Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Chechen Leader Maskhadov Is Killed, Russian Army Says

(Reuters) - Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov has been killed by Russian troops fighting to quell a long rebellion in the mainly Muslim Caucasus region, the Russian army announced Tuesday.

The death of Maskhadov, 53, would boost Russian President Vladimir Putin, who built his power largely on a tough line against the Chechen rebels. The armed campaign which Maskhadov led had brought bombings to the very heart of Russia.

Russian television showed what it said was Maskhadov lying, bare-chested on his back in a pool of blood, with his arms spread out on either side. There was what appeared to be a bullet mark in his left cheek.

"A special operation was carried out by us in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt as a result of which the international terrorist and leader of the rebel group Aslan Maskhadov was killed," FSB Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev told President Vladimir Putin.

Tolstoy-Yurt is 20 km (12 miles) north of Grozny.

Four close comrades of Maskhadov had been detained, Patrushev was shown on television telling Putin. He added that there had been no casualties among Russian security forces.

Putin asked Patrushev to double-check the report of Maskhadov's death.

Maskhadov's envoy in London, Akhmed Zakayev, said he had no hard information but he thought the reports were true.

Moscow blames Maskhadov, who has a $10 million reward on his head, for a string of deadly operations in Russia, including an attack on a Moscow theater, a bombing near the Kremlin and an action against a school in the south Russian town of Beslan.

At least 326 hostages -- half of them children -- died at the school in Beslan last year.
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