We approached some special services experts for comments about President Vladimir Putin's order to locate and eliminate those who killed the Russian Embassy staff in Iraq. Our sources describe this task as extremely difficult and costly, but achievable. In their view, it will be much more difficult than what Israel succeeded in doing: eliminating ten of the 11 terrorists who killed Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. We attempted to clarify how our special services might go about carrying out President Putin's order.
According to our sources, a top-secret unit called Zaslon ('covering
detachment') was established within the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) in 1998, to provide armed back-up for SVR operations. The Zaslon squad recruited about 300 people with experience in special operations abroad. Russia's special services have carried out such operations on numerous occasions. The new squad is just as well-equipped as the legendary Alfa and Vympel commandos. Its personnel are on duty around the clock, and they don't inform other Russian special services of their plans. Sergei Shestov, chief executive of an international organization of security service veterans, says that the general public in Russia and abroad might never be told about a special operation's results, even if the operation is successful.
But before any force can be used, those who killed the Russian Embassy staff must first be found.
Special services sources are sure that the killers are no longer in Iraq. We heard this opinion from Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Chamov, and from Sergei Goncharov, president of the Alfa Veterans Association. Oleg Yakubov is a specialist on international terrorism, the author of "Wolf Pack" and "On the Trail of Bin Laden." He told us: "We can't rule out the possibility that the perpetrators and organizers of the terrorist act might be linked to Chechnya's underground. I know of a number of cases where Wahhabis, after being trained in terrorist camps, have practiced their techniques in locations with unstable regimes. Chechnya used to be such a location, and so was Afghanistan. Now it might be Iraq."
And there's another theory: the roots of this crime should be sought in the United States.
"I am deeply convinced that Muslims had nothing to do with this abduction," says Sergei Goncharov. " What happened has been advantageous for the Americans -this terrorist act could drive a wedge between Russia and the Islamic world, as the United States seeks to do"...
FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev has promised a reward of $10 million for information about the terrorists who killed the Russian Embassy staff. Experts say that money could help, but this amount isn't enough."This information won't come cheap," says Oleg Yakubov. "There's too much money available there. I think it would require a reward of hundreds of millions of dollars."...
..."We have some experience with operations in the Islamic world," says Sergei Goncharov. "What's more, in many cases the Muslims have willingly cooperated with us. But I don't think we should count on much assistance from the Iraqi special services. They might be glad to help, but they aren't in control of the situation in Iraq."
According to Goncharov, buying information is the leading method for working in the Islamic world. The next method involves planting agents. But it won't do to use a blond with obviously Slavic features, as in Qatar during the operation that eliminated Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian special services have a shortage of suitable personnel for working in Muslim countries.
For this reason, there might be increased cooperation with special services in former Soviet countries that are loyal to Russia. Oleg Yakubov: "In this context, I'd prioritize the special services of Uzbekistan. They were the first special services in the former Soviet Union to encounter Islamic radicals, and managed to win that battle. I've done a lot of work in Uzbekistan, meeting with its leaders and special service personnel. I don't think they would refuse to help Russia, with personnel as well as advice."
But Russia probably shouldn't count on any assistance from the United States."The Americans won't help us," says Sergei Goncharov. "They will never be our partners - only fellow-travellers, at best. And besides, they don't have much more control over the situation in Iraq than the Iraqis themselves."