News is just breaking that Chechen rebel President Asland Maskhadov is dead. Colonel Ilya Shabalkin told the press that he was killed as a result of an operation by Russian special forces. Thanks to Pete Leonard for the heads-up.
Echo Moskvii (in-Russian) reports that he was killed in the village of Tolstoy Yurt, where it seems he was hidden in a bunker.
Meanwhile, a top figure in Chechnya’s pro-Russian administration denied any knowledge of Maskhadov’s alleged death, while the Chechen prosecutor’s office said the report about the separatist leader’s supposed death was being checked.
I’ll be updating this post as more information comes in.
Update 16:16 GMT: The BBC reports that Russian tv has shown what is claimed to be Maskhadov’s body. I’m pretty confident now that this story is genuine.
Update 16:25 GMT: The San-Diego Tribune is putting together some pieces of the puzzle. After noting that Tolstoy-Yurt is in Northern Chechnya and had been thought to be under Russian control, the Tribune offers us an explanation as to how Maskhadov’s location was discovered:
Earlier Tuesday, Russian officials reported detaining three rebels who were planning a large terrorist attack on the administration building in Tolstoy-Yurt.
Update 17:10GMT: The BBC page I mentioned above is also updating as the story evolves, and now contains a rather gruesome picture of Maskhadov’s corpse.
Chechnya’s Deputy Prime Minister has said that Maskhadov’s body will be handed over to his relatives – if the come to claim it.
Someone’s been quick off the mark at Wikipedia – Maskhadov’s biography has been updated already. (Hat-tip: Coming Anarchy).
Update 17:20: Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s golden boy in Chechnya, has told Interfax that Maskhadov’s death was the result of a blunder by Russian troops:
Russian forces planned to take separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov alive in a security operation on Tuesday, but he "was killed as a result of negligently handling the weapons of a bodyguard who was standing next to him," First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said.
"We were given the task of arresting Maskhadov. No one was going to eliminate him physically," Kadyrov told Interfax.
Just who negligenty handled weaponry isn’t quite clear from this translated quote – perhaps he is referring to Maskhadov himself, implying that he doesn’t know how to use a gun properly?
Final update 21:10: Not too much new to actually report. Lots of talking heads coming out saying how good/terrible (delete as applicable) Maskhadov’s death is for the chances of peace in Chechnya. And I’m sure there will be plenty of obituaries in tomorrow’s papers. If you can’t wait, however, here’s one from the BBC.
As chief of staff of the Chechen armed forces, Aslan Maskhadov did more than
any other fighter in Chechnya to win the 1994-1996 war against Russia. He also
did more than any other negotiator to bring peace.
When Russian forces flooded back into Chechnya in 1999, Mr Maskhadov and the
warlords stood side by side again, in an uneasy alliance.
But he appeared to have been progressively sidelined
Mr Maskhadov described the perpetrators of Beslan as "madmen" driven out of
their senses by Russian acts of brutality.
To the end, he condemned the killing of civilians.
And, from Reuters Alertnet, absolutely the last piece of news for today:
Chechen rebels said the death of their leader Aslan Maskhadov on Tuesday was a great blow but would not stop their cause.
Maskhadov’s envoy Akhmed Zakayev told Reuters in London the rebels
would name a successor to Maskhadov within days, but he gave no hint as
to who that would be.
If you need to know more, check out my roundup of reaction from the blogosphere. Otherwise, that’s it for tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow.