In a tape broadcast by Aljazeera on Saturday, Saudi-born Abu al-Walid said the campaign might depend on the outcome of Russia's upcoming presidential polls.

Al-Walid said: "The enemies of God drop mines in the forests and, God willing, we will return them to the Russians and they will find them on their land and in the midst of their families."

He added: "But perhaps we may wait a little to see the upcoming elections. If they elect someone who declares war on Chechnya, then the Russians are declaring war against the Chechens and by God we will send them these (mines) ... Not only these but also things that did not cross their minds."

The commander, wearing military fatigues and speaking in Arabic from a Chechen forest hideout, was shown picking up a "butterfly" mine from foliage. He said his fighters had found hundreds of them.

"We will return these to you (Russians) ... You will, God willing, see hundreds of people crippled."

"If they elect someone who declares war on Chechnya, then the Russians are declaring war against the Chechens and by God we will send them these (mines) ... Not only these but also things that did not cross their minds"

Abu al-Walid,
Arab commander in Chechnya

'Terrorists'

Commenting on Abu al-Walid's statement, former Russian diplomat Victor Ghoghi Kidzah described it as "provocative".

"The information aired was false," he said. "The threats indicate that these are mercenaries and terrorists ... The Russian government and people reject these threats and they will retaliate.

 

"If a Russian sees this videotape, Putin's popularity would go up as he is fighting terrorism and supports rebuilding Chechnya."

 

Ghoghi Kidzah added the Russian parliament had announced it would pardon Chechen fighters who returned to a "normal life".

 

And Badr al-Din Bino al-Shishani, the head of Jordan's Arab Caucuses Centre, said Abu al-Walid's statement would not serve the Chechen cause.

 

He said it did not represent the viewpoint of Chechnya's "moderate" leaders and added "these reactions are beyond the control of the Chechen leadership".

 

Russian atrocities

Security has been tightened across Russia before Sunday's elections and extra troops have been stationed along the Chechen border where rebels have long been fighting Russian rule.

The Kremlin blames Chechen rebels for a spate of attacks including a bombing which killed close to 50 people on a train in southern Russia before last December's parliamentary polls.

Al-Walid condemned Russia for
dropping mines over Chechnya

It also says the rebels have been responsible for an attack on the Moscow underground which killed about 40.

Moscow also believes Abu al-Walid has been among those behind the 1999 apartment bombings across Russia that prompted President Vladimir Putin to send troops back into Chechnya.

Although no reliable figures exist, it is thought Russia has killed more than 100,000 Chechens in two wars over the last decade.

The Kremlin has been widely condemned for atrocities in its war against separatists, including for its use of carpet bombing, arbitrary killings and detentions and kidnappings.

On the other hand, it is estimated that up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the conflict.