October 13, 2009 / 4:31 PM / 10 years ago

Moscow accuses Georgia of aiding al Qaeda in Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow accused Tbilisi on Tuesday of collaborating with al Qaeda and aiding Islamist militants in “terrorist” activities on Russian soil, a charge Georgia denied.

A series of suicide bombs and attacks on police and security forces in Chechnya, where Russia has fought two separatist wars since the mid-1990s, and nearby Ingushetia and Dagestan, have shattered a few years of relative calm in the North Caucasus.

“Tapes found belonging to militants testify that they, together with al Qaeda, established contact with representatives of Georgian special services,” Alexander Bortnikov, head of the FSB, successor to the KGB, told Russian media.

Georgia has helped train and move “terrorists” from Georgia to southern Russia’s volatile, mainly Muslim republic of Chechnya, which it borders, he said.

Georgia swiftly denied the claim, saying Russia was trying to stoke tensions with its ex-Soviet neighbour, with whom it fought a brief war in August 2008 over Georgian breakaway region South Ossetia.

“It’s an absurd, baseless, ridiculous statement, but it’s not new in terms of Russian propaganda,” Georgian National Security Council Secretary Eka Tkeshelashvili told Reuters.

GROWING FEARS

Bortnikov’s comments echoed growing fears among officials and analysts that the simmering Islamist insurgency on Russia’s southern flank is recruiting from abroad.

He also said authorities had prevented a series of suicide attacks on the capital last month.

“According to documents from law enforcement services, the activities of five militants trained for suicide attacks were prevented,” he said.

Referring to one man who was detained in Moscow, Bortnikov said he was planning a “terrorist attack” on a public holiday on Sept. 5, when tens of thousands of Muscovites strolled car-free streets in the heart of the city near the Kremlin.

Russia’s security services head added Georgia was also involved in delivering weapons, explosives and financial resources to aiding “subversive” activities in Dagestan, especially when destroying oil and gas pipelines.

Last month state media reported that the regional head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, said “international terrorism” had reached Russia, and that 90 percent of recently liquidated militants in his region were foreign. He did not say from where.

Sergei Goncharov, head of a group of former elite KGB troops and a deputy in the Moscow city government, told Reuters that about 15 percent of the funding for “terrorist” activity in the North Caucasus comes from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

During the second separatist war with Chechnya, which the Kremlin described as a “counter-terrorist operation”, Moscow said Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge on the border with Chechnya served as a shelter for hiding guerrillas and militants.

Today, Tbilisi officials say some Chechen refugees still live there, but fighters and militants no longer take shelter in Georgia.

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