The leader of SIOE Georgia is Joseph Zaalishvili. We will let him present himself in this autobiography:
I was born in Tbilisi, Georgia on February 18, 1972. My father and grandfather were architects by profession, my mother – a philologist. After graduating from a school that specialized in physics and mathematics, I followed an established tradition and in 1995 received a Masters in Architecture in Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. From a young age I devoted myself to two hobbies that still hold my interest today – chess and martial arts. Currently, my wife and I live in Tbilisi, and I am a proud father of two young boys.
While I was a student at the academy, the 1992 war broke out in Abkhazia. Georgia was attacked by people of different nationalities. They were Chechens, Ossetians, as well as regular units of the Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Despite the fact that these ethnic groups disagreed and often clashed amongst themselves, this time they united against Georgia to fight on the side of Abkhazia. Many of them were mercenaries.
Intrigued about the underlying reasons for the war, I began exploring these topics. I felt that just as I was asking questions and seeking answers, other people must be asking them too. My interest in the political events occurring around me led to a job outside of my planned profession and education. I started working as a correspondent in a local newspaper and began to write articles that covered the conflict while still attending the academy and studying toward my degree. Against my family’s occupational tradition I remain a journalist.
When first Chechen war broke out in 1994, my reputation as a reporter was established. At the time, I started to cover the events surrounding Chechnya. My articles became popular. On many occasions I had to travel to areas of conflict such as North and the South Caucasus to report from location. Often I had to find sponsors for the trips myself because the newspaper I was working for did not always have sufficient funds to cover the costs. During one such trip I was offered tohead the Chechen-Press desk in Georgia. One could say I was the only non-Muslim journalist offered that position. I am not aware of anyone else doing the same since.
As a correspondent I was able to establish a relationship of trust based on candid reporting with such people as Shamil Basayev, then a brigadier General and a freedom fighter before he became a Wahabist and a #1 terrorist akin to Osama Bin Laden. I personally interviewed and met other regional warlords. Once, I was even allowed to set up a telephone press conference with Basayev for the journalists working in Georgia to interview him directly. I brought numerous taped interviews back to the newspaper headquarters to be aired on national television. On several occasions I was able to use personal connections to negotiate the release of hostages kidnapped by the Chechens for ransom. Among them were two women journalists and one Russian correspondent from NTV television station. In total I negotiated and facilitated the release of 38 hostages held by the Islamic militants in Chechnya.
The work I did was not without peril. I experienced problems after the first Chechen war of 1994 when the Wahabi – militant Islamic fundamentalists flooded into the Caucasus and Chechnya. In the summer of 1998 while in route to interview the Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Ali Atgiriev, I witnessed and reported on the assassination attempt on Aslan (Khalid) Maskhadov, the president of Chechnya. I also witnessed how Shamil, and Khattab came to deny their involvement in the attack. Consequently, it was discovered that the bomb against the President’s motorcade was set off by a native Georgian demolitionist Chechen-Kistin by the name of Margoshvili. He was a member of a Wahabi group and he was also involved in a later explosion which killed Ahmed-Hajji Kadyrov whom I also interviewed.
In winter of 1998 upon my return to Georgia I received several threats from Chechen warlords for openly speaking in the media and for publishing several articles criticizing the beliefs and practices of militant Wahabism. That did not go over well, to say the least. To some I became the enemy. Under false pretenses I was called to Akhmeta – a Chechen-Kistin region in Georgia inhabited by peaceful Moslems. We were told that our help was needed against Wahabists who arrived there to harass the local population. Instead, my brother and were taken as hostages. I spent several weeks in captivity while my brother remained a hostage for a year in various Chechen Zin-Dans (a hole dug in the ground to conceal a hostage) until his release in the summer of 1999. Subsequently I established a Terrorism and Political Violence Research Center to help others in similar unfortunate circumstances, and to educate both the public and government agencies.
While working as a journalist 1994-98, I met many influential people as well as traditional and fundamentalist Islamic leaders of Caucasus. It was then that I began to see clearly a problem that needed in-depth study and research, though at that time the governments European countries and the United States of America tended to avoid the issue. As a correspondent stationed in many conflict regions, I saw firsthand the aggressive spread of Islamic fundamentalism in every geographical direction.
The tragic events of September 11 in America played a significant role for me. It compelled my decision to study not only Islamic influences, but also terrorism as one of the most aggressive and inhuman phenomenon in existence. During September 11 the crux of this multi-faceted danger clearly revealed itself to the world. We saw the terrorist’s international nature, its spread into various areas of our lives. We began to examine reasons for its birth, its religious antagonism, its geopolitical interests, its control of oil prices, and of course, drugs in the form of narcotics.
Closer to home, the terrorist act in Beslan was the proverbial last straw that motivated me to re-evaluate my position. I was no longer satisfied with dry journalistic investigations. It occurred to me then that if I gathered my material, combined everything I witnessed and depicted it in a literary from, it would make the development of terrorism, its roots, motives, reasons, causes, the circle of its participants, and most importantly the result, which in light of its dangerous, uncontrolled development may cause an end of our entire civilization, more vivid for the general public. I started working on a book. I wanted to help people understand what motivates terrorists to do what they do. I wanted to describe their ideas, lifestyle, religion, and their nature.
My goal in writing “Notes of a Terrorist” in a literary style was to adapt a complex topic of terrorism to the general public. I want to help the reader see and understand the essence of terrorism and terrorists by showing examples of real persons and by conveying actual facts acted out by the characters in the book. I strived to focus on everyday reality, which would make the tragic, bloody events and the victims who after all, are people living in our society, more personal for the reader.
I wanted to reveal the inner side of the terrorists’ actions, the thoughts and instincts that make them operate. At the same time, I wanted to show how a man can get used to bloodshed and murder, and how in the end he brings himself to destruction; how he kills his own soul.
I have not personally met Osama Bin Laden, or some of the characters mentioned in the book, but I have met and interviewed actual people, who with the greatest of pleasures would carry out the mission preached by Bin Laden and the rest of Al-Qaeda’s leaders.
My aim was to illustrate in living color the most effective ways of fighting against the evil phenomenon that is terrorism and to express the utmost necessity for unity on the part of the world’s authorities in order to finally defeat it. The ending I chose for the book is an idealistic version of what, in my view, should or could happen to stop the endless bloodshed and violent attacks. I hope I was able to accomplish my goal.
Josef S. Zaalishvili