Bomb kills Chechen president in Grozny

Putin vows retribution

Russian general gravely wounded during parade

May 10, 2004|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW - The man the Kremlin relied on to crack down on the rebellious republic of Chechnya was killed yesterday after a bomb tore through a crowded grandstand in Grozny during ceremonies commemorating the end of World War II.

Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, a 52-year-old Muslim cleric and former rebel leader, died along with at least three others yesterday after the device exploded under the VIP section of Dynamo Stadium in the center of the Chechen capital. A second bomb hidden under the concrete stands failed to detonate, Russian officials said.

More than 40 people were wounded, including Valery Baranov, a three-star general in command of Russian troops in the northern Caucasus Mountains. Early reports said Baranov had been killed, but the state-owned news service Itar-Tass said later that he was in grave condition after surgery.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But Russians assumed that the bomb had been planted by Chechen separatists, who have been fighting a guerrilla war for a decade in an effort to gain independence from Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin swiftly denounced the killing.

"Justice will take the upper hand, and retribution is inevitable," he told reporters, minutes after presiding over Moscow's Victory Day parade in Red Square.

Russian television broadcast video footage shot in the stadium during the explosion and its aftermath. Muddy smoke cleared to reveal a jagged hole in the center of the white-painted stands. Well-dressed people screamed and scrambled to get away, while soldiers fired bursts from automatic weapons seemingly at random.

Agence France-Presse put the death toll at 32, although Tass said that only four people died. Among the confirmed deaths were those of Kadyrov; Adlan Khasanov, 33, a journalist with Reuters; Khuseyn Isayev, chairman of Chechnya's State Council; and an 8-year-old girl.

Kadyrov, who was born in Kazakstan, founded the North Caucasian Islamic Institute and taught Sharia law in a university in Oman before the fall of the Soviet Union. As Chechnya edged toward independence in 1994, he was selected as the breakaway republic's acting mufti, or supreme religious leader.

But Kadyrov complained of the growing influence of Muslim extremists on the rebel movement and broke with President Aslan Maskhadov in 1999. That September, then-Prime Minister Putin launched an assault on Grozny and started the second Chechen war of Russia's post-Soviet period.

Putin appointed Kadyrov to lead the Moscow-backed Chechen administration in 2000. And the Kremlin backed him in the first post-independence presidential contest last October. Kadyrov won with 83 percent of the vote, in an election one independent observer called farcical.

Yesterday's bombing was the latest of several attempts on Kadyrov's life. Two female suicide bombers failed to kill him a year ago during a Muslim religious holiday.

Kadyrov was a key part of Putin's strategy of "Chechenizing" the war by shifting the job of fighting rebels to armed Chechen groups. Last month, Human Rights Watch and other organizations accused Kadyrov's militia forces - as well as federal troops and Chechen rebels - of carrying out acts of torture, forced "disappearances" and summary executions in Chechnya and the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

Rustam Kaliyev, a Chechen journalist and independent analyst, said Kadyrov's assassination is not likely to alter the Kremlin's policy of using Chechens to secure Chechnya. But it does give Putin the chance to back a Chechen leader more acceptable to resistance leaders and competing clans.

"Kadyrov filled a very important role in Chechnya" by leading the opposition to Islamic militants and representing the views of many Chechens who are weary of war, Kaliyev said.

But in ruthlessly pursuing rebels, Kadyrov "was too radical for most of the Chechen population," the analyst said.

In the immediate aftermath of yesterday's explosion, there were conflicting reports on Kadyrov's condition.

Putin finally confirmed the Chechen leader's death about 3 p.m., when he appeared on television with the Chechen leader's son, Ramzan. A somber and subdued Putin praised the elder Kadyrov as a "heroic person" who had "confidently led his republic to a peaceful life."

The blast occurred during celebrations in Red Square, Grozny and across Russia to mark the 59th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Russian television channels periodically interrupted their traditional Victory Day programs - patriotic Soviet-era films featuring noisy battle scenes - to show real-life carnage in Grozny. But Russia's state-controlled television networks did not dwell on the story.

Putin has often described the conflict in Chechnya as winding down. But Sergei Kovalyov, a respected human rights campaigner and an expert on the Chechen conflict, said in an interview yesterday that the bombing vividly demonstrates that the cycle of violence continues.

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