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Saidullayev to succeed Maskhadov

March 11, 2005

MOSCOW, March 10: Chechen guerillas said on Thursday that a little-known religious leader would succeed long-time chief Aslan Maskhadov, as fighters in the Russian province regrouped following his slaying and vowed to fight on.

Abdul Khalim Saidullayev, an obscure figure picked out by Maskhadov as his successor two years ago, will take his place as their commander in chief and political leader, two close Maskhadov associates told AFP.

“He was one of the closest people to Aslan Maskhadov on the territory of Chechnya,” Akhmed Zakayev, a spokesman for the late president, told AFP from Britain, where he has received political asylum.

Maskhadov, who was seen as a moderate ready to negotiate with Moscow, was reported killed by Russian forces earlier this week.

Umar Khambiyev, another close Maskhadov associate who is living in France, said: “The president told me two years ago that if anything happened to him, this person would take over.”

Saidullayev is not widely known in Chechnya — both Zakayev and Khambiyev admitted they hardly knew him — where separatists have fought Russian forces in two wars over the past decade.

He is thought to be in his mid-30s and have served on Chechnya’s sharia court in Maskhadov’s government during the Caucasus republic’s three years of de facto independence in between the two wars with Moscow.—AFP