FSB Accuses Zakaev of Organizing Armed Attacks in Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 4

Akhmed Zakaev

Itar-Tass and Interfax on January 27 quoted the public affairs center of the Federal Security Service (FSB) accusing Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based prime minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), of directing rebel attacks in Chechnya. The FSB told the news agency that it had carried out a joint operation with the federal Interior Ministry to capture Isa Khadiev, a leader of the “armed gangs,” and that Khadiev had “put up armed resistance” and was killed in the operation.

The FSB claimed it had received “reliable information” that “the activities of the so-called government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, headed by Akhmed Zakaev, had intensified on Russia’s territory,” and that on Zakaev’s order, a ChRI armed forces headed by “A. Yavmerzaev” was being set up. According to the FSB, Khadiev was secretly sent to Russia last May (there was no indication from where) to give Yavmerzaev “practical assistance” in “organizing armed gangs,” after which Khadiev “began to actively restore structural links of the rebel underground controlled by Zakaev on Chechnya’s plains as well as in Dagestan.”

The FSB said that taking into account the “special threat” posed by the “warlord” Khadiev, an operation to detain him was carried out on January 17, during which he was killed. It claimed that security forces at the scene seized automatic weapons, ammunition, grenades and “electronic information-carrying media” containing information revealing Khadiev’s “criminal activities.” The FSB called Khadiev’s elimination “a serious blow to the rebel underground’s system of operation” resulting in the destruction of “an established group of high-ranking warlords that has been operating for over a decade now.” Itar-Tass reported that a search carried out in woods in Chechnya’s Shelkovsky district uncovered an arms cache used by Khadiev’s group that contained “a considerable amount of ammunitions and weapons, including seven improvised explosive devices.”

Kommersant reported on January 28 that the incident in which Khadiev was killed had taken place in the village of Bairamaul in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district, and that he had been fatally wounded after he threw a grenade at the FSB and Interior Ministry commandos while trying to escape into a wooded area near the village. The newspaper quoted the FSB as saying that Khadiev had long been wanted as a leader of the “Wahhabi underground” and had been named head of the Council of Alims of the Caucasus by Abudul-Khalim Sadulaev, the Chechen rebel leader who succeeded Aslan Maskhadov following the latter’s death at the hands of Russian security forces in March 2005. Sadulaev was himself killed by security forces in June 2006. According to Kommersant, Khadiev fled Russia after Sadulaev’s death and returned two years later.

 “I knew Isa Khadiev as a scholar-alim, but I didn’t send him anywhere on any mission,” Kommersant quoted Akhmed Zakaev as saying. According to the newspaper, Zakaev said “the creation of armed structures” has “never been and is not” part of his plans “as the head of the government of Ichkeria.” Zakaev added: “They probably confused me with Movladi Udugov or Doka Umarov, who announced the creation in the North Caucasus of some kind of mythical emirate.”

Kommersant identified the “A. Yavmerzaev” cited by the FSB as Arbi Yavmerzaev who, according to FSB and Interior Ministry officials, was essentially the “right hand” of Chechen rebel leader Doka Umarov.

Kommersant quoted Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center as saying: “I don’t believe that Akhmed Zakaev would, from his comfortable sanctuary in London, get involved in organizing an armed underground; he doesn’t need that!” Malashenko suggested that it was not a coincidence that this “kompromat” targeting Zakaev had appeared against the backdrop of attempts by the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities to get former political opponents to return home. “President Ramzan Kadyrov has called on Akhmed Zakaev to return home, promising to make him a theater director,” the newspaper quoted Malashenko as saying. (The newspaper noted that Zakaev was an actor before Chechnya’s wars.) “Apparently someone did not like that prospect,” Malashenko said, adding that “Russia’s special services have very jealous feelings towards the initiatives of the Chechen president.”

According to Kommersant, Zakaev confirmed that people from his entourage have met with representatives of the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities. “I am ready to discuss with everybody, including representatives of Ramzan Kadyrov, resolving issues that will help avoid the continuation of bloodshed,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Chechen-language service, the text of which was posted on the rebel Chechenpress news agency’s website on January 28, Zakaev denied that Khadiev was his emissary and said that the FSB claims were part of an “information war” by Russia’s special services which, he said, do not want to normalize the situation in the North Caucasus and are feigning counter-insurgency activities in attempt to justify and maintain their current position of power.

Earlier this month, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev claimed that al-Qaeda emissaries are operating in Chechnya and Dagestan. According to Interfax, Yedelev told journalists in Rostov-on Don on January 21 that al-Qaeda emissaries in the two republics inspect and critique rebel groups and supply them with “new resources” to carry out terrorist attacks, including “new explosive systems that cannot yet be traced by our detection systems.” In separate comments, Yedelev said that about 500 rebels and rebel supporters are operating in Chechnya while up to 120 rebels are operating in Ingushetia. He said that adding the relatives of the Ingush rebels brings the total “network of accomplices” in Ingushetia to 1,237 people.