The Federal Security Service (FSB) has officially confirmed a claim made earlier by an anonymous official of the agency that Khattab, the Chechen rebel field commander of Arab origin, was killed during a Russian special operation in Chechnya. The FSB’s public relations center said in a statement that “as the result of a special operation carried out by the Federal Security Service in the Chechen republic, the ideologue and organizer of terrorist activity, the international terrorist Khattab, has been destroyed.” According to the FSB, the special operation to eliminate Khattab was carried out in March. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told Interfax that the FSB would soon provide “documentary evidence” of the special operation (NTVru.com, April 25).
The first reports that the Russian special services had managed to kill Khattab appeared on April 11. An anonymous FSB official cited as evidence for this claim that the rebel field commander had not been heard using electronic communications for two months and that the actions of rebel fighters in the area under Khattab’s command had become “uncoordinated.” The official also said that the agency’s own informants had confirmed Khattab’s death. Although he did not say when the special operation putatively took place, he did say that it had been carried out by “an agent from among the Arabs fighting in Chechnya, who had earlier been recruited by the special services of one of the CIS states” (see the Monitor, April 12).
The FSB’s latest claim was given some credence yesterday when both President Vladimir Putin and his spokesman commented on it. Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that while in the past the authorities had been “very cautious” concerning reports that leaders of the “armed formations” in Chechnya had been killed, on this occasion “there is basis to believe that [it] is the case.” He said he hoped that the evidence for Khattab’s death would soon be made public. A source in the presidential administration’s information department, which Yastrzhembsky heads, was quoted as saying that the evidence that Khattab–“one of the leaders of the intransigent part of the Chechen armed formations”–had been eliminated was “rather convincing” (RIA Novosti, NTVru.com, April 25).
Putin himself was more cautious about Khattab’s reported death, but expressed the hope that it was true: “If he was indeed destroyed, it’s another blow against terrorism.” “We must wait,” he added, “for objective confirmation of this information, but one hopes that there is [such information].” “I am certain that all terrorists await such an end,” Putin continued, saying, however, that in addition to military actions, a “complex of measures,” including economic ones, should be taken in the Caucasus generally and specifically Chechnya (NTVru.com, April 25).
There has been no independent confirmation that Khattab is dead, but a correspondent for the newspaper Izvestia was told that Russia’s special services have a videotape of the spot where Khattab was buried (Izvestia.ru, April 25). Meanwhile, the Moscow bureau of the NTV-International television channel quoted “influential representatives of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow” as reporting that his body is currently located in a North Caucasus Military District laboratory and that the official announcement of his death was delayed for a month because the body was headless and thus difficult to identify. NTV-International stressed that this report was unconfirmed (NTVru.com, April 25).
The state’s RIA Novosti news agency reported today that “video evidence” of Khattab’s death would be shown tonight on Vesti, the evening news program on RTR state television broadcast, during its 8 PM (Moscow time) broadcast. No further details were given. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has added his voice to those confirming Khattab’s death, telling journalists that the evidence would be presented “in the near future” (NTVru.com, April 26).
…CHECHNYA’S INTERIOR MINISTRY EXPRESSES DOUBT.