Russia’s most wanted fugitive, rebel warlord Shamil Basayev, has claimed responsibility for killing Chechnya’s Moscow-backed leader in a bomb attack that authorities increasingly believe was an inside job.
Basayev made his claim in a statement posted Monday on a rebel Web site, calling the assassination of President Akhmad Kadyrov a “small but important victory.” He said that Kadyrov had been killed as part of what he called “Operation Revenge” and that other such operations against Russia’s so-called collaborators in Chechnya would follow.
Kadyrov was killed on May 9 by a bomb at a stadium in Grozny, the Chechen capital, where he and other dignitaries were attending a Victory Day ceremony commemorating Hitler’s defeat. In all, the explosion killed six people and wounded nearly 60, including the top Russian military commander in Chechnya, who lost a leg.
Investigators said the bomb, made out of an artillery shell, had been planted underneath the VIP section and that it had escaped the attention of security forces who had swept the stadium before the ceremony. Investigators also found a second, unexploded bomb and a plastic bottle containing explosives at the site.
According to the newspaper Izvestia, a construction worker who helped renovate the stadium over the past few months was detained in connection with the killing. It said that Lomali Chupalayev’s two brothers had fought with the rebels.
Izvestia also quoted an unnamed Chechen prosecutor as saying that the bomb had probably been activated by someone in an employees-only section of the stadium.
Sergei Fridinsky, Russia’s Deputy Prosecutor-General, said May 11 that there was likely an inside connection to the explosion.
“An outside person could not get access to the stage and put an explosive device into action,” he was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Basayev claims many attacks
Basayev, who commands more authority among the rebels than any other commander, has claimed responsibility for the rebels’ biggest terrorist attacks, including a string of suicide bombings in Moscow and southern Russian cities and the brazen seizure of a Moscow theater in October 2002.
He earned a reputation for cunning and cruelty with a 1995 raid on the town of Budyonnovsk, in a region bordering Chechnya. Basayev managed to infiltrate some 200 heavily armed fighters into the town, where they took doctors and patients hostage at the local hospital. Russian forces then stormed the hospital, and more than 100 civilians were killed. Basayev and his men escaped back into Chechnya.
Basayev, who had a foot amputated after entering a minefield during a Russian attack on Grozny, is believed to be in the mountains of southern Chechnya, where the rebels have a network of camps. Russian forces have been unable to track him down — in part, apparently, because local civilians cover for him.
Yuri Rozhin, the head of the Federal Security Service’s branch in Chechnya, said Monday that Basayev’s possible involvement in Kadyrov’s killing was being investigated, but added that the authorities are also looking at other possible culprits, the Interfax news agency reported.
Besides the rebels, Kadyrov had plenty of enemies and rivals. He sidelined all but the most loyal subordinates, and tried to control all money flowing into the republic from Moscow.
His security forces, led by his younger son Ramzan, have been accused of exacting revenge against their former comrades among the rebels and terrorizing civilians.
Rebels kept up their attacks against Russian forces and their Chechen associates over the weekend. Eight federal servicemen and local police were killed and 24 more wounded in rebel raids and land mine explosions over the past 24 hours, an official with the Moscow-backed Chechen administration said Monday on condition of anonymity.
The first, 1994-96 war ended with the Russian army’s withdrawal, leaving Chechnya de facto independent and largely lawless for three years.
Russian troops swept back in again in September 1999 following raids on a neighboring province launched by Chechnya-based rebels and apartment building explosions that Moscow blamed on the insurgents.