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Feb 19, 2005 | 00:12 GMT

3 mins read

The Chechen Militant Connection in Europe

French police are holding three Algerian men arrested Jan. 11 in an ongoing investigation into a suspected European terrorist network led by Chechen militants. Since 2002, dozens of suspects have been detained and investigators have uncovered plots to attack Israeli interests in Europe and the Russian and U.S. embassies in Paris. According to sources in the French and Russian security apparatus, the network was planning attacks against government and Jewish targets in Britain, as well as against Russian diplomatic and business targets in Western and Central Europe. Other targets include tourist attractions and crowds in Britain and France, as well as French train stations. The latter were to be similar to the March 2004 Madrid train bombings. The British Museum, London's National Gallery, the Louvre Museum in Paris and Versailles also were targeted, the sources said. French daily Le Parisien, citing investigative sources, reported Feb. 16 of a plot to attack the Eiffel Tower. U.S. security sources are skeptical of that report, but do not doubt the legitimacy of the reports from STRATFOR's French and Russian sources. The sources said the Chechen network is active in more than a dozen European countries, including Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Ukraine, the Baltic states and some Balkan countries. The network is loosely organized into small, autonomous cells arranged to minimize the damage done to the entire network if one cell is captured. In France, the network consists of mostly non-Chechens — Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants — and French Muslims of North African origin. Some Chechen Islamists who have sought refuge in France operate as a cadre of experienced leaders. Among this cadre, presumably, are several experienced militants with bomb-making skills and extensive tactical knowledge gained from fighting the Russians in Chechnya. Chechen Islamists have carried out several devastating attacks in Russia, including the September 2004 Beslan school massacre and the simultaneous suicide bombings of two Russian airliners. It is believed that only a few members of a cell join up with a Chechen leader when directed to do so — indicating that an effective command and control network is in place. In general, the militants would favor large, spectacular attacks with high casualty counts, and — rather than commit suicide attacks — most would prefer to survive to fight another day. Therefore, large car bombs most often would be used, although suicide attacks could not be ruled out — as the Chechens have successfully used that tactic before. The Chechen/European Islamist arrangement is convenient for both groups. European Islamists need the tactical experience and skill of the Chechens, and the Chechens need an infrastructure to operate against Russian interests in Europe. The combination of an experienced, knowledgeable Chechen cadre providing leadership to Muslim extremists in France presents a significant security problem for European governments. The Chechens have demonstrated an ability to conduct innovative and unexpected attacks far from their support bases and close to their enemies' centers of gravity, such as the attack against a Moscow theatre in 2002. The arrests and recent revelations, though vague, indicate that a serious threat exists in Europe and that, unless efforts against the network are successful, a spectacular attack could be carried out. Such an event would dramatically alter the security climate in Europe.

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