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Prosecutor: Aide Killed Maskhadov

Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was shot by an aide at his request to avoid being captured alive, Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel said Friday, in a remarkable departure from the previous official version of Maskhadov's death.

"Maskhadov died from multiple bullet wounds that were inflicted at his request by individuals who were with him in the bunker," Shepel told reporters at his offices in Vladikavkaz, Interfax reported.

"He had a suicide belt on him at the time, but he did not want to detonate it because he wanted his accomplices to live. So he asked them to shoot him," he said, Itar-Tass reported.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, has said Maskhadov was killed in a bunker during a raid by FSB commandos in the Chechen village of Tolstoy-Yurt on March 8. It said three aides who were with Maskhadov, as well as with the owner of the house above the bunker, were arrested during the raid.

The detained rebels told investigators that one of them killed Maskhadov after FSB commandos blew up the top of the bunker and were preparing to move in, Shepel said, Interfax reported.

In addition, investigators have confirmed that Maskhadov was killed with a gun and that the gun belonged to one of the detained rebels, Shepel said. Also, bullet holes in the bunker are consistent with the rebels' testimony, he said.

Authorities destroyed the house over the bunker a short time after Maskhadov's death, saying they feared it contained booby traps.

Offering one of the first accounts of Maskhadov's death, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said on March 8 that one of the rebel leader's bodyguards had accidentally shot him. The headquarters of the federal forces in Chechnya insisted that Maskhadov had died when FSB commandos tossed grenades into the bunker, and Kadyrov withdrew his account, calling it a joke.

Kadyrov, however, said Friday that he had not been joking and that Shepel had effectively confirmed his initial account, Interfax reported.

Shepel said officials who offered the earlier accounts of Maskhadov's death had jumped to conclusions, and that he was relating the findings of a careful investigation.

"It was previously said that the death occurred from bullet injuries. But those injuries also could have been caused by a shock wave from an explosion," he said, RIA-Novosti reported. "The injuries had to be thoroughly examined, and that is why we ... gave experts time to conduct a complete examination."

The FSB could not comment immediately about Shepel's remarks, an FSB spokesman said.

The headquarters for federal forces in Chechnya could not be reached for comment Friday.

Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, noted that Shepel's account was politically convenient in light of Western regret that Moscow did not capture Maskhadov alive. The European Union has demanded an explanation about why Maskhadov was killed, and the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, has expressed regret that authorities lost the opportunity to bring Maskhadov to court.

Gennady Gudkov, a member of the State Duma's Security Committee, complained that the latest statement on Maskhadov's death was only creating more confusion. "The more time goes by, the information that is made public gets more confusing and incomprehensible," he said, Interfax reported.

Shepel also said Friday that forensic tests had confirmed that Maskhadov died March 8, RIA-Novosti reported.

(The Moscow Times 04.iv.05)

 
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