The shipment that killed Basayev came from Iraq, via Turkey and Georgia

By consulting experts and studying open sources, we have attempted to analyze where the consignment of weapons originated, the route it took to Ingushetia – and who might have helped deliver it to the addressee, Shamil Basayev, complete and undamaged.

We continue our own investigation into the circumstances of Shamil Basayev’s death. This time, by consulting experts and studying open sources, we have attempted to analyze where the consignment of weapons originated, the route it took to Ingushetia – and who might have helped deliver it to the addressee, Shamil Basayev, complete and undamaged.

The weapons shipment contained a detonator, planted by the Federal Security Service (FSB). Where did the shipment originate? Our impression is that this operation was launched by President Vladimir Putin himself. In an Interfax news agency report from July 11, an unidentified expert described as a Russian special services veteran declined to answer when asked to name the country from which Basayev’s weapons consignment came, but recommended “a close analysis of media reports over the past two months” about contacts between Russia’s top leaders and representatives of other countries.

So we went ahead and did that. What catches the eye immediately is the frequency of contacts between President Vladimir Putin and President George W. Bush. They spoke by phone on May 1, May 30, June 5, June 19, and July 6. In all these conversations, according to official reports, one of the most important topic was the war on terrorism.

On June 6, a day after talking to Bush, Putin met with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Most likely, Kissinger wasn’t fully informed about what was happening; but Putin directed his remarks at the television cameras as well as at Kissinger.

“Our views don’t always coincide, but we understand each other and find a compromise,” Putin said to Kissinger. “Of course, our cooperation in the area of fighting terrorism remains fairly urgent. I spoke to the President of the United States by phone only yesterday. We maintain permanent contacts at practically all levels and between all state agencies.”

With the “prompt” provided by the unnamed special services source, Putin’s words here may well be interpreted as a hint at meetings between Russian and US intelligence agencies.

Now let’s approach this from another angle. Where was the weapons consignment put together? In his report to Putin, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev said: “This operation became possible thanks to the fact that operative positions had been established abroad, primarily in those countries where weapons were assembled and subsequently sent to Russia.”

In this context, the word “assembled” clearly doesn’t refer to the factory production process; it refers to the location where the weapons consignment was put together before being shipped to Basayev. One of the experts we consulted pointed out that Chechen guerrillas always say they acquire their weapons from the Russian military. Undoubtedly, such incidents do happen sometimes; but our source maintains that there’s more talk than evidence of Russian military personnel selling arms to the guerrillas. And this is where the talk originates: Soviet-made weapons could fall into terrorist hands not only from Russian military storehouses, but also from other countries that bought such weapons from Russia or the Soviet Union.

Given this and other abovementioned factors, the experts we consulted consider the leading theory to be as follows: the weapons consignment was probably collected in Iraq. The situation there resembles Dudayev-era Chechnya: a devastated society in which former military personnel are selling off entire arsenals. Such things also happen in the Balkans, but we rejected that option, since the weapons there are all Yugoslav- or Chinese-made. And the specialists we consulted pointed to Iraq, where the former National Guard has scattered, taking a great number of weapons.

So the shipment originated in Iraq. This is an undisputed “responsibility zone” of the United States. Some reliable informers might have told the Russian special services about the cargo being assembled. But in order to make this work to Russia’s advantage, it would have been necessary to cooperate with the Americans and the new Iraqi special services established by the Americans – they still have the final say in the region. The Russian special services needed to plant a detonator in the weapons shipment, then track the shipment’s progress all the way along its route. And that leads us to a sensational conclusion: only America could have provided Russia with this kind of assistance.

How was the cargo delivered to Ingushetia? We can rule out the Iran-Armenia-Azerbaijan route. Firstly, Iran is an unfriendly zone for terrorists. Its borders are closely monitored, to guard against drug trafficking. Moreover, Iran is one of the few countries in the Islamic world that has not been known to support the Chechen separatists. Secondly, due to the continual conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, all cargo crossing the border between these two countries is checked very thoroughly. Thirdly, there’s a shorter and less problematic route: via Turkey and Georgia.

Turkey is a complicated country. It’s more than just a favorite holiday destination for Russian tourists. But times change, and the influence of the United States on Turkey is very great. If our first conclusion (that the Americans have been helping our special services) is correct, it would be logical to assume that they helped us reach agreement with Turkey as well.

Next up, Georgia. Everyone is aware of Russia’s difficult relationship with Georgia’s proud president, Mikhail Saakashvili. The power of US influence on Saakashvili is equally well-known. But let’s not forget the problem of the Pankisi Gorge, the terrorist bases there, and the inconveniences this creates for Georgia. For example, the Western European community used to have a certain amount of sympathy for the Chechen separatists and Georgia, which supported the separatists; but the situation has changed since the Paris trial of “Chechen terrorists” who were planning an act of terrorism in France. The court established that these terrorists had been trained in the Pankisi Gorge.

Thus, having consulted experts and open sources, we conclude that the weapons consignment was collected in Iraq; the detonator and radio beacon were planted in the consignment in Iraq; and the consignment was then delivered to Ingushetia via Turkey and Georgia.

There is also the possibility that the FSB’s radio beacon was planted en route, perhaps in Georgia, rather than in Iraq – but this is unlikely. One of Basayev’s emissaries probably took delivery of the deadly cargo in Iraq and examined it thoroughly. His inspection process might have involved placing secret marks on the cargo, to make it obvious if anyone tampered with the goods along the way.

So why would Russia need to monitor the shipment’s progress and seek a friendly attitude from the transit countries? The answer is simple: in order to prevent any accidents. Russia had to ensure that local special services, police, or criminals wouldn’t intercept this important shipment, so that it could reach its designated recipient complete and undamaged – and then fulfill its mission.

The "Chechen network" takes root in Paris

On June 14, a French court issued prison terms of various lengths to members of a group of Islamists that was part of the “Chechen network.” In 2001-02, they attempted to organize a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, in order to show “moral support” for the separatists in Chechnya. The group included some experienced militants – Mirwan bin Ahmed and Menad Benshellali, former members of the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, which is linked to Al Qaeda, as well as some French citizens of North African origin.

Police searches found group members in possession of gas canisters, chemicals, fuses, and a highly toxic substance called ricin. According to the prosecution, the “Chechen network” was planning some terrorist attacks in Paris, with the Russian Embassy among the targets, in revenge for the guerrillas killed during the Moscow theater hostage-taking in 2002. There were 25 people on trial in Paris, and the five main defendants were sentenced to prison terms of eight to ten years.

European counter-terrorism experts believe that in the wake of Basayev’s death, Osama bin Laden will soon be destroyed as well. The Americans probably won’t manage it before the G8 summit, but retribution isn’t far away. There are at least four weighty reasons for this.

Firstly, there are reliable reports that Osama bin Laden’s kidney disorder is rapidly growing worse. He requires regular dialysis, meaning that he is no longer free to leave his hideout.

Secondly, US special services have reportedly managed to acquire reliable sources within various Al Qaeda-linked extremist groups active in Uzbekistan. The information coming in from them may shed some light on Osama bin Laden’s exact whereabouts.

Thirdly, the Americans have managed to get Pakistan to promise that it will soon intensify military operations in regions on the Afghan border – where, according to some reports, Osama bin Laden is hiding.

Finally, international joint efforts have managed to cut off Al Qaeda’s funding channels almost completely. The inflow of money is drying up, so Al Qaeda leaders will have to take the risk of sending their emissaries abroad in search of funding – to addresses that may have been betrayed already. Most likely, the police are waiting for them.