Ibn al-Khattab

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Ibn al-Khattab
ابن الخطاب
1st Emir of the Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya
In office
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byAbu al-Walid
Personal details
Born(1969-04-14)14 April 1969
Arar, Saudi Arabia
Died20 March 2002(2002-03-20) (aged 32)
Chechnya, Russia
Military service
Allegiance Mujahideen of Afghanistan
Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
United Tajik Opposition (Islamist factions)
Years of service1987–2002
RankMajor-General (1997)
Commands Chechen Mujahideen
Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade
Battles/warsSoviet–Afghan War
Tajikistan Civil War
Bosnian War
First Chechen War
Dagestan War
Second Chechen War

Samir Saleh Abdullah Al Suwailim (Arabic: سامر صالح عبد الله السويلم; 14 April 1963 or 1969 – 20 March 2002),[1] more commonly known as Ibn al-Khattab or Emir Khattab (also transliterated as Amir Khattab and Ameer Khattab, meaning Commander Khattab, or Leader Khattab), was a Saudi born Mujahid Emir who participated in the First and Second Chechen Wars.[2]

The origins and real identity of Khattab remained a mystery to most until after his death, when his brother gave an interview to the press.[3] He died on 20 March 2002 following exposure to a poisoned letter delivered via a courier who had been recruited by Russia's Federal Security Service.

For Muhammad al-`Ubaydi, scholar of militant Islam, his continued relevance is due to the fact that he was the internationalist Salafi jihadi fighter par excellence, being born in Saudi Arabia but fighting in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Dagestan, and finally in Chechnya, and he was able to speak, besides Arabic: Russian, English, Farsi, Pashto, and Kurdish, his charisma attracting fighters from different ethnic groups, while also being a pioneer of jihadi media, especially when it came to using videos for propaganda.[4]


Early life[edit]

Khattab’s background has come to question, with some sources placing his year of birth as 1963 in Jordan as well as his birth name being Habib Abd al-Rakhman Ibn al-Khattab, to a family of Circassian origin.[5][6] Another account says Khattab was born in 1969 as Samir bin Salah al-Suwailim in Arar, Saudi Arabia, to a Bedouin father of the Suwaylim tribe and a mother of Syrian Turkmen descent, and later in life Khattab would himself identify with both countries.[7]

He was described as a brilliant student, scoring 94 percent in the secondary school examination, and initially wanted to continue his higher studies in the United States, even if he was already fond of Islamic periodicals and tapes as opposed to his siblings, to the extent they renamed him after the second caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab. He would retain the title during his militant activities, which began in 1987, by joining the Afghan Arabs against the Soviet Union.[8]

Central Asia and the Balkans[edit]

At the age of 17, Khattab left Saudi Arabia to participate in the fight against the Soviet Union during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. During this time, he permanently incapacitated his right hand and lost several fingers after an accident with improvised explosives. The injury was treated with honey by Khattab on himself.[9]

Khattab, while the leader of Islamic International Brigade, publicly admitted that he spent the period between 1989 and 1994 in Afghanistan and that he had met Osama Bin Laden. In March 1994, Khattab arrived in Afghanistan and toured fighter training camps in Khost province. He returned to Afghanistan with the first group of Chechen militants in May 1994. Khattab underwent training in Afghanistan and had close connections with al-Qaeda. Several hundred Chechens eventually trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.[10][11]

Armenian sources claim that in 1992 he was one of many Chechen volunteers who aided Azerbaijan in the embattled region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where he allegedly met Shamil Basayev. However, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense denied any involvement by Khattab in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.[12][13]

From 1993 to 1995, Khattab left to fight alongside Islamic opposition in the Tajikistan Civil War. Before leaving for Tajikistan in 1994, al-Khattab gave Abdulkareem Khadr a pet rabbit of his own, which was promptly named Khattab.[14]

In an interview, Khattab once mentioned he had also been involved in the Bosnian War. The fragment of this interview in which he makes this statement can be found in the 2004 BBC documentary The Smell of Paradise, though he did not specify his exact role or the duration of his presence there.[15]

First Chechen War[edit]

According to Khattab's brother, he first heard about the Chechen conflict on an Afghan television channel in 1995; that same year, he entered Chechnya, posing as a television reporter. He was credited as being a pioneer in producing video footage of Chechen rebel combat operations in order to aid fundraising efforts as well as international recruitment, and he himself achieved notoriety in 1996 when he himself filmed an ambush he led against a Russian armored column in Shatoy.[16] Not long after his arrival he married an ethnic Lak woman from Dagestan, the sister of Nadyr Khachiliev, an Islamist and leader of the Union of the Muslims of Russia, which has been seen as a way to already internationalize the Chechen struggle.[17]

During the First Chechen War, Khattab participated in fighting Russian forces and acted as an intermediary financier between foreign Muslim funding sources and the local fighters. To help secure funding and spread the message of resistance, he was frequently accompanied by at least one cameraman.

His units were credited with several devastating ambushes on Russian columns in the Chechen mountains. His first action was the October 1995 ambush of a Russian convoy which killed 47 soldiers.[18] Khattab gained early fame and a great notoriety in Russia for his April 1996 ambush of a large armored column in a narrow gorge of Yaryshmardy, near Shatoy, which killed up to 100 soldiers and destroyed some two or three dozen vehicles.[19] In another ambush, near Vedeno, at least 28 Russian troops were killed.[20]

In the course of the war, Shamil Basayev became his closest ally and personal friend. He was also associated with Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who gave Khattab two of the highest Chechen military awards, the Order of Honor and the Brave Warrior medal, and promoted him to the rank of general.[21]

A senior Chechen commander by the name of Izmailov told press how Khattab urged restraint, citing the Koran, when at the end of the war the Chechens wanted to shoot those they considered traitors.[22]


After the conclusion of the war, Khattab, by then wanted by Interpol on Russia's request, became a prominent warlord and commanded the Chechen Mujahideen, his own private army with a group of Arabs, Turks, Chechens, Kurds, and other foreign fighters who had come to participate in the war. He set up a network of paramilitary camps in the mountainous parts of the republic that trained not only Chechens, but also Muslims from the North Caucasian Russian republics and Central Asia.

On 22 December 1997, over a year after the signing of the Khasav-Yurt treaty and the end of the first war in Chechnya, the mujahideen and a group of Dagestani rebels raided the base of the 136th Armoured Brigade of the 58th Division of the Russian Army in Buinaksk, Dagestan.[23]

Dagestan War[edit]

In 1998, along with Shamil Basayev, Khattab created or reorganized the Mazhlis ul Shura of the United Mujahids (Consultative Council of United Holy Warriors), the Congress of the Peoples of Dagestan and Ichkeniya, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR), the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade (IIPB) (also known as the Islamic Peacekeeping Army) and a group of female suicide bombers, the Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Shahids.[24] In August–September 1999, they led the IIPB's incursions into Dagestan, which resulted in the deaths of at least several hundred people and effectively started the Second Chechen War.

1999 bombings in Russia[edit]

A Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) investigation named Khattab as the mastermind behind the September 1999 Russian apartment bombings.[25] However, on 14 September 1999, Khattab told the Russian Interfax news agency in Grozny that he had nothing to do with the Moscow explosions; he was quoted as saying, "We would not like to be akin to those who kill sleeping civilians with bombs and shells."[26]

Some journalists and historians, both western and Russian, have claimed that the bombings were in fact a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the FSB in order to legitimize the resumption of military activities in Chechnya. Among them are Johns Hopkins University scholar David Satter,[27] historians Yuri Felshtinsky,[28] Amy Knight[29][30] and Karen Dawisha,[31] and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko who was believed to be poisoned by Russian agents in London.

However, the invasion of Dagestan in August 1999 was the first and the main casus belli for the Second Chechen War.

Second Chechen War[edit]

During the course of the war in 2000, Khattab took over the leadership of the Chechen Mujahideen and participated in leading his militia against Russian forces in Chechnya, as well as managing the influx of foreign fighters and money (and, according to the Russian officials, also planning of attacks in Russia).

He led or commanded several devastating attacks during this year, such as the mountain battle, which killed at least 67 Russian paratroopers,[32] and the attack on the OMON convoy near Zhani-Vedeno, which killed at least 3 Russian Interior Ministry troops.[33]

Khattab later survived a heavy-calibre bullet wound to the stomach and a landmine explosion.

Death and legacy[edit]

Khattab died of poisoning on 20 March 2002, when a Dagestani messenger hired by the Russian FSB gave Khattab a poisoned letter the day before. Chechen sources said that the letter was coated with "a fast-acting nerve agent, possibly sarin or a derivative".[34][35] The messenger, a Dagestani double agent known as Ibragim Alauri, was turned by the FSB on his routine courier mission. Khattab would receive letters from his mother in Saudi Arabia, and the FSB found this to be the most opportune moment to kill Khattab. It was reported that the operation to recruit and turn Ibragim Alauri to work for the FSB and deliver the poisoned letter took some six months of preparation. Alauri was reportedly tracked down and killed a month later in Baku, Azerbaijan on Shamil Basayev's orders.[36] Ibn Al-Khattab was succeeded by Emir Abu al-Walid.[37]

He was falsely reported dead when Guantanamo captive Omar Mohammed Ali Al Rammah faced the allegations that he witnessed Khattab being killed in an ambush in Duisi, a village in the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia on 28 April 2002.[38][39]

"Khattabka" (хаттабка) is now a popular Russian and Chechen name for an improvised hand grenade, made from either VOG-17 or VOG-25 grenade.[40]

Due to his fierce opposition and devotion against Russia, he was nicknamed the Lion of Chechnya.

Links to Osama bin Laden[edit]

According to Fawaz Gerges who cited Abu Walid al Masri's diaries, Ibn al-Khattab and Osama bin Laden operated separate groups, as they defined the enemy differently, but tried to pull each other to their own battle plans.[41] A part of bin Laden's interest was trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction (or at least dirty bombs) from the Russian arsenal through al-Khattab's contacts.[41]

According to Richard A. Clarke, "Bin Laden sent Afghan Arab veterans, money, and arms to fellow Saudi Ibn Khatab in Chechnya, which seemed like a perfect theater for jihad."[42]


He wrote his memoirs entitled Memories of Amir Khattab: The Experience of the Arab Ansar in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.[43]


  1. ^ Alexievich, Svetlana (24 May 2016). Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. ISBN 9780399588815.
  2. ^ Muhammad al-`Ubaydi. "Khattab" (PDF). Combating Terrorism Center. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 August 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  3. ^ "Khattab, the man who died for the cause of Chechnya". Islam Awareness. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
  4. ^ Muhammad al-`Ubaydi (1 March 2015), "Khattab (Jihadi Bios Project)", pp. 2–3, Combatting Terrorism Center. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  6. ^ Mairbek Vatchagaev, "Security Services May Be Threatening Official Clergy in North Ossetia" in Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 13 Issue: 10, 2016
  7. ^ Bodansky, Yossef (2009). Chechen Jihad: Al Qaeda's Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror. HarperCollins. p. 40.
  8. ^ Mowaffaq Al-Nowaiser (4 May 2002), "Khattab, The Man Who Died For The Cause Of Chechnya", Arab News. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  9. ^ Paul J. Murphy (2004). The Wolves of Islam: Russia and the Faces of Chechen Terror. Brassey's. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-57488-830-0.
  10. ^ Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1267 (1999) concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban and Associated Individuals and Entities
  11. ^ QE.I.99.03. ISLAMIC INTERNATIONAL BRIGADE (IIB) Archived 14 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine "Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1267 (1999) concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban and Associated Individuals and Entities"
  12. ^ "Chechen Fighter's Death Reveals Conflicted Feelings in Azerbaijan". EurasiaNet. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
  13. ^ "Terror in Karabakh: Chechen Warlord Shamil Basayev's Tenure in Azerbaijan". The Armenian Weekly On-Line: AWOL. Archived from the original on 14 February 2007. Retrieved 15 February 2007.
  14. ^ Michelle Shephard, Guantanamo's Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p. 37
  15. ^ "BBC Four – The Smell of Paradise". YouTube. Archived from the original on 9 October 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  16. ^ Robert Bruce Ware, The Fire Below: How the Caucasus Shaped Russia, Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2013, p. 288
  17. ^ Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia's North Caucasus and Beyond, McFarland, 2014, p. 28
  18. ^ The Wolves of Islam: Russia and the Faces of Chechen Terror, Murphy, Paul J., 2004
  19. ^ "BBC News | EUROPE | Khatab: Islamic revolutionary". news.bbc.co.uk.
  20. ^ Russian fighting ceases in Chechnya; Skeptical troops comply with Yeltsin order CNN Archived March 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Ali Askerov, Historical Dictionary of the Chechen Conflict, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p. 119
  22. ^ Muslim Fighter Embraces Warrior Mystique, The New York Times, 17 October 1999
  23. ^ Paul J. Murphy, The Wolves of Islam: Russia and the Faces of Chechen Terror, Brassey's, 2004, p. 45
  24. ^ Gordon M. Hahn, Russia's Islamic Threat, Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 38–39
  25. ^ Murphy, Paul (2004). The Wolves of Islam: Russia and the Faces of Chechen Terror. Potomac Books Inc. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-57488-830-0.
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 April 2005. Retrieved 19 December 2005.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ Satter, David. Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State. Yale University Press:2003, ISBN 0-300-09892-8
  28. ^ Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky, The Corporation. Russia and the KGB in the Age of President Putin, ISBN 1-59403-246-7, Encounter Books; 25 February 2009, pages133-138
  29. ^ "Finally, We Know About the Moscow Bombings". The New York Review of Books. 22 November 2012.
  30. ^ Getting away with murder Archived 15 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine by Amy Knight, The Times Literary supplement, 3 August 2016
  31. ^ Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, By Karen Dawisha, 2014, Simon & Schuster, page 222.
  32. ^ John Russell, Chechnya – Russia's 'War on Terror, Routledge, 2007, p. 111
  33. ^ "Chechens Rub Salt in Old Wounds" in Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 5 April 2000
  34. ^ "More of Kremlin's Opponents Are Ending Up Dead". The New York Times. 21 August 2016.
  35. ^ Ian R Kenyon (June 2002). "The chemical weapons convention and OPCW: the challenges of the 21st century" (PDF). The CBW Conventions Bulletin. Harvard Sussex Program on CBW Armament and Arms Limitation (56): 47.
  36. ^ [1]=18627&tx_ttnews[backPid]=184&no_cache=1 "Who Ordered Khattab's Death?"], Jamestown Foundation, quoting Russian press sources
  37. ^ Rohan Gunaratna, The Global Jihad Movement, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p. 358
  38. ^ OARDEC (16 September 2005). "Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the case of Al Rammah, Omar Mohammed Ali" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. pp. 42–44. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 December 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2008. The detainee witnessed the ambush that killed Ibn al Khattab
  39. ^ OARDEC (26 May 2006). "Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the case of Al-Rammah, Omar Mohammed Ali" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. pp. 25–27. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 8 January 2008. The detainee was captured in a violent road ambush by Georgia Security Forces in Duisi, Georgia [ka] on 28 April 2002.
  40. ^ Nikiforov, Vladislav (15 May 2019). "Самая массовая граната чеченской войны "Хаттабка"" (in Russian).
  41. ^ a b pp. 57–60, Fawaz A. Gerges, The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global (2005), Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521737435
  42. ^ p. 136, Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (2004), Free Press. ISBN 978-0743260459
  43. ^ Elena Pokalova, Returning Islamist Foreign Fighters: Threats and Challenges to the West, Springer, 2019, p. 70

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