The Mysterious Assassination of Sulim Yamadaev

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 15

Sulim Yamadaev

On the evening of March 28, the Chechen community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—which is approximately 2,000-3,000 strong—was abuzz with the news of the assassination attempt on Sulim Yamadaev (http://chechen.org/forums/showthread.php?t=41&page=63). Closer to midnight, the mass media, citing the Reuters news agency, began to talk about the assassination of a Chechen named Madov Suleiman in Dubai, the capital of UAE (http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2009/03/28/n_1346238.shtml).  The seriousness of the incident was underscored by the fact that the crime scene was visited by the chief of the Dubai police, General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, and the director of the State Security Service, General Khamis Mattar Al Mazienah.

By the morning of March 29, few in the Chechen community of UAE doubted that it was Sulim Yamadaev who was killed. It should be noted that he relocated to the UAE only several months ago under an assumed identity (and with a fake passport) with his entire family (including his wife and children). According to local Chechens, he lived inconspicuously and tried not to attract attention. The very fact of a fake passport indicated that his departure to the Emirates was an operation aimed at protecting him from possible enemies. Yet, the selection of UAE, where several thousand Chechens reside, apparently was not the best option for saving him and his family from revenge.

By a confluence of circumstances, the enemies of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked favorite usually do not live long lives, regardless of where they reside or under whose protection. On November 18, 2006, Movladi Baisarov, the head of the “Gorets” (Highlander) special operations detachment and fierce opponent of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, was gunned down in downtown Moscow (http://lenta.ru/news/2006/11/18/killed/). On January 13 of this year, Umar Israilov, who had filed a claim against Kadyrov with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, was killed in Vienna, Austria (www.infox.ru/accident/crime/2009/01/28/V_Vyenye_zadyerzhany_print.phtml).

Apart from the aforementioned individuals, who were Kadyrov’s personal enemies, over the course of the past several months (from the fall of 2008 to early 2009), a similar fate met three Chechens in Istanbul, Turkey, including the cousin of the leader of Chechen resistance movement Dokka Umarov, Musa Ataev. According to the Turkish special services, all of them were victims of political persecution (http://timeturk.com/istanbulda-gizli-cecen-zirvesi–60778-haberi.html).

The Yamadaev family was ill-fated. Almost all the Yamadaev brothers fought on the side of Aslan Maskhadov and in the post-war period they became one of the levers in the standoff with the Salafis. During the second military campaign (starting in 1999), all the brothers fought on the Russian side. One of the brothers, Jabrail Yamadaev, was killed by an explosion on the night of March 4-5, 2003 (www.chechnyafree.ru/article.php?IBLOCK_ID=341&SECTION_ID=568&ELEMENT_ID=59460). He was killed while he was in charge of the Vostok special purpose battalion of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Russian Defense Ministry and was awarded the Hero of Russia medal posthumously.

Another brother, Ruslan (Khalid) Yamadaev, was gunned down on September 24, 2008 in Moscow in close proximity to the headquarters of the Russian government following negotiations with government officials (http://www.rusk.ru/st.php?idar=105460). The aforementioned assassination was probably a strike aimed at Sulim Yamadaev, forcing him to leave his safe haven. Ruslan Yamadaev at one point was a member of the Russian State Duma and he had also been decorated with the highest award of the country—Hero of Russia. Thus, for the first time in the modern history of Russia three members of one family had earned the Hero of Russia award, which already made this family extraordinary and seemingly a model for emulation. Yet, nothing of the sort could be detected upon closer examination. No one held up the Yamadaev brothers as examples publicly and pride in this family among ordinary Russians definitely cannot be found.

Sulim Yamadaev, the former commander of the Vostok battalion, who was an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel and a recipient of the Hero of Russia award, was a blood enemy of Kadyrov. This is why few doubted that he would meet the same fate that befell his brothers. The only questions were when and how this was going to happen.

The fact that the Dubai police managed to take custody of Yamadaev’s immediate executioners so quickly should be sufficient evidence of the fact that he was constantly under tacit surveillance. Kadyrov’s stableman Mahdi Lornia (an Iranian citizen), who arrived in the Emirates for a horse race, and the ethnic Tajik Mahsud Jan (a Tajik citizen) were detained immediately, while a search for four other individuals was announced. These four were ethnic Chechens from Kazakhstan and Russia, who managed to escape the territory of the Emirates (http://chechnya.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/152667).

According to the local police, Sulim Yamadaev died instantly at the crime scene. He was shot with three bullets and one of them turned out to be deadly (http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090401/NATIONAL/867424210/1001). Here is where the controversy begins: members of Sulim Yamadaev’s family—his brother Issa and wife Milana—claim the complete opposite, asserting that they interacted with Sulim following the shooting and that he was in a coma but regained consciousness. The actions by Sulim Yamadaev’s relatives could be explained from the point of view of an unwillingness to disclose Sulim’s death in order to conduct their own investigations.

Kadyrov reacted with indignation to the accusations by the UAE police suggesting that the chief suspect in the murder was Adam Delimkhanov, Kadyrov’s first cousin, who is a vice premier of Chechnya’s government and represents it in the State Duma. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov declared that Delimkhanov was his “brother, friend, right arm and all attacks against him are attacks against Ramzan Kadyrov, and they serve the purpose of defiling the Russian Federation and the leadership of Chechen Republic” (www.grozny-inform.ru/main.mhtml?Part=8&PubID=11723). At the same time, it was not quite clear why in the same statement he expressed regret over the arrest of his personal stableman since his horses would now be left without proper care!

Under a barrage of accusations from the Emirates and silence from the Kremlin, Kadyrov retroactively accused Sulim Yamadaev of the murder of his father Akhmed-khadji Kadyrov, who was blown up during the World War Two Victory Day celebration in Grozny on May 9, 2004 (http://www.utro.ru/articles/2004/05/09/305878.shtml). Kadyrov made this accusation despite the fact that he had repeatedly stated that he eliminated everyone who stood behind that murder (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/152688), while he identified Akhmed Zakaev (the London-based exiled Chechen separatist official) as the man who ordered it. This appears to be an attempt to shift blame for all widely publicized crimes onto Sulim Yamadaev and, in doing so, to whitewash the reputation of Demilkhanov.

Meanwhile the Dubai police announced that it will demand the extradition and arrest of Demilkhanov through Interpol. Moreover, the UAE authorities announced that Russia bears responsibility for the aforementioned crime (http://www.gulfnews.com/articles/09/04/05/10301425.html).

The UAE government responded harshly to the Russian authorities’ reproach as voiced by Kadyrov and Demilkhanov. Dubai stated unequivocally that there was little doubt that the aforementioned crime was carried out in accordance with the order of Demilkhanov. Moreover, according to the Dubai chief of police, the detained culprits provided even more information than was anticipated. This was related to the fact that murder in the UAE is punishable by death and cooperation with police may save their lives during sentencing by the judge (www.gulfnews.com/nation/Police_and_The_Courts/10302926.html). In order to prevent possible accusations of bias, UAE authorities even suggested inviting international experts to investigate the murder, which allows one to infer that the investigation was carried out thoroughly and the UAE authorities’ accusations are substantiated by statements given by the detained suspects.

Following the news from the UAE, people suspected in the murder of Yamadaev were arrested in Moscow. By irony of fate (or perhaps naturally), those who were detained in Moscow turned out to be closely connected to Demilkhanov. If this is not a coincidence, then one can assume that the corresponding decision to disclose the details of the murder of Yamadaev’s brother was made at the highest level in the Kremlin, which will certainly unnerve the coterie of Kadyrov. In essence, this is the first clear action against Putin’s favorite. Against this backdrop, it is not difficult to understand Kadyrov’s interview with the Rossiiskaya Gazeta, in which he once again declared his personal loyalty to Putin, stating that he considers Putin a saint (http://www.rg.ru/2009/04/07/kadirov.html). Yet, only time will tell whether or not this will help Kadyrov under the new conditions, as the question of whether or not Sulim Yamadaev was murdered is no longer as salient as it may seem to those who follow the situation in the region.