MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian troops killed at least 22 rebels in separatist Chechnya on Monday, including a man officials said was linked to the assassination of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow president, media reported.
Akhmad Kadyrov was killed on May 9 in a bomb attack that damaged President Vladimir Putin’s peace plan for the Muslim province. Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev later claimed responsibility for the assault.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the killed leader’s son, said special troops had infiltrated a rebel base in Chechnya’s turbulent Vedensky region and killed 22 militants in a brief gun battle.
Kadyrov said one of the dead was a member of the group under Basayev’s command that carried out the attack on his father.
“Emir Suleiman, or Khairulla, was among the dead, the man who publicly claimed responsibility for the act of terror that took place on May 9 in (regional capital) Grozny,” Kadyrov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Officials did not disclose the man’s full name. Russian media reports about rebel activity in recent months have made no mention of a fighter under the name of Emir Suleiman.
Russia’s NTV channel showed pictures of scorched bodies, some clad in camouflage gear and some still clinging to their AK-47s, piled in front of a brick building, with Russian soldiers silently picking through them.
“We know that Basayev’s closest allies have been killed,” Ruslan Alkhanov, Chechnya’s acting interior minister, said in remarks shown on NTV.
Putin says Chechnya, where Russian troops have fought rebels for about a decade, is returning to normal. But troops and police die daily in attacks by rebels.
Basayev, Russia’s most wanted man, has organized a string of assaults on Russian targets in past years, including attacks on two Russian airplanes in August, in which 90 people died, and the Beslan school siege in which more than 300 people were killed.