The Bush administration is imposing anti-terrorist financial sanctions on three Chechen rebel factions, all of which are believed to have been involved in last October's bloody takeover of a Moscow theater. The hostage drama led to the deaths of more than 100 people. The decision by Secretary of State Colin Powell to impose the sanctions was announced Friday in the Federal Register, the U.S. government's official publication.
The decision, which among other things will freeze any U.S. financial assets of the Chechen factions, will probably have little immediate effect on the groups. But the terrorist designation will have political significance and has already been welcomed by officials in Moscow.
The financial sanctions, which also make it illegal for U.S. citizens to contribute money to the groups, are being imposed under a White House executive order issued by President Bush shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The penalties are administered by the State and Treasury Departments and are less sweeping than those required under the State Department's more well known list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, which will not apply to the Chechen groups.
Senior U.S. officials signaled their intention to list the Chechen groups several weeks ago. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the formal announcement had to await a lengthy process of legal formalities including consultations with Russian authorities. "It is a legal process, or administrative-legal process," he said. "It has to be done carefully. It's been under way for some time, and we reached a conclusion about 10 days ago. The Secretary talked about it New York. He has decided to designate three groups for the financial controls because of their involvement in terrorism, and particularly noted that these groups were involved in the attack on the Moscow theater last October."
The Chechen groups were identified as the "Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs," the "Special Purpose Islamic Regiment," and the "Islamic International Brigade," though the U.S. Federal Register announcement said each faction has a variety of aliases.
Moscow has been pressing the United States and other countries to take action against radical factions in Chechnya, where Russian forces have been fighting separatist rebels since 1999.
The U.S. sanctions decision was welcomed in advance by the Kremlin's top advisor on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky as a "good signal" for cooperation in the global war on terrorism.
The United States has condemned terror acts including last October's theater takeover committed by or attributed to Chechen groups, but it has also continued to insist there can be no military solution to the Chechen conflict.
Officials here deny suggestions that that the decision to list the Chechen groups is connected to diplomacy on Iraq at the United Nations, where U.S. officials are seeking Russia's vote, or at least its abstention, on a resolution that would authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein.