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April Today in Terrorism

April 16, 1996: Ibn al-Khattab leads Chechen massacre of Russian soldiers

On this day in 1996, Ibn al-Khattab led an ambush against a convoy of Russian troops in the mountains near Yaryshmardy, Chechnya killing more than 100 troops though some put the numbers in the several hundreds.

YARYSHMARDY, CHECHNYA – Today, Chechnya is de-facto an independent state, but this was not always the case. The twists and turns in Chechen history are enough to make one’s head spin

The history of Chechnya is complicated to say the least. I could probably write dozens of blog posts on this subject and still only graze the surface. For such a small country (just under 1.5 million people), the various wars and conflicts fought on Chechen soil have featured prominently in news cycles across the globe.

While I cannot dedicate this post entirely to this complex history, some context is important in order to understand the significance of today’s featured attack.

The First Chechen War

This small war was part of the larger Chechen-Russian conflict and was fought between these two countries over 20 months from December 1994 to August of 1996.

Essentially, Moscow invaded Chechnya in 1994 as they felt they had a claim on the former Soviet (and oil-rich) region. What the Russians believed would be an easy victory became what one writer would refer to as “Russia’s Vietnam“, a conflict that has spanned decades and led to a horrific loss of life.

In reaction to Russia’s aggressive tactics, a Muslim scholar-turned-guerilla-commander named Akhmad Kadyrov (the father of the current Head of the Republic) declared jihad on all Russians. The overall mistrust of Russia in the West led to them referring to these guerilla fighters (read: terrorists) as freedom fighters, a regular David vs Goliath.

Confused yet?

Of course we are independent! I don’t even know this Putin character you speak of (Photo: yuga.ru)

Kadyrov and his ilk were, however, terrorists by the definition I subscribe to. And one of the most ruthless and infamous of these terrorists was a man known as Ibn al-Khattab (real name: Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem), a Saudi Arabian jihadi who led some of the most brutal attacks against Russian forces during the First Chechen War.

One such attack is featured today.

On this day in 1996

Ibn al-Khattab led an ambush against a convoy of Russian troops in the mountains near Yaryshmardy, Chechnya killing more than 100 troops though some put the numbers in the several hundreds.

Known as the Battle of Yarshmardy in Russia, a grisly video of the aftermath was taken in which Khattab walked up and down rows of blackened Russian tanks and corpses of Russian soldiers pointing and shouting “Allah Akbar!”. Talk about a sore winner.

Khattab, for all his infamy, did however meet an ignoble end when he was allegedly killed by handling a poisoned letter sent to him by Russian agents. Some, however, claimed that he died from eating poisoned food at a private party. Still others claim he died in battle.

This story in confusing from beginning to end. And I’ve even tried to simplify it! I told you it was complicated.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of five books on terrorism.

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