- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

DOHA, Qatar — Former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, wanted in Russia for terrorist ties and linked to al Qaeda, was assassinated yesterday in an explosion that ripped apart his car in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, the government here said.

Mr. Yandarbiyev’s teenage son was critically wounded in the blast, which occurred as he and his father were driving away from Friday prayers at a mosque, according to an Interior Ministry statement and a local hospital spokesman.

“We are collecting evidence in order to reach the perpetrators,” Qatar’s chief of security, Mubarak al-Nasr, said on the pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, which is based in the country.

Mr. Yandarbiyev, who was acting president of Chechnya in 1996-97, had been linked to the al Qaeda terror group. Russia had been seeking his extradition from Qatar — where he lived for at least three years — accusing him of ties to kidnappers and international terrorists.

Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of holding clandestine talks with Mr. Yandarbiyev. He offered no evidence to support the accusation.

However, Mr. al-Nasr said Mr. Yandarbiyev was living “a normal life” in Qatar and was not involved in any political activities.

Al Jazeera and fellow Arabic satellite channel Al Arabiya reported that two persons were killed in the explosion, but the Interior Ministry would not confirm it.

An Interior Ministry official said the explosion at 12:45 p.m. killed Mr. Yandarbiyev and injured his 13-year-old son, the official Qatar News Agency reported.

A doctor at Hamad General Hospital told the Associated Press that Mr. Yandarbiyev died on his way to the hospital. The doctor said his son was in critical condition. No other casualties were brought to the hospital, the doctor said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. Such explosions are almost unheard of in Qatar, a quiet state with tight security.

Last year, the United Nations put Mr. Yandarbiyev on a list of people with links to the al Qaeda terrorist group, which is blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States. The U.S. government also put Mr. Yandarbiyev on a list of international terrorists who are subject to financial sanctions.

Mr. Yandarbiyev was considered a key link in the Chechen rebels’ finance network, channeling funds from abroad. He had denied that the Chechen rebels had ties to al Qaeda.

Boris Labusov, a spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, a successor to the KGB, said his agency had nothing to do with Mr. Yandarbiyev’s death, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Al Jazeera showed a mangled and charred SUV, with only its white fender still recognizable. A body, completely wrapped in a white sheet, was loaded into a waiting ambulance.

Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after a disastrous 20-month war with rebels, leaving the republic largely lawless and running its own affairs.

Moscow’s troops swept in again in 1999 after Chechnya-based militants launched raids into a neighboring region and after some 300 people were killed in apartment building explosions that Russian officials blamed on Chechen separatists.

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