Chechnya: Just who is in charge?

Abu Havs, or Abu Hafs, according to the Sunday Times is, with Shamil Basayev, in effective joint control of the Chechen rebel movement.  Newly appointed leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev is merely a figurehead.

Abu Hafs was thought to have been heavily involved in the planning of both the Beslan school hostage taking, and last year’s major raid into Ingushetia in which 90 Russian police and security personnel were killed.

Best known as Amzhet, his nom de guerre, Abu Havs was born in Jordan but is believed to have Saudi citizenship.

The Russians claim that he quickly became one of the main conduits for weapons procurement.

A Jamestown Foundation article on Abu Hafs, argues that he may owe much of his increased power and influence to a decrease in foreign funding from Saudi Arabia, and an increase in funding from Turkish groups and the Chechen Diaspora to which he has greater links.

Abu Hafs was likely commander of the approximately 80 foreign fighters (mostly Arabs and Turks) who accompanied Chechen warlord Ruslan "Hamzat" Gelaev in his return to Russia in August 2002. In the last two years there has been a gradual change in the composition of the foreign mujahideen. Turks and diaspora "Chechen-Arabs" now appear to be at least as well represented in the small corps of foreign volunteers as the more ideologically driven Gulf State Arabs. (This was recently confirmed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. See: Alexei Berezin: "Most of Foreign Mercenaries killed in Chechnya are Turks," RIA Novosti, January 3, 2005.) The topic of Turkish fighters in Chechnya was raised during President Vladimir Putin’s October 2004 state visit to Turkey. The promotion of a Jordanian to commander of the foreign mujahideen may reflect a shift in external financing from the hard-pressed Saudi charities to diaspora-based organizations. There are indications that external financing for the Chechen fighters is at a low ebb, though the problem has been eased by the seizure of Russian funds destined for the Chechen government and extortion of Chechen collaborators. (See Mark MacKinnon’s interview with Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, Chechenpress, October 31, 2004.)

Dan Darling has also written a little about him today at Winds of Change, where he notes that Abu Hafs is a high profile al-Qaeda member – high profile enough to appear in US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 powerpoint presentation to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, if you are still wondering who Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, the alleged puppet leader is, check out this Kavkazcenter article, which comes complete with a picture of the man himself in a natty little beret:

Sheikh Abdul-Halim: Abdul-Halim Abu-Salamovich Sadulayev, a Chechen, b.1967. Born and raised in the city of Argun (12 km away from Chechen capital Jokhar). Belongs to Chechen clan of Ustradoi (Ustargardoi is considered as an independent branch of the Belgatoi Clan). Ancestors of Ustradoi Clan are considered to be founders of the city of Argun (Ustradoila, Ustargardoi-Evla)

President Abdul-Halim is a veteran of the first Russian-Chechen war. During the period between the first war and the second war he was delivering Islamic sermons on Chechen TV. He was also heading Islamic Jamaat (Military Council) of the city of Argun. Sheikh Abdul-Halim was also delivering Islamic lectures in various regions of Chechnya. For some time he used to be an imam of the Argun Mosque.

Finally, going back to the Sunday Times article with which I began this post:

The Russians claim to have killed the former president with a hand grenade after he refused to hand himself over. His body showed no shrapnel wounds, however. Forensic experts said a small hole under his right eye looked instead like an exit wound from a single shot to the back of the head.

This sounds to me very much like an execution style killing.  It is certainly possible that Maskhadov was unlucky enough to take a bullet to the back of the head in a shootout, or while fleeing, but I’d say that’s relatively unlikely.  If that is the case, then the question still remains of who killed him, and why? 

It could have been Russian troops who, after capturing him shot him in the back of the head, preferring not to deal with the reality of an alive Maskhadov in their custody.  From the information filtering out, it seems that Russian forces had him cornered for a couple of days, and President Putin probably knew this.

If he and his entourage had been cornered for a couple of days, and he was refusing to surrender, he could have been shot by the men with him, hoping that they could save their skins.

It could, I suppose, have been the result of a bodyguard discharging his weapon accidentally.  Although, if his bodyguards were anything more than rank amateurs, wouldn’t Maskhadov have been behind his bodyguards, rather than in front of them.

Or, perhaps, he was killed by someone working for Basayev.

Of the four, I’d say the most likely answer is that he was killed by Russian forces.  They have a far better combination of motive and opportunity than anyone else.  I doubt we’ll ever know for sure though.

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