Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 10

Aslan Maskhadov was killed on March 8. Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the federal forces in the North Caucasus, reported that members of the Alfa and Vympel special force units of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had killed the rebel leader during a special operation in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt. FSB Chairman Nikolai Patrushev was shown on Russian television informing President Vladimir Putin about Maskhadov’s death. The Russian president said that those involved in the special operation should be decorated. Footage of Maskhadov’s body was shown on NTV television.

According to Shabalkin, Maskhadov had hid in a “bunker” beneath a house in the village and was killed when the spetsnaz blew it up. “He was located in an underground concrete bunker which had to be blown up in order to penetrate the bunker, and in that way this bandit was destroyed,” RIA Novosti quoted Shabalkin as saying. He also said that three of Maskhadov’s aides, including one of his nephews, were captured. Russian media reported on March 9 that Maskhadov’s “personal archives” had also been seized from the bunker.

Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov put forward a different version of Maskhadov’s death. Interfax quoted Kadyrov as saying that Maskhadov was killed when a bodyguard who was next to him in the cramped bunker “carelessly handled his gun.” Kadyrov, who claimed that members of his Chechen presidential security service also took part in the operation against Maskhadov, said that those involved in the operation had planned to take him prisoner, not to kill him. He said that had Maskhadov been captured, he would have been named commander of a Chechen security service platoon or company after being questioned. Kadyrov told Itar-Tass that a rebel who was “taken prisoner in a joint operation carried out by the Akhmad Kadyrov special task regiment and federal forces in the Nozhay-Yurt district” had revealed the location of the house in which Maskhadov was hiding in Tolstoi-Yurt. website, meanwhile, put forward yet another version: according to the independent website, Maskhadov and several of his bodyguards were killed two days earlier – on March 6 – by gunmen loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov after a Nozhai-Yurt district resident gave away the rebel leader’s hiding place for a “tidy sum of money.” Afterwards, Kadyrov informed federal forces of what had happened, but, not wanting to take responsibility for Maskhadov’s murder because “this would be an eternal disgrace for him among the Chechens, [Kadyrov] asked the federal secret services to attribute the results of the operation to other agencies,” reported.

It is worth noting, however, that while Kadyrov attributed Maskhadov’s death to a careless bodyguard, he said it was a gift for all Chechen women on International Women’s Day and vowed that “terrorists,” “Wahhabis” and other “devils” would soon be driven out of Chechnya. “The number of extremist leaders is declining day after day,” he told Itar-Tass. “The place is getting too hot for them.” Kadyrov added that Chechens are “hard-working” and “tolerant” people who deserve “peace and a good life.”

Kommersant reported on March 9 that FSB and Interior Ministry personnel had managed to find out that Maskhadov was hiding in Tolstoi-Yurt from rebel fighters recently captured during security operations conducted in the Achkoi-Martan and Suzhensk districts. The captured guerrillas revealed that Maskhadov and three bodyguards – one named Iliskhanov, and two others surnamed Murdashev – had escaped federal encirclement in the southern mountains and come to Tolstoi-Yurt, where they hid in the home of a distant relative of Maskhadov surnamed Yusupov. On the morning of March 8, the entire town center of Tolstoi-Yurt was blocked off, and the small one-story house where Maskhadov was hiding was approached by FSB and Interior Ministry commandos.

Quoting participants in the operation, Kommersant reported that the commandos broke down the door to the house and found out from the owner that Maskhadov and his guards were in the basement. They then tried to get Maskhadov to surrender, but he refused to speak with them, and so the commandos began negotiations with Vakhid Murdashev, the former personnel chief in Maskhadov’s administration. The negotiations lasted about an hour, during which Maskhadov’s comrades tried to get him to give up after receiving a promise that they would not be killed and would receive a fair trial. According to the participants in the operation quoted by Kommersant, the three guards voluntarily left the basement and put down their weapons, but Maskhadov refused to do so. The newspaper quoted Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov as saying that after the negotiations with Maskhadov failed, the commandos tossed grenades into the basement. “It is symbolic that our president, Akhmad-khadzhi Kadyrov, heroically died on the men’s holiday [May 9, 2004, Victory Day], and this so-called president of Ichkeria met his death in a cheese cellar on International Women’s Day. Nothing more needs to be said.”

Meanwhile, Ramzan Kadyrov said on March 8 that Maskhadov’s body would be handed over to relatives for burial. “Once the legal procedures are over, the body will be handed over to the relatives, if anyone makes the request,” Kadyrov told Interfax. “We do not fight dead men. After the official identification, we will no longer need Maskhadov’s body, and we are willing to hand it over to his relatives.” Federal forces spokesman Ilya Shabalkin, however, said handing over Maskhadov’s body to relatives was “not on the agenda,” Interfax reported. “There is a law banning the release of the bodies of terrorists,” Shabalkin said. “Other options simply do not exist.”

The separatist Kavkazcenter website on March 9 confirmed Maskhadov’s death, declaring him a “shahid,” or martyr.