Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 1   No. 9

September 1999 

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Dossier: Habib Abd al-Rahman (Khattab)

One of the world's great powers is being brought to its knees by a shadowy Islamic terrorist of Middle Eastern origin whose followers can strike targets at will and then seemingly disappear into thin air. No, he is not Osama bin Laden, but an enigmatic figure known to his followers and enemies alike as "Khattab."

Khattab, whose real name according to Russian newspapers is Habib Abd al-Rahman, is the head of the "Islamic Army of Dagestan," a force of 2,000 rebels aligned with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev who poured into Dagestan from Chechnya on August 7, seized control of a number of villages and then declared the establishment of an Islamic state.

After a week of bloody fighting with Russian government troops, the rebels retreated back into Chechnya on August 24, only to march back in during the first week of September. After Russian aircraft bombarded Islamist bases in Dagestan on September 3, Khattab declared that "the Mujahedeen of Dagestan are going to carry out reprisals in various places across Russia." The next day, a 300 kg (660 lb) bomb destroyed an apartment block housing military staff in the southern Dagestani city of Buinaksk, killing 64 people. Shortly thereafter, an explosion in a shopping center in central Moscow killed one person. On September 9, an explosion ripped through an apartment building in Moscow, killing 94 people. Four days later, another apartment building in the capital was hit, killing 118 people. Although Khattab has denied responsibility for the attacks, the timing of the blasts leaves little doubt in the eyes of Russian investigators.

Khattab, aged 34, was born in Jordan (though some sources say Saudi Arabia). Little is known of his early life, but it is believed that he briefly studied at an American University in the 1980's. Like bin Laden, Khattab joined a loosely associated "international brigade" of Islamist activists to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan about fifteen years ago. After the Soviet withdrawal, Khattab moved on to other fronts in the Islamist struggle against Moscow. In 1992, he joined Islamist guerrillas in Tajikistan in their fight the Communist-backed regime in Dushanbe. In 1995, he went to Chechnya, where he supervised the establishment of training camps for Chechen Islamists. His daring ambushes against Russian armored columns won him the respect and admiration of Basayev and other Chechen field commanders.

Khattab and Basayev share a common dream of creating an Islamic state to "free all Moslems in the Caucasus"-- a goal which far transcends the local conflict in Chechnya and Dagestan.

  1 Turkish Daily News, 9 August 1999.

1999 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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