- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

GROZNY, Russia — Conflicting accounts were offered yesterday about the cause of an explosion that killed Russia’s most wanted man, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

Rebels said the detonation of a dynamite-filled truck next to Basayev’s car was an accident, but reports also circulated of a targeted missile strike and of a secret-services operation in which an agent set off the explosives.

Russian officials had spoken vaguely of “an operation” that killed the terrorist leader in announcing his death on Monday.

Newspapers said yesterday that the death resulted from a carefully planned secret-services operation that used a shipment of weapons and explosives to ensnare the warlord just outside the main Ingush city of Nazran.

Unidentified security officials quoted by the Vremya Novostei daily said the preparations took six months. Intelligence agents planted in Basayev’s entourage led him to a trap in which Russian special services detonated the explosives when he got near the truck, the officials said.

The Komosmolskaya Pravda daily reported that the undercover agent who was traveling in Basayev’s convoy received a payment of up to $500,000.

But the ITAR-Tass news agency, citing a law-enforcement official in southern Russia, reported that Basayev was killed by a rocket that homed in on his phone — the method used to kill Chechen separatist President Dzhokhar Dudayev in 1996.

Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev rejected all such explanations.

“According to information I received from Chechnya, it is absolutely certain that the explosion happened accidentally. There was no special operation as they claim,” Zakayev said by telephone from London.

Local police officials in Ingushetia who inspected the explosion site said all the signs suggested that it was an accidental explosion of dynamite in the truck, not a missile strike. And officials’ initial accounts of the blast, before Basayev’s death was confirmed, described it as an accidental detonation.

The inability to hunt down Basayev had been a long-standing embarrassment for Russia, as he took responsibility for one terror attack after another, including the Beslan school hostage-taking in September 2004 that killed more than 330 people.

In Grozny, residents were relieved at Basayev’s death, but wondered how he had managed to stay alive for so long. There have long been rumors that the rebel warlord had shadowy ties to Russian intelligence.

“It’s strange that they hadn’t eliminated Basayev before, as most of his close circle was eliminated long ago. Nevertheless, I am glad that he won’t present any danger to anybody anymore,” said Satsita, a hair stylist who declined to give her last name out of concern for her safety.

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