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Bin Laden Group Aiding Chechen Rebels, U.S. Says

From Associated Press

The organization headed by terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden and groups allied with it are maintaining links with Islamic rebels in Chechnya, the State Department said Friday. It warned that the conflict in the embattled Russian region could spread southward to Georgia and oil-rich Azerbaijan.

Spokesman James P. Rubin said support of the extremist groups extends to rebels throughout the former Soviet Union.

“We do believe there are funds and equipment and support that exist [among] a number of these organizations,” he added.

Their only cause “appears to be to oppose the whole civilized world,” he said.

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Rubin said the United States shares Russia’s worry about the need to contain terrorist groups, but he reaffirmed U.S. opposition to tactics Russia is using in Chechnya.

A profound U.S. concern with the conflict in the North Caucasus is the “potential of its spilling over into Azerbaijan” and the instability such an expansion could create in the region, Rubin added.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin said in September that Bin Laden had been in Chechnya several times and was backing Islamic militants in their quest to carve a separate state out of southern Russia.

Also Friday, Russian troops killed about 40 Chechen refugees when they fired without warning on a convoy fleeing the ravaged capital, Grozny, survivors said.

Russian troops raked a bus and several cars with bullets early Friday near the village of Goity, just outside Grozny, the witnesses said.


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