- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

MOSCOW — Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord who masterminded the Beslan school siege and dozens of other horrific attacks across Russia, was killed today after eluding capture for more than a decade, top Russian officials said.

Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev told President Vladimir Putin in a televised meeting that Basayev, 41, and many other rebels had been killed in an overnight operation in Ingushetia, a region bordering the war-torn republic of Chechnya. Others said the men died when explosives detonated accidentally.

Mr. Patrushev said Basayev had been preparing an attack in southern Russia timed to coincide with this weekend’s meeting of Group of Eight leaders in St. Petersburg.

“They intended to use this terrorist act to put pressure on Russia’s leadership at a time when the G-8 summit was being held,” he said.

Congratulating those who took part in the operation, Mr. Putin described the killing as fair retribution for the attacks claimed by Basayev over the years.

“This is a just punishment of the bandits for our children in Beslan, in Budyonnovsk, for all the terrorist attacks that they carried out in Moscow and other regions of Russia, including Chechnya and Ingushetia,” Mr. Putin said, referring to major attacks of recent years.

Basayev, the most brazen and ruthless of the Chechen warlords, had taken responsibility for organizing the September 2004 hostage-taking in Beslan, where more than 330 people, half of them children, were killed when Russian forces stormed a school where they were being held.

Basayev died in the Ingush village of Ekazhevo, but the role played by Russian forces was not clear. Bashir Aushev, Ingushetia’s deputy prime minister, told the Interfax news agency that a large explosives-packed truck detonated as Basayev and other militants sat in cars alongside. Officials later said at least 12 Chechen rebels had died in the explosion.

“As a result of the blast, only pieces of two of the fighters were left,” Mr. Aushev said. “Basayev was identified by fragments of his body. To the best of my knowledge, they identified him by his head.”

Authorities said the body was too badly damaged to be displayed on Russian television, as was done last month after the slaying of the Chechen rebel “president,” Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, and last year after the killing of longtime rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov.

Officials said the operation had been planned meticulously and involved Russian contacts in countries where Chechen rebels were supplied with weapons.

London-based Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev said he doubted the official version, however.

“I do not believe there was some operation. I think this was a fatal accident,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Experts said Basayev’s death was a serious blow to Chechen rebel fighters, who have been waging a long war of independence against Russian forces.

“Politically speaking, it’s a tremendous success for the Kremlin, and it will be a boost for Putin. And practically speaking, it’s also very important on the ground. Basayev was by far the most effective of the Chechen commanders,” said Anatol Lieven, a Chechnya expert and senior research fellow at the Washington-based New America Foundation.

Basayev had been Russia’s most wanted man, with a $10 million bounty on his head. He had been legendary for his ability to escape capture despite suffering numerous injuries, including the loss of the lower half of his right leg to a land mine five years ago.

A military commander during the 1994-96 Chechen war in which Russian forces suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of guerrilla fighters, Basayev embraced radical Islam in the 1990s and provoked the Russian government into reoccupying Chechnya with his attempts to trigger Islamist uprisings in other parts of the North Caucasus.

He was the key figure in the religious radicalization of the Chechen separatist movement and its main link with extremist Muslim organizations worldwide.

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