaders have often intimated that the insurgency receives financing or encouragement from the West.[Editor's note: it is a documented fact]
“It seems the American leadership has finally acknowledged that Caucasian terrorists and the notorious Al Qaeda are links in the same chain,” Komsomolskaya Pravda, a popular tabloid newspaper, wrote. “And maybe now in the West they will seriously take care of militants and their international sponsors.”
Mr. Umarov, 46, has acknowledged that he was barely religious until late in life, but in 2007 he pronounced himself the emir of the Caucasus Emirate, which aims to establish a pan-Caucasian state independent of Russia and based on Islamic law. He revived a dormant Chechen suicide battalion, Riyadus-Salikhin, just as the tactic surged back in the North Caucasus, and in February he vowed to strike in central Russia, saying “blood will no longer spill only in our cities and towns.”
Largely known as a guerrilla fighter, Mr. Umarov emerged from the shadows in March to take responsibility for suicide bombings on Moscow’s subway, which killed 40 people. His organization also took responsibility for the bombing of a luxury train, the Nevsky Express, which killed 28 last November, and an attack that nearly killed the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Yevkurov.
Anatoly E. Safonov, Mr. Medvedev’s representative on terrorism, said the State Department designation would help Russia in its efforts to stamp out the insurgency, by imposing international sanctions on anyone who aids Mr. Umarov or his associates.
“It’s obviously a plus,” he told Interfax. “This is a good signal to all the second-rate and third-rate figures abroad who have supported Umarov in some way. This is a signal to them that if they do not stop, they are next in line.”
Mr. Umarov is the latest on a list of 83 individuals or entities identified by the president or secretary of state under an executive order by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. Four other designations sprang from the conflict in Chechnya and were passed in 2003.
Russian officials celebrated the decision on Thursday, with the Foreign Ministry calling it “an important acceptance of the indivisible and universal nature of international terrorist threats.”
So, I'm glad that someone in a position of responsibility has finally acknowledged reality...