A Chechen rebel leader linked by the U.N. to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network has been killed in a car explosion in Qatar, government sources in Doha told CNN.
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, 48, had been living in exile in the Qatari capital for about three years, and Russia had been urging Qatar’s government to extradite him to Moscow to face war crimes charges.
Qatari government sources said Friday’s explosion happened as Yandarbiyev was driving near his home in Doha’s affluent Dafna neighborhood. His son, who was with him at the time, was injured but in a stable condition in hospital.
Al-Jazeera television showed a wrecked four-wheel-drive vehicle. Security forces and a sniffer dog sealed off the area as a body, completely wrapped in white sheet, was loaded into a waiting ambulance.
The ex-chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service, speaking in Moscow, attributed his death to a “blood feud” among rival Chechen groups in the Persian Gulf emirate.
In June 2003, the United Nations issued a report naming Yandarbiyev as part of a “sub-set of the critical membership of the Al Qaeda,” according to a U.N. newswire.
He is the first Chechen named by the international body as a member of the terrorist network, thus accepting Russia’s claim that the rebels are linked to Al Qaeda.
A hard-line supporter for Chechnya’s complete independence from Russia, Yandarbiyev became vice president of Chechyna’s rebel government in 1993. When President Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed by a Russian Army rocket attack in April 1996, Yandarbiyev stepped in as acting president.
A month later he signed an agreement with Russian President Boris Yeltsin to end the Chechen war, but the treaty failed to resolve the independence issue and the fighting continued. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost over the last decade in the predominantly Muslim breakaway republic.
In 1997, Aslan Maskhadov won the vote for Chechen president and remains in power today.
Yandarbiev remained active as a hard-line supporter for Chechen independence and is considered the chief ideologue for the separatist movement.
Russia accuses him of funding the training for Chechen forces to invade the southern Russian republic of Dagestan in 1999, which sparked the second Chechen war. Later that year, he fled to Qatar.
Despite his exile in the Persian Gulf, Russia says Yandarbiev helped orchestrate the October 2002 theater siege in which Chechen rebels raided a Moscow theater, taking hundreds hostage.
A total of 129 people died in the 57-hour siege, after Russian security forces used a narcotic knock-out gas to subdue the Chechen hostage takers.
Russian authorities have also charged him with the assassination of several Russian interior ministry officials.
Nikolai Kovalyov, currently head of the Russia’s veterans committee in the lower house of Parliament, told Interfax, that “bearing in mind the [Chechen] national traditions, I’m inclined to suppose that, more likely than not, [his death] is the result of blood revenge, which is never forgotten and passes from generation to generation.”
The former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, Kovalyov added that Yandarbiyev “spilled a lot of blood” of various Chechen tribes.
He says he would recommend to investigators that they look closely at which Chechen tribes are most populous in Qatar.