Somalia’s Islamist Leadership: Where Are They Now?

Andrew McGregor

February 21, 2007

Bombings, shootings and mortar attacks continue in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu and the southern port city of Kismayo, as Somali Islamists engage Ethiopian occupation forces. Many Islamist leaders took refuge in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, where they were joined by Islamic Courts Union (ICU) second-in-command Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad after his transfer from detention in Kenya (, February 10). A Yemeni newspaper quoted the shaykh as saying that his release from Kenya was obtained after the conclusion of negotiations with the United States over the return of 15 U.S. Marines (including four wounded), who were allegedly captured by the Islamists in the jungles of south Somalia during a U.S. mission in December.

Shaykh Ahmad Shaykh SharifShaykh Ahmad Shaykh Sharif (Xinhua)

The Marines were allegedly held in the Ras Kamboni region near the Kenyan border and on the coast of the Indian Ocean. A Qatari newspaper claimed to have confirmation of the incident from unnamed Arab and Western diplomats (al-Sharqa, January 26). Shaykh Sharif claimed his release and transfer to Yemen were part of the conditions for turning the prisoners over to U.S. authorities, with Yemen promising to return the Islamist leader to U.S. forces in Nairobi if the release of the Marines did not occur (al-Nedaa, February 8; Shabelle Media Network, February 8). While in the custody of Kenya’s National Security Intelligence Service, Shaykh Sharif met several times with Washington’s point man for Somalia, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger, reportedly to negotiate the release of the captives (al-Khaleej, February 1).

The Pentagon issued strong denials that any U.S. troops had been captured in southern Somalia (, January 26). No independent verification or evidence was offered by the Islamists to substantiate the reports of captured Marines, and though reports of the alleged capture were carried widely in African and Arab news media, Western news sources ignored the entire story.

In the last few weeks, many Islamist fugitives have been captured in the difficult terrain of Somalia’s frontier with Kenya, where local security forces are aided by detachments from Britain’s SAS. ICU sources claim that the number of detainees is being underreported, and that many of the prisoners being transferred to Ethiopian hands are slated for secret executions (, February 7). Ethiopia reports that as many as 4,000 Islamists were killed during last December’s invasion. According to Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi, ICU leader Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys (accused by the United States of ties to al-Qaeda) is still active in the Somali/Kenyan border region, together with leading Ogaden separatist Hassan Abdullah al-Turki. Bloody papers belonging to ICU extremist Adan Hashi Ayro (a veteran of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan) were discovered after a U.S. gunship attack, but the notorious militia leader appears to have survived (Shabelle Media Network, February 5). Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, stated that it was Washington’s belief that fugitive Islamist leaders might reorganize in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Eritrea, describing the latter as “a source of regional instability” (Financial Times, January 31).

Although the United States, the European Union, Ethiopia and many other countries are urging the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to undertake national reconciliation talks that would include Islamists like Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, TFG Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi has stated the government’s firm opposition to talks with any Islamist leaders, whether moderate or radical (Shabelle Media Network, February 13). TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf also opposes talks, describing Shaykh Sharif as a leading member of “the axis of evil.” According to the president, it was the Islamists and not the warlords who were “responsible for the instability and destruction of the country” (Shabelle Media Network, February 5). A reconciliation conference is planned to go ahead in Mogadishu, although without an Islamist presence it is difficult to see with just whom the TFG intends to reconcile.


This article was first published in the February 21, 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Expelling the Infidel: An Historical Look at Somali Resistance to Ethiopia

Andrew McGregor

February 21, 2007

The U.S.-supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia has an unsettling resemblance to the British-supported Ethiopian incursions in the early years of the 20th century. In both cases, the Western powers became involved because of perceived strategic considerations, while their proxy, Ethiopia, went to war as a result of Somali resistance to Ethiopian domination of the ethnic-Somali Ogaden region. Last December’s invasion succeeded in bringing the Ethiopia-friendly Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad to power in Mogadishu. Although the Islamists have been dispersed for the moment, there are signs that a guerrilla campaign is in the making.

Sayyid Muhammad 1Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abdullah Hassan

Like the late 20th century, the late 19th century witnessed an international Islamic revival, spurred in part by the military occupation and economic domination of Muslim nations by the Western world. The Egyptian withdrawal from its short-lived occupation of the Somali coast in the 1880s and the failure of the Ottoman Empire to press its claims on the region opened the region to the advances of Britain, Italy, France and Ethiopia. In Somalia, there was a rare shift in public affairs as religious leaders became involved in traditionally secular Somali politics, using their unique position to transcend traditional clan divisions. The most notable of these leaders was Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abdullah Hassan, who led his “dervishes” in a 21-year struggle against foreign domination.

Introducing Political Islam

As a young man in Mecca, Muhammad adopted the austere teachings of the Salihiya sect of Islam. Like today’s Somali Islamists, Muhammad rejected foreign influence and enforced the strict observance of Islamic law. The uses of alcohol and tobacco were forbidden, as was the use of Qat, a narcotic leaf widely consumed in Somalia. In Somalia’s devastated economy, the Qat trade continues to be one of the most reliable ways for entrepreneurs to make money. The prohibition of the trade by the Islamic Courts Union damaged local support for these modern Islamists only weeks before the Ethiopian invasion (Terrorism Focus, November 28, 2006). Sayyid Muhammad was a harsh critic of Somalia’s dominant (but relatively tolerant) Qadiri Sufi order, who in turn called the renegade holy man “the Mad Mullah,” the name by which he is best known to history.

Like many modern Islamist leaders in Somalia, Muhammad cut his teeth as a political militant in the Ogaden region, preaching resistance to the Christian Ethiopians who were steadily occupying the area. One of Muhammad’s greatest strengths was his mastery of oral poetry, a powerful social and political tool in Somalia, where a man could be ruined by an effective attack in verse or a tribe brought to war by skillful alliteration. At first, the British imperialists who occupied his native northwestern Somalia tolerated Muhammad’s preaching, believing that adherence to Sharia law would help bring order to the wild tribesmen of the interior. It was not long, however, before Muhammad turned his attention to the British because of their support for Ethiopia. By 1899, he had broken with British rule and enraged the Ethiopians with a ferocious but ultimately unsuccessful attack on their forces in the Ogaden. With Britain’s colonial army forced to concentrate on the concurrent war in South Africa, British authorities invited Ethiopia to join the campaign against this troublesome preacher.

Sayyid Muhammad grew concerned that the Ethiopian and Western Christians sought to destroy Islam in Somalia, a fear shared by Somalia’s modern Islamists. In the period 1901-1904, the dervishes repulsed four Anglo-Ethiopian expeditions, although their own losses were often severe. Sayyid Muhammad’s stern and often ruthless measures in dealing with rivals cost him the opportunity of uniting the Somalis against foreign rule.

Somalia’s social structure is also a major obstacle in the development of a unifying Islamist cause. Muhammad never quite succeeded in overcoming the reluctance of Somalia’s many clans and subsections to join a movement that was not directly devoted to enriching or empowering their own group. Military success brought supporters, while failure led to desertions. The problem persists to this day, accounting in large part for the quick collapse of the Islamic Courts Union when an Ethiopian victory became obvious in December.

The Ethiopian and British Campaigns

The first Ethiopian campaign against Muhammad was a disaster. A massive army of 14,000 men chased the dervishes around the near-waterless Ogaden in 1901, its numbers shrinking daily from heat, hunger, thirst and disease. With typical Somali fractiousness, some Ogaden Somalis accompanied the Ethiopian forces against their would-be liberator. To the British authorities, the lesson was obvious, and it was decided in typical colonial fashion that Somalis must fight Somalis. Thousands of tribesmen were recruited under Indian NCOs and British officers to destroy Muhammad’s army. Similarly, the United States engaged Somali warlords under the guise of the “Anti-Terrorist Coalition” to depose of the Islamists last summer. The strategy was a complete failure, with the warlords being driven from most of the country.

A second Ethiopian expedition to the Ogaden in 1903 killed only a few of Muhammad’s men, while suffering terrible losses of their own from lack of food and water. In familiar language, the dervishes were at one point characterized as “terrorist thugs,” and joint British/Ethiopian campaigns continued until the devastating loss of 7,000 dervishes at the 1904 battle of Jidbaale. During these four campaigns, Ethiopian troops were accompanied by British advisers. There are reports that British SAS units are now acting as advisers to Kenyan border forces in an effort to trap fleeing Islamists (Sunday Times, January 14).

sayyid muhammad 2After the defeat at Jidbaale, Sayyid Muhammad agreed to settle peacefully in Italian Somaliland, but within months he and his followers were again raiding the Ogaden and British territory in an attempt to drive out the “infidels.” Ethiopia had dropped out of the fighting, leaving Britain to carry on alone. Today, there is a danger of U.S. forces meeting the same fate, as Ethiopia is seeking only a brief occupation and most African Union states (except for Uganda) are very reluctant to commit peacekeepers to a conflict they view as intractable. As Under Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1908, Winston Churchill pointed out the enormous expense involved in holding this deeply impoverished wilderness and the unlikelihood of British-led Indian and Somali troops ever providing security in the interior. Churchill suggested withdrawing to the coast and leaving the barren interior to the dervishes. It was two years before this policy was implemented, but the withdrawal did nothing to end the fighting.

A strong blow was dealt to Sayyid Muhammad’s movement when two defectors succeeded in obtaining a letter in 1908 from the leader of the Salihiya movement in Mecca condemning Muhammad as a heretic and an infidel. Despite this, Muhammad’s call for an anti-colonial jihad continued to spread and his quick-moving horsemen dominated the desert wilderness. As the First World War broke out in Europe, fierce fighting continued in Somalia, almost unnoticed by the outside world. The conflict continued as Sayyid Muhammad grew older and ever more corpulent, no longer able to perform the feats of horsemanship for which he was once known, but still able to use his poetic oratory to inspire his dervishes. Sayyid Muhammad’s army was finally broken in a combined infantry and Royal Air Force assault on their fortresses in the Somali desert in 1919. Most resistance collapsed with Muhammad’s death from influenza in 1921.


The dervish war with Britain was a direct result of the empire’s cooperation with Ethiopia, which sought to use British support to solidify their rule of the Ogaden region. Although Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi speaks of the importance of joining the “war on terrorism,” it was threats from the modern Somali Islamists that they intended to “liberate” the Ogaden that brought Ethiopia to war. There are signs that Ethiopia is taking advantage of its occupation to round up members of the Oromo and Ogaden rebel movements (Garowe Online, January 13). Others have been intercepted trying to flee into Kenya (Ethiopian News Agency, January 8).

With growing opposition to his government at home and international criticism of his regime’s human rights abuses, Zenawi has strengthened himself by achieving the inviolable status that comes with being a “vital partner” in the U.S. war on terrorism. His power base in the Tigrean-dominated army has improved through U.S. funding, training, intelligence cooperation and the practical (if limited) experience of mobile warfare gained through the invasion of Somalia. The war is also seen as an antidote to recent defections in the officer corps to the Oromo Liberation Front (an Ethiopian resistance movement). The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) declared on January 7 that “the ONLF will continue to resist the presence of Ethiopian troops in Ogaden and we shall resist the use of our territory as a logistical and planning center for Ethiopian occupation troops in Somalia” (ONLF Statement on Ethiopian Occupation of Somalia, January 7). With political unrest in his own country, Zenawi cannot spare the best units of his army for long.

Despite an al-Qaeda video released on January 4 urging Muslims to go to Somalia to fight the Ethiopians (“the slaves of America”), there is little indication that any have done so. Somalia has always provided an inhospitable environment to foreign adventurers. Popular support for the Islamists was not an expression of approval by Somalis for international terrorism, and Ethiopian/American suggestions that al-Qaeda fugitives had usurped the leadership of the Somali Islamists seem highly unlikely in light of the traditional patterns of Somali power structures.

The United States, like Britain, often tends to regard militant Islam in any form as “fanaticism,” directed by irrational religious impulses. Too frequently, however, foreign intervention is the fuel that allows political Islam to grow in an otherwise hostile environment. TFG Minister of the Interior Hussein Aideed (a former U.S. Marine) provided the Islamists with a rallying point by urging Somali integration with Ethiopia, including the use of a single passport (Shabelle Media Network, January 7). Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, the TFG speaker, does not share President Abdulahi’s pro-Ethiopian position, stating “I believe that the security created by the [Islamic] Courts during their six-month rule cannot be recreated by Ethiopian troops, even if they stay in Somalia for another six years” (Garowe Online, January 13).

Despite their desperate position, Somalia’s Islamists remain defiant: “If the world thinks we are dead, they should know we are alive and will continue the jihad against the infidels in our country” (Shabelle Media Network, January 7). Their words are a modern echo of Sayyid Muhammad’s verse: “And I’ll react against the malice and oppression unleashed upon me, Yes, I am justified to smite, to sweep through the land with terror and fury, And I’ll go out to make the country free of infidel influence” (Quoted in Said S. Samatar: Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism, Cambridge, 1982, p.192).

This article first appeared in the February 21, 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Iraqi Insurgents Claim New Generation of Missiles Being Used

Andrew McGregor

February 14, 2007

Strela 3Strela 3 (SA-14 Gremlin)

In the short span of January 20 to February 7, four U.S. military and two private security firm helicopters were lost due to enemy ground fire in Iraq, raising concerns that insurgents have introduced new tactics or weapons in their battle against coalition air supremacy. According to the February 8 issue of al-Hayat, Iraqi insurgents may have acquired “a new generation” of Strela missiles, presumably the Strela-3 (SA-14 Gremlin), which has increased range and a warhead twice the size of the SA-7. After an Apache gunship was downed with the loss of its two-man crew, the Islamic State of Iraq (an umbrella group for Sunni insurgents led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi) claimed that it had “new ways” of bringing down coalition aircraft (al-Furqan Foundation, February 2). Responsibility for the attacks has been claimed by a variety of Sunni insurgent groups through internet statements and video recordings, such as those found on

The Pentagon has claimed that only four of the six helicopters were brought down by ground fire, while two others suffered mechanical failure (AHN, February 9). Eyewitness and video evidence suggests three helicopters were lost to missile fire, and three to automatic weapons fire. Some 400 coalition helicopters are active in Iraq, and nearly 60 have been lost to various causes since the start of the invasion in 2003. The military craft lost since January 20 include two AH-64 Apache gunships, a UH-60A Black Hawk and a CH-46 Sea Knight troop transport (the naval version of the twin rotor Chinook).

Helicopters are used heavily in central Iraq to avoid the roadside IEDs that cause most U.S. casualties. The majority of U.S. military helicopters in the theater are fitted with missile sensors, infrared emitters, chaff dispensers and flares designed to deflect incoming missiles. Helicopters typically stay low to the ground, flying quickly at tree-top level when possible. This makes them more difficult to strike with a heat-seeking missile, but increases the chance of damage through machine gun fire. Although numerous technical means have been found to increase ballistic tolerance and reduce the chance of flight-threatening damage from small-arms fire, helicopters simply cannot be fitted with enough armor to make them impervious to bullets. An RPG has little chance of hitting a fast-moving helicopter, but can be used with some chance of success against hovering or slow-moving aircraft. Sand and dust pose additional challenges in keeping the aircraft operational.

The pre-invasion Iraqi army was well-equipped with shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, and thousands of these remain unaccounted for. Most common is the Russian-made 1971-model Strela 2-M (SA-7b in Iraq), a “tail-chase” heat-seeking system with filters for infrared emissions and decoy flares. This weapon is produced in many countries under license and is easily available on the arms market. Last year, there were unverified reports that SA-7 missiles were included in Iranian arms shipments to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq (Zaman, May 13, 2006). The Iraq Study Group also alleged that Iraqi insurgents used Saudi money to buy missiles through the black market in Romania (AP, November 8, 2006).

While worrisome, recent helicopter losses are partly the result of increased exposure in the midst of a U.S. offensive and a greater reliance on helicopter transport to avoid IEDs. Increased exposure equals increased risk. Varying flight schedules and flight patterns, flying at night and other evasive tactics were already introduced in November 2003 to counter growing helicopter losses. There is no evidence yet that a new generation of surface-to-air missiles has been introduced. Greater use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is one means of reducing the threat to manned reconnaissance aircraft, and the U.S. Army is deploying a wide variety of such craft, including those capable of attacking targets, like the Air Force’s Predator.

This article was first published in the February 14, 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus


Achimez Gochiyayev: Russia’s Terrorist Enigma Returns

Andrew McGregor

February 1, 2007

In the wake of the London poisoning of former FSB Colonel Alexander Litvinenko came unexpected reports that the alleged “terrorist mastermind” and organizer of the September 1999 apartment block bombings in Moscow and Vologodonsk that sparked the current Russian/Chechen war was still active in the North Caucasus republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (KCR). Though the two stories appeared to be unconnected, there may indeed be some relation between them.

gochiyayevAchimez Gochiyayev

Russian security services allege that Achimez Gochiyayev (a member of the Turkic Muslim Karachai ethnic group) directed the September bombings as retaliation for Russian attacks on “Wahhabi” villages in Dagestan in August 1999. Yet, it seems unlikely that such a carefully planned operation could have been put together in such a short period. Indeed, nearly every aspect of the bombings suggested months of planning by professional saboteurs familiar with the methods used to bring down large buildings. Gochiyayev, a small-time Moscow-based trader (by some accounts), seemed an unlikely leader for such an operation.

Russia’s FSB (the successor organization to the KGB) charges that Gochiyayev was the leader of a gang of Karachai “Wahhabis” and terrorists known as “Muslim Society no. 3” (also known as the Karachaev Jamaat) based in Karachaevsk, Uchkeken and Ust-Dzhigut. In the biography advanced by Russian security services, Gochiyayev led the movement into terrorism, organized the 1999 bombings, became involved in a failed Islamist coup in the KCR later that year and eventually emerged as a powerful rebel and terrorist leader in the first half of the present decade.

In a handwritten disposition dated April 24, 2002 and obtained by Litvinenko and historian Yuri Felshtinsky, Gochiyayev painted a very different picture of his life, beginning with his move to Moscow as a sixteen-year-old in 1986. He eventually married in Moscow, received official residency and opened a food distribution business. According to Gochiyayev, a childhood friend from the KCR capital of Cherkessk posing as a potential business partner (but in reality an agent of the FSB) persuaded him in June 1999 to rent basement units used, unknown to him, for the storage of explosives. After the second bombing, however, Gochiyayev realized that he was an unwilling accomplice in the attacks and called the police with details of the two other basements that he had rented. Police raids on these premises found timers and explosives, thus preventing two further blasts. Gochiyayev claims he was warned by his policeman brother that security services were intent on liquidating him and thus went into hiding, where he has remained ever since. The FSB declared that Gochiyayev’s account “could not be taken seriously,” coming from “a man who has besmirched the calling of an officer of the special services [i.e. Litvinenko]” (Interfax, July 25, 2002). A Chechen group claiming to be investigating the 1999 bombings later claimed that the Gochiyayev account had been obtained by them before copies were stolen from them by an “unscrupulous American journalist” and delivered to Litvinenko (Kavkaz Center, July 26, 2002).

The allegations of FSB’s involvement in the 1999 bombings were taken up by exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, who funded Litvinenko and Felshtinsky’s investigation and the publication of their book, Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within. The former oligarch’s personal feud with Putin and mysterious dealings with Caucasus-based kidnapping gangs has made it easier for Moscow to discredit his efforts (and those funded by him) to expose an FSB role in the apartment bombings.

While still on the loose, two other Karachai suspects in the 1999 attacks, Yusuf Krymshamkhalov and Timur Batchiev (both alleged senior members of the “Gochiyayev gang”), confessed in a letter to the commission investigating the bombings that they had participated as “middlemen” in transporting explosives to Moscow. The two claimed that those who recruited them (FSB men under agents German Ugryumov and Max Lazovsky, both killed shortly after) told them the explosives were for use on administrative and military installations, not apartment buildings. The suspects added that reports that the Karachais had trained together in camps run by the Saudi commander of foreign mujahideen in Chechnya, Amir al-Khattab (the alleged financier of the bombings) were false: “We declare, that neither Khattab nor [late warlord Shamyl] Basayev nor someone from the Chechen field commanders and their political leaders, nor any Chechen had any relation to the September terrorist acts of 1999. They did not order, they did not finance and did not organize those terrorist acts. As for Khattab and some other field commanders, we met for the first time only after we escaped to Chechnya…” (“Open Letter to the Commission for the Investigation of the Explosions of Apartment Houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk,” July 28, 2002, published by Novaya gazeta, December 9, 2002). Aside from Gochiyayev, all other alleged members of the bombing conspiracy are presently either dead or in Russian prisons. Though the bombings are typically described in the international press as the work of “Chechen rebels,” none of the accused were Chechen.

From time to time, Gochiyayev’s name has resurfaced in Russian media and federal security reports. The September 2003 allegations that Gochiyayev had been arrested with several Chechen mujahideen in Azerbaijan were denied by Azeri security services (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 27, 2003; PRIMA, September 1, 2003). In June 2004, a Karachai “member of Gochiyayev’s gang” named Khakim Abaev was killed in Ingushetia. Two months later, Nikolai Kipkeyev, another Karachai member of “Muslim Society no.3” was killed in Moscow during the course of a subway bombing. Kipkeyev was also alleged to be Gochiyayev’s associate (Interfax, May 12, 2005). In September 2004, Russian media reported that security services suspected Gochiyayev of financing the terrorist operation in Beslan (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 11, 2004). In May 2005, a group of “Wahhabi terrorists” was killed in a police raid in Cherkessk. The six dead men and women were said to have been “under the command of Achimez Gochiyayev” (Pravda, May 19, 2005; MosNews, May 15, 2005., May 15, 2005).

In the December 25, 2006 shootout at a Cherkessk block of flats that claimed the life of one alleged rebel, Russian media were quick to note that the cornered gunmen were from “Achimez Gochiyayev’s group” (Regnum, December 25, 2006). While the other fighters escaped the siege, the deceased was identified as Ruslan Tokov, allegedly an aide to Gochiyayev in a campaign led by the latter to murder FSB agents and policemen from the KCR’s Ministry of the Interior (ITAR-Tass, December 25, 2006). Russian TV later added that a second rebel named Saltagarov had been killed, while Gochiyayev himself had left the building only moments before the assault (Channel One TV, December 26, 2006).

The FSB charged that Amir al-Khattab paid Gochiyayev $500,000 in cash to carry out the 1999 bombings. Yet, Gochiyayev has always claimed that he had nothing to do with al-Khattab, and that the photos on the FSB website showing the two of them together were either fabricated or of another man. Litvinenko engaged British forensics expert Geoffrey Oxlee to examine the digitized photos. While Litvinenko insisted (in Oxlee’s absence) that the forensics expert had declared the photos a fake, Oxlee later held short of making such a declaration in an interview with a Russian newspaper, venturing only that the images were “of poor quality” and had been “exposed to digital processing.” In short, the photographic evidence was “inconclusive” (Kommersant, July 27, 2002).

Gochiyayev is often said to be hiding in the Pankisi Gorge, but was not found there during the October 2002 Georgian security sweep of the area. Georgia promised to extradite the fugitive if found (as they did with several other Karachai suspects). FSB Lieutenant General Ivan Mironov stated that captured Chechens revealed during interrogation that they had seen Gochiyayev with Krymshamkhalov at the Pankisi base of late Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev (, December 10, 2002).


 For over seven years, Gochiyayev’s menacing shadow has loomed over the North Caucasus. He is everywhere but nowhere; always planning new terrorist outrages but staying one-step ahead of the security services. In reality, since his (unwitting or deliberate) role in the 1999 bombings, Gochiyayev cannot be decisively tied to any rebel military operation or terrorist attack in the Caucasus. To the contrary, Gochiyayev denies having any role in the Chechen resistance or the bitter war being waged between the Karachai Islamists and security forces in the KCR.

It is entirely possible that Gochiyayev is already dead. He has not been heard from for four years and there appears to have been no takers for the $3 million reward for his capture offered by the FSB. While the leaders of KCR jamaats and other militant groups make public statements and give interviews (none of which mention Gochiyayev), there is only silence from the fugitive. The banner of Chechen resistance, the Kavkaz Center website, depicts current leaders of rebel leaders across the Caucasus, a pantheon from which Gochiyayev is conspicuously absent. Kavkaz and other resistance websites never mention Gochiyayev as an active insurgent.

Much of Bombing Russia relies on the testimony of Gochiyayev, so it is perhaps not surprising that Russian security forces might resurrect his name as a current terrorist leader just as the Litvinenko poisoning investigation intensified in December. If Gochiyayev were indeed an active resistance leader, this would discredit his account of himself as an innocent patsy of the FSB who has gone underground, fearing for his life. Reviving Russia’s reluctant “terrorist mastermind” as an ongoing threat deals a strong blow to Litvinenko’s version of the events of 1999 just as Bombing Russia is released in a new edition.

This article first appeared in the February 1, 2007 issue of the Chechnya Weekly.