HIZARAK, Afghanistan (AP) — Suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden sent 400 Arab fighters to the Russian breakaway republic of Chechnya with explosives and weapons to help the war against Russian forces, a military instructor in his organization says.
Western intelligence sources confirm fighters went to Chechnya from Afghanistan but cannot say whether they were Arab or Afghan.
Associated Press reporters have seen Afghan and Arab fighters in Chechen bands, but none has confirmed a link to bin Laden.
The disclosure comes at a time when Central Asian governments are increasingly worried about Islamic militancy in their countries and are blaming the Taliban, the Islamic rulers of Afghanistan where bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization is based.
The military instructor in Al-Qaida, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Daoud, also reports that bin Laden is under pressure from the Taliban to curtail his activities and that bin Laden has indicated he would rather quit Afghanistan than give up his war against the West.
The United States accuses bin Laden of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. U.N. sanctions were imposed on Afghanistan in November.
Abu Daoud said hundreds of Arab and Afghan fighters went to Chechnya about 18 months ago, and many returned.
The latest 400 went there some three months ago, according to Abu Daoud's account.
The Kremlin claimed this spring to have evidence that bin Laden and the Taliban had a deal to aid Chechen units. Vladimir Putin, then Russia's prime minister, said last September that bin Laden had been in Chechnya several times. Moscow also tried to link bin Laden to apartment bombings that killed 300 people. The bombings were part of the reason Russian troops re-entered Chechnya.
The Russians gave no evidence, and the statements were seen as aimed to win Western support for a military campaign against Chechen rebels.
However, according to Abu Daoud, bin Laden's welcome in Afghanistan seems to be wearing thin. He said a new order was issued at the beginning of July by the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, flatly banning bin Laden's operations.
He said Omar told bin Laden "in very tough words that there could be no activity. He should be like a simple refugee and all his communications were shut down. Then bin Laden said, 'I want to leave Afghanistan for another country, but you must agree to not tell where I am going."'
A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington has urged the Taliban — directly in talks with Taliban officials and through Pakistan — to crack down on bin Laden and prevent him from committing terrorist acts.
Bin Laden keeps his whereabouts secret, and there was no indication to which country he might try to move.
The Taliban deputy interior minister, Mohammed Khaqzar, said in an interview that Bin Laden's communications were cut off more than two years ago, and he denied any new curbs have been imposed.
But Abu Daoud said that until the latest ban, bin Laden had been operating as usual, running a worldwide financial network.
He said bin Laden had money transferred two months previously to Jordan to finance the defense of 28 Arabs being tried on suspicion of planning terror attacks during the millennium celebrations.
"It was just a telephone call and the money was transferred to Jordan," Abu Daoud said. The transaction was handled by a bin Laden lieutenant code-named Abu Zubayda, who is presently in Afghanistan, Abu Daoud said.
The Jordanian military prosecutor in Amman, Jordan, Col. Mahmoud Obeidat, said in an interview that Abu Zubayda is a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip whose real name is Zein Abediein Mohammed Hassan. He is one of 12 men being tried in absentia in the terrorism case.
The sending of fighters to Chechnya is further proof that bin Laden was active at least until recently, Abu Daoud said.