Khattab, the man who died for the cause of Chechnya

By Mowaffaq Al-Nowaiser, Arab News Staff
Publication Date: 
Sat, 2002-05-04 03:00

JEDDAH, 4 May — Mansour Al-Suwailem, elder brother of the leading Chechen fighter Khattab, who was recently assassinated by Russians, said it was an old Chechen woman who inspired Khattab to fight for the Chechens.

Khattab’s real name is Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem. In his early youth he wanted to study in the United States. Mansour shed light on several aspects of Khattab’s personal life in an interview with Arab News. The interview was conducted at his father’s house in Alkhobar in the Eastern Province. Mansour said Khattab used to call their mother in Saudi Arabia before he carried out attacks against the Russians. Last week, Russian state television broadcast pictures of Khattab’s body and said he had been killed on March 19-20 after a yearlong operation by Russian special forces. The station said he did not die in a battle but did not elaborate on how he died. Khattab is the most important Mujahedeen commander killed since Russian troops launched their latest campaign against the Chechen freedom struggle two and a half years ago.

Mansour said there were two differing reports of how his brother had been killed. According to one report, it was five minutes after he opened a poisoned letter given him by a trusted aide two weeks ago. The second report says that he was given poisoned food in a private party about a month ago. The last time Samir called his family was three months ago. He had visited Saudi Arabia only twice since he decided to go to Afghanistan in 1987.

"He called our parents whenever he had a chance and specially called our mother before carrying out any operation," he added. Samir was an ambitious child who had dreams of owning a castle with "a garage big enough for five cars". He also wanted all family members to live together and was concerned about the welfare of all family members and used to weep for the slightest reasons. He was loved by all. No one remembered him seeing angry. He loved jokes and used to play with children.

Samir, who was born in an Arar, a northern border city in Saudi Arabia in 1969, was a brilliant student who scored 94 percent in the secondary school examination.

Unlike other family members, he used to evince more interest in Islamic periodicals and tapes. He was very much impressed by the history of the second Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) and therefore accepted the title Khattab. He joined a training course conducted by the Aramco. He planned to continue his studies in the United States. He used to be very kind and helpful to others.

Once he found a stranger, a Sudanese expatriate, asking for a lift on the airport road. The man said his car broke down and he was afraid he may not reach the air[port in time. The man was, apparently, worried about leaving his car on the road. After taking him to the airport, Samir went back to the car and towed it to a workshop for repairs. When the Sudanese man came back he was surprised to find his car repaired. Samir refused to accept the cost of the repair. There are several other instances of selfless service to others.

Mansour could not give any specific reason for Samir’s sudden change of mind about his plan to go to the United States for studies. He joined the Afghan Arabs fighting the Russians at the age of 17 in 1987. The young boy refused to come home even after his father promised to buy him a house. He did not visit the Kingdom in the past 14 years except two times, the last one in 1993. He was gravely wounded four times and the most serious of them was when he set foot on a land mine. He was the lone survivor when his truck exploded, it was reported.

Mansour explained how Samir got the idea of going to Chechnya after watching a news broadcast on the Afghan TV. The news broadcast showed several Chechen groups wearing headbands with "No God But Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger" written on them. They shouted Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. Samir felt curious about the jihad going on in Chechnya and decided to go there. But he did not know how to go there and the map he bought did not show Chechnya. So he set out to Baku in Azerbaijan which is close to Chechnya.

While he was making inquiries about how to reach Chechnya, he received a letter from Fathi Abu Sayyaf, a Chechen of Jordanian origin describing about the land of which he wrote, "a man who enters it is lost and one who gets out of it is like a reborn."

Somehow or other, he managed to reach Chechnya where he first went about as a TV reporter meeting with people and inquiring about the common man’s attitude toward the jihad. His proficiency in Arabic, Russian, English, and Pashtu helped him mix with all kinds of people. In his travels he also met with Shamil Basayev.

It was about this time that he met an old Chechen woman who stressed the need for jihad against the Russians. She told him confidently: "We want them to quit our land so that we can return to Islam." When he asked her how she would help in a jihad against Russians, her reply was that she possessed only a jacket and she would donate it for the cause of Allah.

Suwailam said his brother had sobbed until "his beard became wet with his tears" when he spoke to the woman, and that the meeting had been a turning point in his life.

Khattab’s actions were based on certain strong principles drawn from the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. They can be summed up as follows: The objective of jihad should be the establishment of the religion of Allah, there is no negotiation with the enemy, the fight should not end until the enemy’s threat was totally removed, jihad does not depend on the life of a leader, leadership does not mean comfortable position, unity is the most important requisite for fighting against Russia. He also stressed the need for treating civilians gently and not doing any harm to them.

Samir had been seeking martyrdom for the past 14 years, Mansour said. He failed to achieve it in Afghanistan, then he sought it in Tajikistan. He was again disappointed, so went to Chechnya where finally Allah granted it to him, the brother said with pride.

Samir was married to a Dagistani woman and has three children.

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