Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 29

With the plethora of contradictory versions of Shamil Basaev’s death in the press, and with some observers even questioning whether he was really killed (Chechnya Weekly, July 14), separatist Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakaev confirmed the rebel warlord’s death in an interview with Profil-Ukraina published on July 17. “I can confirm that information,” Zakaev told the Ukrainian weekly. “Shamil Basaev really was killed on the night of July 9-10 in the Republic of Ingushetia in the village of Ekazhevo.” In the interview, Zakaev eulogized Basaev as having been a “not ordinary” individual. “He gained well-deserved authority both among the Chechen people and among all the peoples of the Caucasus,” Zakaev said. “Despite the fact that Shamil Basaev believed he had the right to respond to Russia’s criminal methods of conducting war with terror, in my view, he will go down in history not as a terrorist but as a military leader, as a national hero. He, like the whole Chechen tragedy, will be judged by history. Now it is too early to draw any conclusions. But my opinion is as such: Shamil Basaev will occupy one of the most honored positions among the heroes of the Chechen people and the whole Caucasus.”

Zakaev also told Profil-Ukraina: “Every day, both international organizations and our structures, which are working underground on the territory of the [Chechen] republic, record disappearances of people, outrageous executions and armed clashes, which have greatly increased in the summer period.” Zakaev claimed that the practice of selling back the bodies of those killed to their relatives also continues. The conflict in Chechnya, he said, has no military solution: “We declare and have always declared that this conflict cannot be resolved by force. This is our unchanged position.” He added, however, “Everything has always depended on and [still] depends on the political will of Russia. As I said before, to begin and end the war is exclusively Russia’s prerogative. And today the situation has not changed a bit. With political will, all issues are resolvable.”

Meanwhile, on July 18, Kommersant quoted “sources inside the investigation” of the July 10 explosion that reportedly killed Shamil Basaev as saying that the process of identifying the remains thought to be his had come to a standstill. “Visual identification is impossible,” the newspaper wrote. “Pathologists were able to take the fingerprints of the five fingers that survived the blast and to take biological samples. But they have nothing to compare them with. Basaev’s fingerprints are not on file anywhere and no usable prints were found at the site of the blast. Investigators are looking for a parent, sibling or child of the terrorist, but they have been unsuccessful in their search so far. Basaev’s father, Salman, was shot in 2002 near Nozhai-Yurt for resisting an identification check. His mother, Nura, was taken by relatives to Baku before the beginning of the second Chechen campaign and died there shortly afterward. His younger brother, Valid, was killed when Basaev’s house was bombed and his older brother, Shirvani, has been declared dead several times, but is reported to be living in Turkey.”

According to Kommersant, Basaev’s first wife, an Abkhazian woman named Indira Jenia, is known to be alive. Together with her two children, she reportedly left the breakaway Georgian republic, headed to Azerbaijan or Turkey and may now be living in the Netherlands. The head of the criminal investigation department of Abkhazia’s Interior Ministry, Murman Gegia, told the newspaper, “Our friends and colleagues from Russia have not yet contacted us with a request to find the relatives of Basaev. If they contact us, you can be sure that we will do everything possible, work with our sources in neighboring countries and find them.”

Kommersant concluded, “Thus the body remains unidentified. In spite of the fact that FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov have announced his liquidation, the terrorist’s body has not been legally identified. Until that process is concluded, there is no legally admissible evidence of the terrorist’s death.”

Kommersant also reported that the July 17 arrest of a Basaev brother-in-law, Ibragim Tsakaev, himself a rebel fighter who lost his right arm in battle, might have been an attempt to lure in blood relatives of Basaev in order to obtain DNA samples to identify his remains. “Ibragim Tsakaev cannot help in that process except as bait,” the newspaper wrote, noting that a similar strategy was used last year when the relatives of Aslan Maskhadov were rounded up in an effort to discover his location. “Authorities did not succeed in that goal, but held them until close relatives agreed to give biological samples,” Kommersant noted. “The genetic material received from them was used in the eventual identification of Maskhadov’s body.”

Meanwhile, on July 20, Moskovsky komsomolets put forward yet another version of Basaev’s death: that the current separatist leader, Dokku Umarov, may have ordered it. “In response to reports that Basaev was blown up by a home-made bomb, presumably made in Dagestan, some experts suggest that the organizer of that murder could have been the current ‘president’ of Ichkeria, Dokku Umarov,” the daily wrote. The article continued, “At the same time, Umarov might have acted not on his own but at the suggestion of the special services. ‘For a long time, Umarov has been in a complicated relationship with the special services,’ one of the experts recounted. ‘In 2000, when he was recuperating in Nalchik after the withdrawal from Grozny, he cooperated with the special services. At that time, he betrayed a militant known as Traktorist, gave the location of the burial site of General [Gennady] Shpigun [the Russian governmental envoy to Chechnya kidnapped in March 1999], [and] rendered some other services. For this, he was allowed to leave for Georgia.’ In the opinion of my interlocutor, Umarov could have had as his aim becoming ‘Number 1’ in the militants’ hierarchy. The fact that two of the dead militants [killed in the July 10 explosion]—Tarkhan Ganizhev and Isa Kushtov—were considered to be people close to Umarov might also indicate an ‘Umarov footprint.’ One of them might have been the executor of the terrorist act. None of this rules out that an FSB special operation took place. Simply, the Chekisty did not work directly but through Umarov.”

It hardly needs noting that the Russian authorities might have an interest in putting into circulation the idea that the current leader of the rebels had collaborated with the Russian special services.