Umar Ibn al-Khattab, a Saudi native who became the leader of the foreign mujahideen in Chechnya, said, “This case is not just a Chechen matter but an Islamic matter, like Afghanistan.”
Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, mastermind of the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington, attempted to join Ibn al-Khattab in Chechnya but was unable to traverse Azerbaijan.
As radical Islamists convert Chechens from their indigenous Sufi practices toward extremist Salafi or Wahhabi doctrine, increasing numbers of Chechens are embracing Ibn al-Khattab’s views, encouraged by fatwas endorsing him issued by al-Qaeda-linked Saudi clerics.
Ibn al-Khattab was killed in March 2002, perhaps by a poisoned letter sent by Russian intelligence. His successor was Abu Walid al-Ghamdi, a Saudi who had been in Chechnya since the late 1990s.
Abu Walid emphasized terrorism in Russia rather than guerilla warfare in Chechnya.
Wth the loss of their Afghan safe haven, al-Qaeda operatives scattered. With the help of Islamist charities, many traveled to the Pankisi Gorge, a mountainous area in northern Georgia.
According to U.S. intelligence sources cited in an Italian indictment, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist alleged to mastermind much of the Iraqi insurgency, dispatched Adnan Muhammad Sadiq (Abu Atiya), a former al-Qaeda instructor at a Herat, Afghanistan training camp, to Pankisi.
In the gorge, Abu Atiya, a Palestinian who had lost a leg during the Chechen war, trained terrorists in the use of toxic gases.