U.S. puts 3 Chechen groups on terrorist list
From Andrea Koppel and Elise Labott
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States designated three Chechen groups with links to al Qaeda as terrorist organizations on Friday, partially meeting a Russian request as the Bush administration engages in sensitive talks with Moscow over Iraq.
The move allows the U.S. government to freeze the groups' assets and ban their members from traveling to the United States.
The U.S. State Department said members of the Islamic International Brigade, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment and the Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs were believed to be responsible for the hostage-taking at Moscow's Dubrovka Theatre last October.
Terrorist designations are done under presidential executive order 13224, which was established after the September 11 attacks and lists groups associated with the Taliban, bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Groups have 'significant' ties to al Qaeda
U.S. officials laid out what they called "significant" ties to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, including a 1999 trip by group members to bin Laden's home base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. At that meeting, officials believe bin Laden agreed to send military and financial assistance to Chechen fighters battling Russian forces.
The State Department maintains bin Laden sent "substantial" amounts of money to Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Kattab, leaders of the Islamic International Brigade, to train gunmen, recruit mercenaries and purchase ammunition.
Chechen fighters known to be associated with Basayev and al-Kattab are also believed to have fought in al Qaeda's elite "055 Brigade," which fought against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan throughout 2001.
U.S.: 'Not a green light'
Russia has been pressing for the designation for some time as it battles Chechen rebels. Senior State Department officials said the decision was the result of "an extremely thorough interagency process" and was taken after a lengthy review.
U.S. officials said the designation does not change U.S. policy -- which advocates a political settlement between Russian and Chechen leaders -- and insisted the move did not give the Russians a "green light" to launch an offensive against all Chechens in the name of battling terrorism.
"We were extremely clear with the Russians that this is not a green light," one senior official said, but added that the United States respects Russia's right to defend itself against terrorists and would cooperate with Moscow in the war on terrorism.
The officials also reiterated they were very careful about which groups to designate. Although Russia was interested in designating larger groups, the officials said the information available to them only made it possible to designate a narrow margin of groups within an umbrella organization.
By making the designation, the U.S. can now take the names of the groups to the United Nations Sanctions Committee on the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. If the names are accepted by the committee, all United Nations members are required to freeze the assets of the groups in their own countries.