- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

MOSCOW — Police yesterday killed the head of the self-styled Chechen rebel government in a major setback for armed separatists in the Caucasus.

Pro-Moscow officials in Chechnya praised the killing as further evidence that Russia is consolidating its control over the war-torn southern republic.

Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, who took over as Chechen rebel leader only 15 months ago, was killed in a gunbattle with pro-Russian forces in his hometown of Argun, about nine miles east of the provincial capital, Grozny, officials said.

“The terrorists have practically been beheaded. They have sustained a severe blow, and they are never going to recover from it,” the Interfax news agency quoted Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov as saying.

Mr. Kadyrov said Sadulayev and his associates had been in the process of planning a major attack in Chechnya timed to coincide with next month’s meeting of Group of Eight leaders in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Kadyrov said that pro-Russian forces had been tipped off on Sadulayev’s whereabouts by one of his associates in exchange for $55.

“He urgently needed to buy a dose of heroin, so he sold his leader for heroin,” the Associated Press quoted Mr. Kadyrov as saying.

Chechen forces loyal to Mr. Kadyrov and officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service surrounded the house early yesterday and a gunbattle erupted, resulting in the deaths of Sadulayev, another rebel and two law-enforcement officers. NTV television reported that two other suspected rebels believed to have been in the house managed to escape.

Rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, who lives in London, told Echo Moscow radio that warlord Doku Umarov would now become secessionist president.

Sadulayev, believed to be in his mid-30s, was largely unknown when he took over as head of the rebels after the killing of longtime separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov by Russian forces in March 2005.

Russian prosecutors consider Sadulayev the top organizer of the 2001 kidnapping of Kenneth Gluck, of New York, who worked for Doctors Without Borders in southern Russia. Mr. Gluck was freed after 25 days.

Experts said the former Muslim cleric held little influence in comparison to the two leading separatist warlords — Shamil Basayev and Umarov. Basayev, Russia’s most-wanted man, has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on Russian soil, including the seizure of some 800 hostages in a Moscow theater in October 2002 and the September 2004 school hostage-taking in Beslan that killed 331.

Still, Chechnya specialist Alexei Malashenko said Sadulayev’s killing was an important victory for pro-Russian forces.

“He was not the most well-known or powerful of the [rebel] leaders, but his killing is a sign of the growing strength of the anti-separatist forces,” said Mr. Malashenko, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center. “Of course, this is not the end of terrorist activity. Basayev is still present, Umarov is still present and we can expect revenge attacks in the coming days and weeks.”

Some analysts said Sadulayev’s death could set the stage for a turf battle between warlords Umarov and Basayev.

The Chechen prime minister — whose feared paramilitary forces are suspected of abducting civilians and other violence — vowed yesterday to track down both warlords.

Mr. Kadyrov is the son of Chechnya’s first pro-Moscow president, Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in a rebel bombing in 2004. He has moved up steadily within the region’s Kremlin-backed government and is expected to become Chechen president when he reaches the mandated age of 30 in October.

More than a decade after the Kremlin launched its first drive to crush separatist forces in Chechnya, a low-intensity war with guerrilla fighters continues to claim lives almost daily in the republic. Backed by the Kremlin and the Russian military, pro-Moscow Chechen forces, led by Mr. Kadyrov, have managed to impose a measure of control over the region. Human rights groups accuse pro-Kremlin forces of a wide range of abuses in the region, including kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings.

Initially driven by nationalism, the separatist movement has grown more extreme in recent years and increasingly embraced radical Islam. The rebels have been blamed for a series of terrorist attacks in recent years that have claimed the lives of hundreds of Russians.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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