Deputy Prosecutor General for the Southern Federal District Nikolai Shepel announced on April 1 that Aslan Maskhadov had been shot to death by his guards in the bunker where he was allegedly hiding out in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt, Kommersant reported on April 2. Shepel told reporters at a press conference in the North Ossetian prosecutor’s office that Maskhadov told his guards that he “must not fall into the hands of the law-enforcement agencies alive” and that if they did not shoot him, he would detonate the suicide bomber’s belt he was allegedly wearing.
Kommersant noted that when Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev informed President Vladimir Putin on March 8 that Maskhadov had been killed, he said it was at the hands of FSB special forces. That same day, Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the Russian military operation in the North Caucasus, told journalists that Maskhadov was killed when commandos used explosives to penetrate the concrete bunker where he was hiding. Also on March 8, First Deputy Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told Interfax that Maskhadov died as a result of the “careless” handling of a weapon by one of his bodyguards. Two days later, Kadyrov said he had been joking and that Maskhadov in fact died when a grenade was tossed into the bunker.
Shepel was also asked during his April 1 press conference about the fate of Musa Yusopov, the owner of the house in Tolstoi-Yurt that had the underground bunker in which Maskhadov allegedly hid. “The search for Yusupov continues,” Shepel answered. “But no one knows whether he is alive or dead.” Kommersant quoted relatives of Yusupov as saying that he had been detained on March 8 and was later seen in custody at the Russian military base in Khankala, Chechnya.
Kavkazcenter, citing another pro-separatists website, marsho.dk, reported on March 24 that Yusupov had been found dead in Tolstoi-Yurt and that his body bore signs of torture. Chechen officials denied that report, and the press service of the republic’s Interior Ministry reported on March 29 that Yusupov had been detained and was still “giving testimony of interest to the investigation” (see Chechnya Weekly, March 30).
Meanwhile, RIA Novosti reported on March 31 that the Defense Ministry’s 124th laboratory in Rostov-on-Don had completed its analysis of Maskhadov’s body and confirmed that it was 100-percent certain that it was the rebel leader’s body. That same day, lenta.ru quoted Valentina Melnikova, leader of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia as saying that there was no legal basis for the authorities to hold onto Maskhadov’s body and bury him “as a criminal,” since he had not been put on trial. “We appealed to the Russian Prosecutor General and the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia to help in getting the body of Maskhadov transferred to his relatives,” Melnikova said. “However, there was no response to our appeal.” Nikolai Shepel addressed the issue during his April 1 press conference in North Ossetia. “In accordance with the law on combating terrorism, the bodies of dead terrorists are not handed over to relatives, and they are not informed about the place of burial,” he said. Maskhadov’s family said Shepel’s statement violated universal humanitarian principles and Russia’s international obligations, Kavkazky Uzel reported on April 1.
A poll conducted by the independent Levada Center over March 18-21 found that 62 percent of the respondents opposed the Russian special services’ plan to bury Maskhadov’s body in a secret underground grave and believe the body should be returned to his relatives, gazeta.ru reported on March 29. Twenty-five percent of those polled said the rebel leader’s body should be buried without informing his relatives.