In October of 2013, SOFREP reported that Saudi Arabia had effectively threatened Vladimir Putin with terror attacks at the upcoming Olympic games if Putin did not withdraw support from the Assad regime in Syria.

In a bid to topple the Assad regime and weaken the long-standing Sunni-Shia divide currently fought by Saudi Arabia and Iran, Saudi Chief of Intelligence Prince Bandar had “pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime [was] toppled, but also hinted [that] Chechen terror attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi [were also possible] if there was no accord.”  This claim is significant because as SOFREP has previously reported, the terror threat at Sochi remains high in light of recent Islamist terror attacks in the region.

The purpose of this article is to examine the plausibility behind Prince Bandar’s statements and provide evidence of Saudi support for terrorism, as well as to highlight the known connections between Saudi Arabia and Chechen-based terrorists, a crucial threat given the upcoming Olympics set to kick off this week.

The Saudi Connection

For starters, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long and often been accused of maintaining more-than-questionable connections with various Salafi jihadist terrorists around the world, some more direct than others.

According to the Cato Institute, the Saudi government was the “principal financial backer of the Afghan Taliban since at least 1996, has channeled funds to Hamas and other terrorist groups active in Israel and the Middle East, and has funded various schools and charities throughout the Islamic world.”  This support has continued through at least 2010, when classified US government documents regarding Saudi support for terrorism were leaked.

Chechen Islamists from the Moscow Siege, courtesy of the Kavkaz Center

The leaked State Department cables noted that Saudi Arabia “is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups…and remains a critical financial support base for AQ, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups.”  It is clear that Saudi Arabia remains willing to harness its generous financial disposition to provide the most significant source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups worldwide, a problem the US has long attempted to control behind closed doors.

This support, as SOFREP has previously reported, has manifested itself in the ongoing war in Syria, largely the result of the Sunni-Shia rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Due to the fact that little headway had been made to overthrow the Assad regime, Saudi Arabia chose to leverage the security of the Olympic games in Sochi as a bargaining chip to get Russia to come to the table.

What was their angle?  Of course, the Chechens.

The Chechen Angle

During the meeting between Saudi Prince Bandar and Vladimir Putin in October, the Saudis all but admitted to controlling the Chechen terrorists operating in the volatile Caucasus region of Russia.  While this is a relatively new revelation in light of Russian-Saudi dialogue and foreign policy relations in Syria, it is an all too familiar trend for Saudi Arabia.

Arab presence in the Caucasus predominantly originated during the early days of clashes between Russian forces and militant fighters in the 90s.  Since 1996, when Saudi sheikhs “declared the Chechen resistance a legitimate jihad, and private Saudi donors sent money to Chechen [leaders]”, Arab fighters fighting under the banner of Islamist militants have solidified a substantial presence in the Caucasus among the active insurgencies residing in the region, primarily in the republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan.  It is reported that Chechen Islamist fighters wounded in Chechnya were even “sent to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, a practice paid for by charities and tolerated by the state.”  This support remained active in later years during several high-profile terror attacks in Russia, to include Moscow itself.

The North Caucasus
The North Caucasus

According to reporting in 2002, Russian security officials suspected that “Chechen [terrorists] responsible for the Moscow Theater Siege had [maintained] wealthy Arab sponsors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.”  This information was based on reports from senior officials who relied on a series of telephone intercepts traced from the Chechen gunman to their various sponsors in the Gulf.  In addition to frequent communications with sponsors and internationally financed operations, the Chechens had planned to “flee to the Gulf once the crisis was over.”  This information directly implicates consistently close ties between Chechen militants and Saudi financiers, the typical Saudi role of puppet master in world affairs.

This role only fostered a stronger relationship between Saudi Arabia and Chechen militants, who fulfilled various roles in the Caucasus’ “legitimate jihad.”  In 2011, it was reported that Russia had killed one of AQ’s top militants active in the Caucasus region, a militant who was born in Saudi Arabia and acted as a top field commander and religious authority in the region.  A spokesman for Russia’s anti-terrorism committee stated that, “almost all acts of terror using suicide bombers in the last years were prepared with his involvement,” marking a major victory for Russian anti-terrorism efforts.

The Olympic Stage

Given the extensive political and economic ties Saudi Arabia maintains on the world stage, namely in regards to its immense oil wealth, natural gas interests, and stake in the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East, it remains to be seen whether or not any back-stage deals were brokered between Russia and Saudi Arabia in light of the Olympic games in Sochi.

It is clear that Saudi Arabia maintains the necessary capability and intent to continue sponsoring Salafi jihadism and other Sunni terrorist movements around the world.  It is also clear that Saudi Arabia maintains current ties with Chechen terrorists active in the Caucasus region, not only through well-established financial support networks dating back multiple decades but the presence of Arab fighters in Chechnya.

Chechen Islamist fighters

Given the high threat of terrorism in the Caucasus following the Volgograd bombings in late December 2013 and other suspicious activity including the multiple dead bodies and booby-trapped vehicles previously reported by SOFREP, the next few weeks will be very telling of the state of affairs between two countries at odds in the Middle East: Russia and Saudi Arabia.

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Provided Prince Bandar’s veiled threats regarding Chechen terror attacks in Sochi are valid, it is ultimately a confluence of varying ideologies, competing economic goals, and struggle for power that will define the outcome of the security of the Olympic games.  It could also spell the outcome of future Saudi-Russian relations in the Middle East, not only regarding economic policy and natural gas and oil resources, but also support for Syria and the varying actors fighting under the banner of either side.

Thanks for listening.

(Feature image courtesy of