Sonni Efron's Basayev Column On LAT Op-Ed Page A Masterpiece
Back in 1995, covering the Chechen rebellion, Efron, then stationed in Moscow, managed to get into Basayev's mountain hideout and interview him, a memorable encounter with a man who was later to become a monstrous killer in Beslan, Moscow and other places in Russia.
Efron's recitation of this unforgettable experience allows her to comment unsparingly about the nature of terrorism today. And it comes at a moment of new terrorist attacks, the simultaneous explosions on commuter trains in Bombay, India, during the evening rush hour today. Latest reports say at least 190 died and 625 were wounded in this latest instance of foul behavior by Muslim fundamentalists worldwide.
The last paragraph of Efron's column says everything that needs to be said about the awful career of Basayev.
"It's been said that one man's terrorism is another man's freedom fighter," Efron writes. "I disagree. I believe the day Basayev stopped attacking the Russian army and attacked that hospital (in Budennovsk in the Caucasus in 1995) he committed an unequivocally evil act and forfeited any claim to legitimate leadership of the Chechen people. The most recent of Chechnya's many tragedies is that its most clever and charismatic leader turned out to be Shamil Basayev."
One of the last things Basayev said to Efron in her interview with him, when she asked him if, after suffering defeats at the hands of the Russian army, he would now resort to terrorism, was: "No, we haven't lost, and we're not that desperate."
"The word 'yet' hung unspoken in the air," Efron recalls feeling that day. "We shook hands and I left."
Just shortly thereafter his terrorism began. Efron writes, "The next time I saw him was two months later. He and his men had captured a hospital in the southern Russian city of Budennovsk and had threatened to blow it up with the patients inside. We watched in horror at a distance as the ever-inept Russian troops shot at the hospital. The Chechen rebels inside the maternity ward stood pregnant women in front of the windows, hid behind them and shot back from between their legs. At least 100 people were killed and many more wounded."
It was the launch of a terrorist career that also saw scores killed in the Moscow subways and at a theatre, the fatal bombing of two airliners in the air, and, worst of all, the murder of 331 school children and adults in the school at Beslan in North Ossetia, near Chechnya.
No wonder Russian President Vladimir Putin said of Basayev's death yesterday. "This is just retaliation against the bandits for the sake of our children in Beslan, in Budyonnovsk and for all the terrorist attacks they undertook in Moscow and other regions of Russia."
And Chechnya's prime minister, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, expressed only regret that he had not killed the terrorist himself. "Basayev died like a jackal," said Kadyrov, who is loyal to Moscow. "On the run, not even in his motherland."
One of the few discordant and inappropriate comments on Basayev's demise came, oddly, this morning in a New York Times editorial, which said, "Putin could not be grudged his moment of satisfaction. (But)the question is whether he is prepared to seize the moment to attempt new peace talks with the Chechen separatists."
This would, in my view, be inappropriate. The death of Basayev should be followed up immediately by a Russian drive to destroy the remaining terrorists and Put Chechnya on the road to peace within Russia.
Efron, by the way, has had a distinguished career with the Times, not only in Russia but also in Japan and other locales. This morning's column, however, was one of her finest moments.