Rappani Khalilov Reportedly Killed

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 36

Russian news agencies reported on September 18, that Rappani Khalilov, aka “Rabbani,” the commander of the North Caucasus insurgency’s “Dagestani Front,” was killed in a special operation in village of Novy Sulak, on the outskirts of the Dagestani city of Kizilyurt. Kommersant reported on September 19 that Russian security forces managed to kill Khalilov and his right hand man, Nabi Nabiev, only after a ten-hour battle in which the federal side employed tanks and armored personnel carriers and ended up leveling the house in which the two militants were holed up.

According to the newspaper, units of the federal Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) launched the operation early in the morning of September 17. The night before, Russian security forces, having received confirmation of Khalilov’s location from two captured rebel messengers, had evacuated the residents of several houses neighboring the one in which he was hiding. The spetsnaz who surrounded the apartment building urged the rebels to surrender, but received automatic weapons-fire in response. A shootout ensued but died down around 10 a.m., with the apartment building on fire from Shmel flamethrowers and officials declaring the operation largely over. However, when the commandos moved closer to the building, they were fired on once again, this time from a basement room. The commanders of the operation called in reinforcements, after which members of FSB’s Vympel special forces unit and the Russian Army’s 136th Motorized Brigade arrived at the scene, the latter having driven from their base in Buinaksk in three infantry fighting vehicles (BMPs), four armored personnel carriers and a tank.

“Fire from cannon and large-caliber machineguns, and the treads of the tank, practically razed the house to the ground and by 16:30 there was already no one left to fire back from it,” Kommersant wrote. “As was discovered during an examination of the [ruins of the house], just two militants had held off armor and armed-to-the-teeth spetsnaz for ten hours – a well-fortified and deep concrete basement had helped them withstand the attack.” According to the newspaper, investigators who began to examine the ruins of the house first found “a disfigured body with a severed head and upper extremities” which they nonetheless managed to identify as the remains of Nabi Nabiev. Khalilov’s body was then unearthed and positively identified by both the captured messengers and the landlady of the home. The head of the FSB’s department for Dagestan, Vyacheslav Shanshin, who was in charge of the operation, said associates of Khalilov positively identified him with 100-percent certainty. The body was also matched with photographs showing a scar on Khalilov’s hip that he sustained during a shootout in 2003 with members of then Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov’s security service – when, as Kommersant noted, Khalilov was also declared dead. Shanshin said DNA testing would be used to confirm Khalilov’s death. According to Kommersant, however, Russian siloviki are this time certain he was killed in the operation.

Rappani Khalilov, an ethnic Lak who served as a Soviet border guard along the border with Mongolia, became an adherent of militant Islam, or “Wahabbism,” in 1998 and the following year participated in the raid of Chechen militants into Dagestan. After that raid was suppressed, he went to Chechnya, where he created a unit numbering up to 100 men. According to Kommersant, Khalilov organized several dozen terrorist attacks in Dagestan, the most infamous being the bombing of a Victory Day parade in the city Kaspiisk on May 9, 2002, which killed 45 people. Following the death of Shamil Basaev in July 2006, Khalilov was named a possible “successor” to the dead rebel military commander. In September 2006, rebel leader Dokka Umarov named Khalilov commander of the rebel “Dagestani Front.”

An item posted on the separatist Daymohk website on September 19 stated that while there had false reports of Rappani Khalilov’s death in the past, this time it appeared to be true. “This is how all of our Dagestani brothers are killed,” the item read. “I will never cease to be amazed by them. Dagestan has not realized the value of its brave sons.”