MOSCOW, Dec 15: The only leading Chechen guerrilla to be captured by Russian forces has died in prison, where he was serving a life sentence, officials said on Sunday.
Salman Raduyev, 35, was a maverick best known for a bloody hostage-taking raid in the first Chechen war, in 1994-96, as leader of the “Lone Wolf” band. He was convicted a year ago of terrorism, murder and hostage-taking.
Russian officials said he had died on Saturday of multiple haemorrhages in a prison near the Urals city of Perm.
“There can be no questions on the cause of his death,” Yuri Kalinin, deputy justice minister, said in comments on television. “I have already been asked today whether he was beaten, killed. But this is not even an issue.”
Raduyev was known for his belligerent Islamist rhetoric, bravado and a bushy red beard, and his capture in March 2000 was portrayed as a major victory for Moscow in the early stages of its second campaign to defeat Chechen separatists.
Though Raduyev played no role in the second Chechen war and was on bad terms with many other guerrilla commanders, he was one of Russia’s most-wanted men after he led a raid on Kizlyar, a town just outside Chechnya, in January 1996.
A son-in-law of the late separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, Raduyev and his group took more than 2,000 people hostage at a hospital in Kizlyar. Some 70 people died in a subsequent battle at Pervomayskaya with Russian forces.
Raduyev survived several assassination attempts.
A shariat court handed him a prison sentence during the region’s three years of de facto independence for inciting rebellion against elected Chechen president, Aslan Maskhadov, but the Chechen authorities never arrested him.
Raduyev’s face, scarred by the numerous attempts on his life, was covered by a beard and sunglasses. Once, when he was widely believed to have been killed, he reappeared with his features so altered that reporters identified him by his voice.
He was nicknamed “Titanic” after talk that his face had been reconstructed in a foreign hospital with titanium implants.
Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev, another former top rebel commander captured by Moscow, died in August just months into a 15-year jail term for his role in the Kizlyar raid. Officials said he died of leukaemia but Chechens accused Russia of killing him.
President Vladimir Putin says Russia has full control over Chechnya, devastated by almost a decade of war, but has yet to capture any of the better known rebel leaders.—Reuters