MOSCOW – Russia (search) may use its strategic bombers to unleash preventive strikes against terrorists outside its borders, the commander of Russia's air force said Friday.
Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov's (search) comments to the ITAR-Tass news agency aired on Friday were the most direct yet in Russia's rising rhetoric on attacking terrorists abroad. Mikhailov did not specify what targets the air force could potentially go after.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov (search) and other top officials have said that preventive strikes against terrorists could involve all means except nuclear, but they never went into such specifics as suggesting the use of strategic bombers.
Neither the Soviet Union nor Russia have publicly conducted air strikes outside their borders with the exception of the war in Afghanistan (search). Soviet pilots flew missions in Korea and during the Mideast wars of the 1960s-70s, but that was done covertly.
"If ordered, our missile-carrier aircraft will attack the terrorists with long-range, highly precise cruise missiles and aerial bombs. We will make use of everything we have," Mikhailov was quoted as saying.
The Defense Ministry said it could not confirm Mikhailov's remarks, made during a trip to Engels, in the central Volga River region.
ITAR-Tass commented that Russia had initiated discussion of preventive strikes over a year ago "due to Washington's regular employment of this method in international affairs."
Meanwhile, Russia's Federal Security Service said Friday that an Arab mercenary who was killed in southern Russia late last month was a top representative of the Al Qaeda (search) terror network in the troubled North Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya.
The dead man was identified last month as Akhmed Sambiyev, otherwise known as the "White Arab," and security officials said at the time of the killing that he was either Syrian or Turkish.
The Federal Security Service on Friday identified him as a Syrian called Marvan. He was killed on Nov. 25 when he put up armed resistance to arrest in the southern region of Ingushetia, which borders on Chechnya.
The security service's press office said that Marvan had been active in Chechnya beginning in 2000 and had been close to the late Arab militant leaders Khattab and Abu Walid. It said he was responsible for training young fighters, explosives training, and distributing money coming from foreign terrorist centers.
Last month, he had been identified as a top aide to Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev.
Russia has played up claims of a large foreign mercenary presence among Chechen rebels to shore up its argument that they are closely linked to international terrorists, justifying the Kremlin's harsh response.