Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 25

The unofficial version of the events surrounding the death of Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, reported by the newspaper Kommersant and the Memorial Human Rights Center, varies significantly from the one presented by the Chechen government. Kommersant on June 19 quoted unnamed Chechen policemen as telling it “unofficially” that the operation, which killed Sadulaev, was “spontaneous.” According to these sources, Sadulaev was found by accident, after workers refurbishing a home on Ulitsa Svobody told local police they had seen suspicious bearded men who were hiding in the basement of an abandoned private dwelling nearby. At around 10 AM, local time, on June 17, several local policemen and FSB officers stationed in the area went to the dwelling, and the militants, hearing cars pull up and realizing that they had been discovered, tossed a grenade at the law-enforcers and opened fire on them with automatic weapons. An FSB officer was killed on the spot, after which the remaining local police and FSB surrounded the house and got into a gun battle with the militants, during which a policeman was killed. Chechen Interior Ministry employees told Kommersant that after around 20 minutes, two people ran out of the basement firing automatic weapons and ran towards the woods. The police said they did not chase them because they had to “keep aim on the house.” However, there was no further firing from the house.

On the floor of the basement of the house, security forces found the body of bearded man wearing a track suit, next to whom lay a grenade from which, police told Kommersant, the militant had not had time to pull the pin. The dead militant turned out to be Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev. The newspaper quoted local residents as saying that the home in which Sadulaev was hiding, which had been refurbished and had a new gate installed, was until about six months ago, inhabited by a certain Movsar, along with his wife and two daughters. “But two months ago, they all left, and we don’t know who was then living there,” a neighbor said. According to Kommersant, the neighbors reacted “rather coolly” to the shootout. An elderly neighbor identified only as Khasmagomed, said that the shootout was of “absolutely no interest” to him. “We sat peacefully in our house yesterday and didn’t hear anything peculiar,” he told the newspaper.

The Memorial Human Rights Center also reported that based on its own investigation, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev was discovered by luck. According to its version of events, as reported by the Kavkazky Uzel website on June 20, several FSB officers arrived at the headquarters of the Argun police at around 10 AM on June 17 and asked for assistance in checking a house located in the city’s “Indian Hamlet” section. A group of FSB and local police officers numbering up to ten men went to the address and were fired on as they approached the entrance. An FSB officer was killed immediately, after which a policeman tossed a grenade into the house and the group called for reinforcements. Around 20 minutes later, two armed men – one carrying two assault rifles, the other carrying three – approached a home on a neighboring street where a funeral was taking place. The men, whose clothes were stained with blood, asked for the driver of a Gazel microbus that was standing nearby. The vehicle’s owner, Argun resident Roman Ubraimov, was summoned and the armed men told him that their comrade had been killed, that many soldiers would be arriving soon and that a large number of civilians might suffer in the ensuing firefight. They demanded that Ubraimov drive them out of the city.

As Ubraimov drove the two militants out of Argun, they passed a large number of military vehicles and hardware that was being brought into the “Indian Hamlet” neighborhood. They were able to drive undetected toward the city of Shali. En route, the militants phoned someone and said, “One of our brothers has been killed.” Before they reached a checkpoint at the crossroads located at the Shali district village of Mesker-Yurt, the two militants ordered Ubraimov to stop the car and got out, after which Ubraimov drove back to Argun.

According to Memorial’s account, the reinforcements who arrived at the house in “Indian Hamlet” where the shootout took place, found the body of a man inside, subsequently identified as Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, who had apparently been killed by the grenade that was thrown into the house. The body was taken to the village of Tsentoroi. Local police reported that after the shootout, some “Indian Hamlet” residents said they saw two armed young men and a young woman with three large satchels and bloodstained clothing leave the house through the garden.

Roman Ubraimov, the driver of the microbus, said he had not seen how many people had sat in his vehicle because the gunmen had ordered him not to turn around and had turned his rear-view mirror around so he could not see them. “Thus, according to the information of the Memorial Human Rights Center, the death of A. Kh. Sadulaev was not the result of some sort of pre-planned or large-scale operation,” Kavkazky Uzel wrote. “Furthermore, there was no ‘surrender’ of him [disclosure of his location for 1,500 rubles] by the militants, as was officially declared. A. Kh. Sadulaev was killed by chance as the result of a short armed confrontation during a routine check of a suspicious house and grounds,” stated the Memorial Human Rights Center report received by the Kavkazky Uzel editorial office.