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Chechen Rebel Leader Sadulayev Shot Dead

Chechen rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev was killed by special forces over the weekend in an operation that Chechnya's prime minister trumpeted as a fatal blow to the insurgency.

Sadulayev, however, is credited with persuading warlord Shamil Basayev not to carry out any major terrorist attacks since Beslan.

Chechen warlord Doku Umarov is to take over as rebel leader.

Details of Sadulayev's death remained sketchy Sunday.

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said he was shot dead Saturday in his hometown of Argun during a raid prompted by a tip from someone in his inner circle.

Kadyrov, posing and grinning for television cameras next to a battered, half-naked body that resembled Sadulayev, said the informant had tipped off police for drug money.

"One person sold us Sadulayev -- their dearest friend whom they consider their own -- for 1,500 rubles," or about $50, Kadyrov said. "He needed to buy a gram of heroin. He sold out his leader for heroin."

Kadyrov said that his paramilitary police had wanted to capture Sadulayev but were forced to kill him when he resisted arrest.

State television showed the basement of the house where it said the rebel leader had been hiding, its wall riddled with bullets.

The body was later moved to Kadyrov's hometown of Tsentoroi and shown with items seized at the house -- grenades, a handheld radio and a belt carrying ammunition.

Kadyrov said Sadulayev was in Argun organizing a terrorist attack to coincide with the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg next month. He did not elaborate.

He added: "The terrorists had been virtually beheaded. They have sustained a severe blow, and they are never going to recover from it."

The rebel web site Kavkaz Center said Sadulayev had been martyred "in an unequal battle between Russian invaders" and "traitors" in Argun.

One police officer and one Federal Security Service officer died in the operation, Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev said.

Police combed Argun for two of Sadulayev's bodyguards and other possible accomplices on Sunday, Interfax reported.

Sadulayev was the fourth Chechen rebel leader to be killed in 11 years. His predecessor, Aslan Maskhadov, died in a bunker during a raid of a Chechen village in March 2005.

Rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, who lives in London, where he has asylum, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that Umarov would replace Saluyev as leader.

Chechen officials have accused Umarov of leading a June 2004 raid in Ingushetia that killed more than 90 people and of organizing a car bombing in Chechnya last month that killed 14.

In a June 2005 interview with Andrei Babitsky of Radio Liberty, Umarov denied involvement in terrorist attacks and criticized Basayev for ordering the Beslan raid.

Umarov made news last week when a video was posted on Kavkaz Center showing him and Basayev discussing the assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen leaders. Basayev -- who has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2004 Beslan school raid that killed 331, more than half of them children -- told Umarov that he was willing to pay $50,000 to assassinate Kadyrov and that he had paid $50,000 to assassinate Kadyrov's father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, in 2004.

Sadulayev was a little-known Muslim cleric when he took over last year. He publicly denounced the targeting of civilians and said he and Basayev disagreed on whether hostage-takings were acceptable. He promoted a strategy of extending rebel activity across the North Caucasus, saying almost the entire region had become a front in the war.

Sadulayev also urged Basayev and other warlords to direct attacks on "legitimate targets," including law enforcement officials, federal troops and local civil servants and their offices.

He appears to have convinced Basayev that giving up on civilian targets would help spread the insurgency across the North Caucasus, said Adam Dolnik, research fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore.

But with Sadulayev's death, it is unclear whether Umarov will follow the same course.

"Much will depend on Umarov's personal qualities," said Andrei Soldatov, editor of the Agentura.ru web site, which studies terrorism and government responses to it. "Unfortunately, I fear he is a much different person" than Sadulayev.

The decision to call off attacks on civilians might have had less to do with Sadulayev's political will and more to do with the fact that such attacks, after Beslan, lost any political justification they might have had, said Nikolai Silayev of the Center for Caucasus Studies at the Moscow State University of International Relations.

"The level of cruelty went beyond all imaginable limits, and terrorism against a civilian population was completely exhausted as a political tool," Silayev said.

While Sadulayev's death deals a blow to the rebels, it is unlikely to change anything, he added. "With a lack of objective information about their camp, it's not even clear how coordinated their forces are," he said.

Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, concurred, saying Sadulayev "liked talking more than taking action."

Malashenko predicted that Kadyrov would use the death to try to strengthen his position in the republic. "He has posed next to the body and is trying to depict the death as a success by his own people," Malashenko said. "But I think this was a combined effort. And I think Patrushev will be unpleasantly surprised to hear he had nothing to do with it."

(The Moscow Times 19.vi.06)

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