- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

MAKHACHKALA, Russia (AP) - Russian special forces have killed the leader of an al-Qaida-linked group operating in the Caucasus region of southern Russia, the national counterterrorism agency said Monday.

Aliaskhab Kebekov took over the leadership of the Caucasus Emirate last year after the death of its founder, Doku Umarov, who had claimed responsibility for major attacks in Russia. Kebekov pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and last month was added to a U.S. government list of global terrorists.

The Caucasus Emirate is a loose alliance of rebel groups seeking to create an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus, a predominantly Muslim region that includes Chechnya and Dagestan.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee, or NAK, announced Monday that special forces killed Kebekov and two other suspected militants after trapping them inside a private home in Buinaksk, Dagestan, the day before. After a firefight, their bodies were pulled from the rubble of the house, the committee’s statement said.

Dagestan has become the center of the Islamic insurgency that spread across the Caucasus region after two separatist wars in Chechnya.

NAK said Kebekov helped organize the twin suicide bombings in late 2013 in the southern city of Volgograd, which killed 34 people and wounded 100 others. The attacks heightened security concerns ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“He was a key link in the financial structures of the Caucasus Emirate, actually organizing the extortion of money from the population,” the NAK statement said.

Kebekov, 43, joined the insurgency in 2009 after studying Islam in Syria.

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