Russia’s most wanted man, Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, has been killed, the country’s state security chief has told President Vladimir Putin, Itar-Tass news agency said on Monday.
Basayev, who claimed responsibility for the 2004 Beslan school attack in which more than 330 died, half of them children, and a string of other attacks, was killed together with other Chechen fighters, Nikolai Patrushev told Putin.
The announcement came only a couple of weeks after Shamil Basayev, wanted by Russia for a string of shocking terrorist attacks, was named by Doku Umarov, president of the self-styled Ichkeria (Chechnya) as his vice president in a move seen as a signal towards radicalization of the Chechen rebel movement.
Doku Umarov Umarov took over as Chechnya’s new separatist leader earlier this month after police killed Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev during a raid in an eastern Chechen town. In his first public statement in June Umarov vowed to widen attacks to the rest of Russia, saying rebel forces would focus on military and police targets but would avoid attacks against most civilians.
That statement appeared to signal an effort to avoid terrorist attacks such as the September 2004 Beslan school hostage taking, in which 331 people died, more than half of them children. Basayev claimed responsibility for that attack, which shocked Russia and divided the rebel movement, since civilians, including women and children, were among those primarily taken hostage.
When Russian troops pulled out of Chechnya in 1996 and Chechnya prepared to elect a president to lead it to de facto independence, Basayev ran for the job. He lost to the late rebel commander Aslan Maskhadov and became his deputy. He and Maskhadov — a relative moderate who was Sadulayev’s predecessor as Chechen rebel president — later became rivals.
Russian forces and their local Chechen allies have been battling separatist militants for most of the past 12 years. The rebel movement has become increasingly drawn to radical Islam, but insists it is only fighting for independence. Most large-scale fighting has ended in Chechnya, but rebels continue to stage regular hit-and-run raids and detonate land mines and explosives, and the insurgency has spread to other parts of the mainly Muslim North Caucasus region.