(AP) MOSCOW – Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who claimed responsibility for last month’s Beslan school hostage-taking, warned Sunday that he was ready to fight Russia for a decade and insisted civilians remained a fair target.
But Basayev also said the rebels would observe “international law” if Russia also made such a commitment. The Chechens have accused the Russians of human rights violations and war crimes.
“If (President Vladimir) Putin doesn’t want peace, we’ll wait until he leaves or if we can we’ll send him directly to hell,” Basayev said in an interview published on Chechenpress.com, a Chechen Web site. “Five years of war have gone quickly, another five or ten years will go just as fast.”
Basayev has claimed responsibility for some of the most audacious terror attacks inside Russia, including the Sept. 1-3 hostage-taking in North Ossetia which left more than 330 people dead, half of them children. The Federal Security Service has offered a reward of $10.3 million for information that could help “neutralize” him.
The interview dated from Oct. 14 featured Basayev’s responses to e-mail questions posed by Toronto’s the Globe and Mail newspaper to another Chechen Web site, the site said. There was no way to independently confirm the authenticity of the interview, although it did feature some hallmarks of Basayev’s style.
“Our aim isn’t to kill people, especially children, but to stop the genocide of the Chechen people and defend freedom and independence,” Basayev reportedly wrote. “Therefore, we are forced to resort to extremes, which we are not ourselves happy with.”
Basayev said that “if Putin would begin to observe international law, then we would automatically begin to observe it.” He added that such a move would “even be advantageous for us,” but stressed the rebels wouldn’t do that “unilaterally.”
He also insisted that most Chechen rebels fight independently in small groups and organize their own financing, saying that his presence in Chechnya was rarely required. In 2003, Basayev said he was only in Chechnya for two weeks “and the majority of the mujahadeen didn’t even notice.”
Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded Sunday outside the Chechen capital’s main hospital, injuring 17 people in an attack that apparently targeted members of a Chechen security force bringing their wounded for treatment after an earlier explosion, officials said.
The first explosion struck a vehicle carrying the Chechen security troops on a highway in the outskirts of the capital, Grozny, Federal Security Service spokesman, Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin, said on Russia’s NTV television.
Then, as the injured were being taken into Grozny’s hospital No. 9, a second car exploded outside the building, he said.
Thirteen of the wounded in the second attack were members of the Chechen presidential security service, headed by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, said Maj. Igor Golubenko, a duty officer for the Chechnya Emergency Situations Ministry in Rostov-on-Don. The other victims were three hospital workers and a child. The security service officers appeared to have been the target, Golubenko said.
Golubenko said that one person was wounded at the highway blast. Shabalkin, however, put the number of wounded there at three and said one person had died, according to Russian media.
The presidential security service, believed to number 2,000-4,000 men, is responsible for combating the rebels who have been fighting Russian rule for close to a decade. But they are widely feared by Chechen civilians and have been accused of severe abuses ranging from kidnappings to robberies.
Separatist rebels pushed Russian troops out of Chechnya in 1996, after a 20-month war that left the region de facto independent. Troops returned in the fall of 1999 after rebels raided the neighboring province of Dagestan and after a series of apartment house bombings that Russian officials blamed on the rebels.