Chechen rebels have reportedly executed the person allegedly responsible for assassinating Khattab, the Saudi-born Chechen rebel field commander. Kavkaz.org, the website connected to the radical Islamist wing of the Chechen resistance, posted a report yesterday claiming that the rebels had uncovered the identities of three persons responsible for Khattab’s death. One of them, it claimed, a Dagestani identified simply as Ibrahim, who had fought on the side of the Chechen separatist “mujahideen” from 1994 to 1996, had been sentenced to death by the rebel’s Sharia Court and executed at the beginning of May. The website reported that the rebels are now on a search-and-destroy mission for the other two suspects, who were not identified (Kavkaz.org, NTVru.com, May 13). Later yesterday, Russia’s two state news agencies, Itar-Tass and Ria-Novosti, cited a report from the Qatar Information agency, which cited a decision by the Chechen rebels’ supreme military council (shura), headed by Shamil Basaev, to execute Khattab’s alleged killer. He was identified as Ibrahim Alauri, a resident of Dagestan and an ethnic Avar. According to this report, Alauri was responsible for the poisoned letter that killed the Saudi-born warlord, apparently five minutes after he received it. The report did not indicate, however, whether Alauri had delivered the letter to Khattab himself. According to leaflets distributed by the rebels in Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital, Alauri was accused of treason and collaboration with Dagestani intelligence and sentenced to die by firing squad. The sentence appears to have been carried out sometime in the last few days. Sources in the FSB’s Chechnya branch said today they were trying to confirm the reports (Gazeta.ru, Interfax, May 14).
In early April, before the Chechen rebels confirmed Khattab’s death, an unnamed Federal Security Service (FSB) official was quoted in the Russian media as saying the Saudi-born Islamist had been killed 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). Whether the latest reports from pro-Chechen rebel media indicating that Khattab was killed by a Dagestani intelligence agent are true, they would appear to be aimed at, first of all, dispelling the notion that Khattab was killed by a fellow Arab, and secondly, demonstrating that Khattab died as a “shaheed” (martyr) fighting in the jihad, and not in a squabble with one of his Arab subordinates over donations from the Middle East, as some FSB sources have claimed (Gazeta.ru, May 14; see the Monitor, April 26, 29).
Meanwhile, General Gennady Troshev, commander of the North Caucasus Military District, claimed yesterday he had information that Shamil Basaev had been killed. Although he did not give any details or concrete evidence, Troshev noted that the initial reports of Khattab’s death were widely greeted skeptically and urged everyone to “wait for that moment when there will be incontrovertible confirmation of what we know.” Troshev added: “In any case, the field commanders are becoming fewer and fewer with each day” (Lenta.ru, May 13). Soon after the rebels confirmed Khattab’s death, General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the Russian armed forces’ general staff, claimed that Basaev had also been eliminated, but then backtracked somewhat. Other top Russian officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and General Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, subsequently said they doubted Basaev had been killed (see the Monitor, May 1, 6).
It should be noted that some observers continue to express doubts about Khattab’s death. Vyacheslav Izmailov, Novaya Gazeta’s military correspondent and a former major in the Russian army, noted this week that the video broadcast last month on Russian state television that apparently showed Khattab’s body in a freshly dug grave was dated March 19 and became public more than a month later. “In Chechnya it is very difficult to hide anything,” Izmailov wrote. “And it is practically impossible to conceal information about the death of a well-known terrorist for more than a month. All the more so from relatives. And Khattab has them. Moreover, his wife [who is Dagestani–MONITOR] has numerous relatives in Chechnya and Dagestan.”Either the clip shown on Russian state television was genuine,” Izmailov concluded, or the Chechen rebels “have learned to do their own cinema and have begun the hunt for an Oscar” (Novaya Gazeta, May 13).
Whatever the real fate of their senior commanders, the Chechen rebels continue to carry on their guerrilla war. A homemade bomb blew up a car carrying three military servicemen on the outskirts of the village of Novye Atagi yesterday. One serviceman, a sergeant, was killed while the other two, including the acting head of the district military registration and enlistment office, were wounded (Polit.ru, Lenta.ru, May 14). The Interfax news agency yesterday quoted an “informed source” in the headquarters of the Russian military command in Chechnya as saying that 2,498 Russian military personnel had been killed and 6,325 wounded since the start of the current military operation in the North Caucasus–specifically, over the period from August 7, 1999 to May 11, 2002. This toll includes those who died in the operation to turn back the August 1999 Chechen rebel-led incursion into Dagestan. It does not, however, include soldiers from other services, including the Interior Ministry and FSB, who were killed or wounded during the current operation (Lenta.ru, May 13).
KAZAKHSTAN AND RUSSIA TO SHARE NORTHERN CASPIAN OFFSHORE OILFIELDS.