Doku Umarov, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate.
The leader of the al Qaeda-linked terror group responsible for reigniting the violence in Chechnya and the small Russian Republics in the Caucasus region may have been killed during a counterterrorism raid.
The raid started when Russian attack helicopters launched a rocket strike against a safehouse in the village of Shalazhi in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district. Ground forces, including Chechen police, Russian special forces, and Russian Interior Ministry troops from the Federal Security Service followed up the airstrike and assaulted the safehouse lodged in the wooded, mountainous region.
More than 20 terrorists from the Caucasus Emirate are reported to have been killed. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said that Doku Umarov, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, may be among those killed, as three senior aides of Umarov were positively identified.
“The bodies of three of them have been identified,” Kadyrov told Interfax. “They are Islam Uspakhadzhiyev, Umarov’s closest associate, Rustam Akuyev and Alkhazur Bashayev. Uspakhadzhiyev was Umarov’s closest associate – they were moving around together and were holding negotiations by radio. For this reason we can’t rule out that Doku Umarov may be among those killed.”
Identifying those killed in the raid will be difficult as the bodies were mutilated, Kadyrov said.
Doku Umarov and al Qaeda
Doku Umarov is one of the last remaining original leaders of the Chechen rebellion and a close associate of al Qaeda. In November 2007, Umarov declared an Islamic emirate in the greater Caucasus region and named himself the emir, or leader.
This spring, Umarov reignited the insurgency by launching a wave of suicide attacks in the Caucasus. In April, Umarov revived the Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade, which has spearheaded the assault. The group’s most successful operation was the wounding of Republic of Ingushetia’s president in June.
In the past, Umarov denied having connections with al Qaeda and rejected terrorist attacks against civilians. But in 2006, Abu Hafs al Urduni, al Qaeda’s former leader in Chechnya, stated the Chechen jihad was being reorganized under the command of Doku Umarov after the deaths of Shamil Basayev and a large contingent of the Chechen leadership.
Al Qaeda lionized Basayev after his death with a video tribute. Basayev took credit for the Beslan school massacre in Ingushetia, in which 344 civilians were killed, 186 of them children.
Despite the Russians’ brutal tactics and human rights violations, the Chechen jihad was largely defeated when the leadership was decapitated and the rank and file lost its direction.
After Russian security services killed Basayev and most of his senior staff, large numbers of Chechen fighters took advantage of an amnesty program. Over 350 Chechen fighters surrendered after the amnesty was announced during the summer of 2006. In November 2006, 35 of Umarov’s cadres, including some holding “high-ranking positions,” gave up the fight, and another 28 surrendered soon after. Umarov’s brother surrendered to Russian authorities in August 2006.
Russian and Chechen security forces thought they had Umarov in their sights in November 2006. Umarov was wounded after Russian forces conducted an assault on his hideout, but he escaped the assault. Just days later, Abu Hafs, al Qaeda’s Emir of Chechnya, was killed by Russian security services. Russian intelligence believed Abu Hafs was preparing to leave Chechnya “given the lack of prospects for jihad in the North Caucasus.”
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