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Tape Said to Show Body of Chechen Rebel Chief

April 27, 2002|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The Russian state security service made public Friday a videotape of a corpse to back up its assertions that a prominent Islamic guerrilla leader had been killed last month in Chechnya.

The tape, shown by the state-controlled ORT and RTR networks, showed the body of a long-haired, bushy-bearded, Arab-looking man closely resembling previously published photographs of Khattab, the Jordanian-born guerrilla leader. The body was shown lying on the ground outdoors and, later, in a dimly lit interior, accompanied and being prayed over by comrades.

The corpse was dressed in camouflage trousers and a black T-shirt. A black ski cap was on its head and a white ribbon under its chin to close its jaw. There were no obvious wounds on the body.

"It looks like it is truly Khattab," said Anatoly S. Kulikov, a former Russian interior minister who dealt with the Chechen commander in the mid-1990s after the first separatist war in Chechnya. He said on the NTV network that the corpse appeared to have a maimed hand, like that of Khattab, who goes by one name.

"I am convinced of this more than I doubt it," Kulikov said.

Khattab was considered one of the three top Chechen guerrilla leaders and allegedly was the link between the rebels and the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden. His apparent death was being hailed in Moscow as a major victory for Russia in its current war against Chechen separatists, which began in 1999.

Two other well-known Chechen leaders, Shamil Basayev and former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, remain at large, but Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has vowed to bring all Chechen "bandits" to justice.

The tape that was broadcast Friday appeared to have been made by the dead man's comrades. There was no immediate explanation for how it came into the possession of the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the KGB. And it is not clear that the Russian authorities know the location now of the body.

According to RTR, Khattab was killed March 19 or 20 in an operation by special forces that had been a year in the planning. The station said he had not died in battle, but it offered no further explanation.

On Thursday, Putin said he needed more evidence before he would conclude that Khattab was dead. Other observers also raised questions about reports of the guerrilla leader's death. The Russian president made no immediate comment Friday after the broadcast.

Various military commanders, however, voiced elation.

"This is just the beginning," said Gen. Gennady Troshev, commander of the Russian troops in the North Caucasus. "No matter how long it takes us, such odious figures as Khattab, Basayev, Maskhadov . . . and the like will be destroyed unless they decide to surrender themselves."

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