MOSCOW, March 8 -- Chechen rebel leader and former president Aslan Maskhadov was killed Tuesday after Russian security forces pinned him down in a bunker in northern Chechnya, a military spokesman said.
The government did not provide details about the death of Maskhadov, the third senior Chechen leader killed during Russian military operations in less than a decade. Some reports said Maskhadov was killed by the Russian forces, while others said he was killed when one of his bodyguards inadvertently fired a weapon.
A special forces officer holds a Chechen flag as he searches the site where Aslan Maskhadov was killed.
(Russian NTV via AP)
A Chechen Leader|
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1951: Maskhadov born in Kazakhstan. His parents had been among 400,000 other Chechens and Ingush deported to the Central Asian republic by Joseph Stalin.
1960s: Maskhadov joins the Soviet army after returning to his parents homeland in 1957.
1991: As the Soviet Union disintegrates, Dzhokhar Dudayev, a Soviet air force general, seizes main government buildings in Grozny and declares independence. Dudayev is elected president.
1992: Maskhadov becomes chief of staff of the rebel Chechen army.
1994: Russian troops invade Chechnya in December but face strong resistance from rebels under Maskhadovs command. Although Russian forces capture Grozny, the rebels continue fighting.
1996: Chechens fight Russian forces to a standstill; Russian forces withdraw. An accord negotiated with Moscow, in effect, recognizes Chechnyas political autonomy.
1997: Maskhadov is elected president and signs an accord with President Boris Yeltsin to end the conflict. But Chechnya remains chaotic. Maskhadovs control weakens as other rebel leaders evolve into warlords. Maskhadov escapes two assassination attempts.
1999: President Vladimir Putin sends troops back into Chechnya. Maskhadov is believed to control only a small faction of fighters.
2000: After fierce clashes, Maskhadov and the rebel forces flee to the mountains.
2002: Putin installs a government. Russian forces start cleanup operations among civilians, resulting in disappearances and killings of hundreds of Chechen civilians. Tens of thousands of Chechens flee to neighboring Ingushetia.
2004: Attacks on Russian civilians escalate, including the takeover of a school in Beslan, in southern Russia, for which Maskhadovs former subordinate, Shamil Basayev, asserts responsibility.
SOURCES: Staff report and news services
Maskhadov, elected president of the breakaway southern province in 1997, had survived at least two assassination attempts and was long condemned as a terrorist by the Kremlin, which had offered a $10 million reward for his capture. In recent months, Russian news organizations had reported the abduction of eight of Maskhadov's relatives, and officials had investigated police involvement in some of the cases.
A former Soviet army colonel, Maskhadov, 53, led Chechen separatist campaigns against Russian forces from 1994 to 1996 and in 1999. The government blamed him for a series of attacks, including a hostage siege in the Russian town of Beslan in September in which 330 people were killed, most of them children.
But some Russian analysts said Maskhadov, who denounced the taking of the hostages in Beslan, was one of the few relatively moderate voices in the Chechen resistance. They said his death severely damaged prospects of a negotiated settlement and appeared to leave the leadership of Chechen militants with Shamil Basayev, an Islamic radical who asserted responsibility for the Beslan attack.
Maskhadov was killed as Russian forces surrounded him and his comrades in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt, about 12 miles north of Grozny, the Chechen capital. On Tuesday night, Russian television showed what appeared to be his body lying in a pool of blood. His arms were spread and he was stripped to the waist.
President Vladimir Putin, who was briefed on the rebel leader's death by the head of the Federal Security Service, the domestic successor to the KGB, said those involved in the operation should be rewarded by the government.
"There remains a lot more work to be done there," Putin said in remarks broadcast on Russian television. "We have to gather our forces to protect the people of the republic and citizens of all Russia from the bandits."
Russian commentators were more explicit, warning that the country must now brace itself for further terrorist attacks.
"Nothing good will come of this," Pavel Felgengauer, an independent military analyst, said in a telephone interview. "I expect terrorist attacks in Russia and the North Caucasus."
Maskhadov, a highly regarded artillery officer, went to Chechnya in 1992 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 1994, President Boris Yeltsin ordered Russian forces to invade the province. Leading a small guerrilla force, Maskhadov humiliated Russian forces by fighting them to a standstill. That war ended in a cease-fire in 1996.
Chechnya remained chaotic, however, and Putin sent troops back into the republic in 1999 after a series of apartment complex bombings that the government blamed on Chechens. Maskhadov was driven from power and into hiding.
Russian forces killed Maskhadov's predecessor as president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, in 1996 and former vice president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in 2004.
As many as 200,000 people have been killed in Chechen violence, many of them civilians and thousands of them children, according to human rights groups. As many as 25,000 Russian troops have been killed in the conflict over the past decade, more than the Soviet Union lost during its decade-long occupation of Afghanistan, according to Alexei Arbatov, a former member of the Russian parliament who is now an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center.