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Saturday, 26 October, 2002, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Chechen rebel divisions
A rebel is led away by Moscow police
A number of rebels were arrested after the seige

It's difficult to divide the Chechen separatist movement neatly into factions.

Aslan Maskhadov
Moderate Maskhadov condemned the seige
The separatists have splintered in recent years. Many commanders have become little more than criminal gang leaders.

But expert Tom De Waal of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and author of a book about Chechnya, says there are probably three main factions.

He says the group that grabbed international headlines by seizing the Moscow theatre is part of the most extreme faction, which is dominated by Islamists.

Arab support

"These people believe in radical Islam, they get a lot of money from the Middle East, they have connections across the border in Georgia and they obviously are now stopping at nothing," Mr De Waal said in a BBC interview.

There's great sympathy for the Chechens in the Arab world. Arabs are known to have fought alongside Chechen guerrillas, just as Arabs helped the Afghans combat Soviet occupation.

The hostage-takers' leader Movsar Barayev
Movsar Barayev was killed in the seige
But the hostage-takers denied they were linked with al-Qaeda as President Putin claims.

He's tried to portray Russia's campaign in Chechnya as part of the wider war on terrorism.

"I don't think it's a matter of Chechen leaders being on the line all the time to members of al-Qaeda," Mr De Waal says. "I think it's a matter of certain Arabs slipping in and out of Chechnya with money, with propaganda, with weapons."

The hostage-takers' leader was Movsar Barayev, also known as Suleimonov. The Russian authorities say he died when they stormed the theatre.

Chechen moderates

At the other end of the spectrum is the most moderate Chechen faction, led by Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president of Chechnya in 1997.

His representatives have condemned the Moscow attack.

"We said from the beginning, these are not our methods," said Akhmed Zakayev, Mr Maskhadov's envoy in Denmark.

"We cannot come down to the level of our opponents, targetting innocent people," he told Reuters news agency.

He was referring to alleged human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya, although separatists have also been accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

Mr Maskhadov's followers are Muslims but not radical Islamists. "They're basically separatists who believe in independence for Chechnya and they want to fight for that either through political or armed means," says Mr De Waal.

A third, more radical group is linked to Shamil Basayev, a well-known Chechen commander.

But Mr De Waal says they're "political rather than Islamic radicals, though their methods are more extreme than those of the Maskhadov group."


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Chechen conflict

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26 Oct 02 | Europe
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