A former Chechen militant has accused Georgia of training a network of Islamic terrorists, claiming that a recent anti-terrorist mission on the border with Russia was in fact a pseudo-operation targeting Georgian-trained jihadists.
Last month Georgia claimed its forces had killed 11 militants who infiltrated the country through the Russian republic of Dagestan in a special operation personally led by the Georgian interior minister.
But Khizri Aldamov, who was an emissary of Chechen militants in Georgia for 18 years, before switching sides and returning to the fold of Moscow loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov earlier this year, has now put forward a different version of events.
In a recent video conference at Moscow’s Ria Novosti news agency, he claimed the people shot were recruited by Georgia to stir up Chechen separatism in Russia, and the whole operation was staged.
“Georgian President Saakashvili’s plan was to send his own guys across the border into Russia, not the other way round, and then shoot them. But there was no mission; this was a set-up,” Aldamov told RT.
He says the purpose of the operation was to frame Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, and present Georgia as an anti-terrorist force, while getting rid of those Aldamov says “knew too much” about the country’s Islamic training program.
“Saakashvili is allergic to Russia, allergic to Putin, allergic to Kadyrov,” said Aldamov.
The two neighbors have been locked in a long-standing dispute over the two republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, whose independence Moscow supports, a conflict which escalated after the August 2008 war.
Along with some of the Georgian media, Aldamov questions some of the details of Tbilisi’s operation against the militants, the aftermath of which was shown on Georgian television.
“First of all, their weapons were American-made, second – none of them fired a single shot. That's not all; the uniforms of these so-called fighters were brand new,” he alleges.
Aldamov claims that in his role as a go-between for Georgia and Chechen separatists, he trained many Islamist recruits himself. The practice supposedly continues today in Georgia, through the official Counter Terror Center.
“Everything is still controlled by the center – all the Mujahideen are in its hands. Any Chechen who lives in Georgia and wants to study in an Islamic country has to go through the center, and there they recruit him.”
Aldamov’s allegations caused a stir, but have not received universal endorsement.
Badri Nachkebia, a Georgian expert in conflict and political violence present at the conference, questioned whether Aldamov had a pro-Russian agenda after his sudden return to Chechnya. He also contradicted the assertion that the militants had been killed with one shot each – as if by their trusted allies – noting that three Georgian special services soldiers had been killed during the operation, and six more injured.
Meanwhile, political expert Nana Devdariani said that while the country may have harbored Chechen militants, it is unlikely that the operation was an inside job, or that there was a border crossing from Georgia into Russia, considering how well fortified the Russian side is.
On the official level, Georgian ministers insist there was a crossing from Dagestan, while Russian officials have categorically denied the claim.
In the clandestine circumstances of a simmering regional conflict where both sides have an agenda (not to mention that Georgia faces a national election next week), the truth will be hard to come by, and claims such as Aldamov’s may be impossible to confirm or deny.