Doku Umarov, a militant who claimed responsibility for attacks in Russia and threatened to target the Winter Olympics in Sochi, was “eliminated” during an anti-terror operation, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said.
“We are 99.9 percent sure,” said Kadyrov, a former Chechen rebel who switched sides and was picked by President Vladimir Putin to run the region in 2007, according to comments posted on his website today. “That’s why all the talk about a threat to the Sochi Olympics is groundless.”
Umarov, who proclaimed himself emir of an Islamic state in the North Caucasus, told supporters in July to attack next month’s Olympics. He’s also said he was behind attacks including bombings in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport and subway. Chechnya, which fought two wars for independence from Russia in the 1990s, is about 440 kilometers (270 miles) to the east of Sochi.
Officials obtained a recorded conversation among insurgent leaders where they exchanged condolences over Umarov’s death and discussed candidates to replace him, Kadyrov said. Russian law-enforcement agencies weren’t able to confirm the claim, the Interfax news service reported.
Putin reiterated a pledge to maintain security at the Sochi Games, with Russia also in the midst of preparations to host the World Soccer Cup in 2018.
“The task of the organizers is to ensure the safety of participants in the Olympics and guests of this sporting holiday, and we’ll do everything to achieve that,” he said in an interview excerpt broadcast today on state television. The full interview is scheduled to be aired Jan. 19.
More than 30 people died in two suicide bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd last month. Regional leaders in nearby Stavropol conducted a counter-terrorism operation this month after six corpses were found in abandoned cars, some of which had bombs nearby to target police.
Some pro-militant websites have published reports confirming Umarov’s death, according to the Moscow-based news and research group Caucasian Knot, which has been tracking events in the region since 2001.
Umarov’s death, if confirmed, is unlikely to ease the terrorist threat to the Sochi Olympics, said Gregory Shvedov, chief editor of Caucasian Knot.
“Umarov was never involved in the tactical leadership of militants in the North Caucasus,” he said by phone. “He always set strategic goals. He managed to make the Olympics a target for fighters, so I think the threat remains.”
Militants fighting against Russia in the Caucasus Mountains near Sochi often leak false information about their leaders’ deaths to confuse their enemies, said Nikolai Kovalyov, a former director of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the Soviet KGB.
“I’m sure Kadyrov is fully in control of the situation and that he’s getting objective information,” Kovalyov said by phone. “In this case, I believe the information.”
Putin has relied on Kadyrov to help snuff out Islamic extremism in Chechnya and neighboring republics since Kadyrov’s father was assassinated in 2004. Kadyrov became the regional leader shortly after turning 30 in 2007.
While the death of a terrorist chief can sometime lead to an increase in attacks, that probably won’t be the case this time, Kovalyov said. “First they’ll have to solve their internal disputes, decide who gets what role and how they’ll split up financial flows.”
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