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Chechen dissident Yamadayev assassinated in Dubai

Sulim Yamadayev was shot at his apartment Saturday and died later of his injuries. He is the third Yamadayev brother killed; the family has sparred with the ruling Kadyrov clan backed by Moscow.

March 31, 2009|Megan K. Stack

MOSCOW — A Chechen gunned down in the United Arab Emirates was identified Monday as Sulim Yamadayev, a defiant militia leader who had clashed bitterly with the Kremlin-backed president of the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Yamadayev reportedly was attacked Saturday by gunmen in a parking lot near his residence in Dubai. He died at a hospital Monday, according to reports in Russian and Dubai media quoting officials and a family member.

His assassination appears to be the latest stroke in a saga of Chechen blood feuds and vengeance. Two of his brothers were killed before him: Dhzabrail died in an explosion in 2003 during the insurgency that followed the second of two abortive wars for Chechen independence from Russia, and Ruslan was gunned down in Moscow in September.

"I suspect who did this, but I do not want to say," surviving brother Isa Yamadayev told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper over the weekend from the hospital in Dubai while his brother was still clinging to life after being shot three times, twice in the heart. "Everybody knows for whom Sulim was like a bone in the throat."

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has adamantly denied any involvement in the brothers' killings. On Monday, the president's spokesman called for justice in Sulim Yamadayev's death.

"We hope that the relevant authorities in that country will take exhaustive steps to reconstruct the crime and bring the culprits to responsibility," Press Secretary Alvi Karimov told the Interfax news agency.

There was some confusion about Yamadayev's condition. Although Russian officials and members of the Yamadayev family had acknowledged the death, Russia's Channel One on Monday night quoted a hospital administrator as saying the Chechen militia commander was still in critical condition.

Chechnya is a ruthless corner of Russia where men grow up fast and die young, and Yamadayev's twisting biography was no exception. Like the ruling Kadyrov clan, his family started out fighting in the separatist uprising against Russian rule, but later switched sides and fought on the side of Russian soldiers against Chechen rebels.

Yamadayev rose to become leader of the Vostok battalion, and was honored as a Hero of the Russian Federation. But his family clashed with the Kadyrov clan for power, and Yamadayev was put on Russia's wanted list on suspicion of kidnapping, killing civilians and other war crimes.

His status as a fugitive didn't stop Yamadayev from living openly in Moscow, his family members have said. Nor did it keep him out of the fray when war erupted last summer between Russia and Georgia. Despite the warrant for his arrest, Yamadayev led a Chechen battalion to fight alongside Russia in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On his MySpace page, Yamadayev had posted pictures of himself toting guns and wearing camouflage. He also bragged he belonged to the most powerful family in Chechnya, and that he "already killed more than hundred men during the two wars in Chechnya."

"My dream was to kill [Chechen Islamist commander Shamil] Basayev but he died before I got him, but I have one antoher [sic] dream, to kill . . . Ramzan Kadyrov."

Yamadayev is one in a string of prominent Chechens who were killed before they could answer charges of kidnapping, torture or murder, noted Natalia Estemirova, a human rights worker with the Memorial organization.

"I think this is a meticulously planned policy to prevent the investigation of serious crimes committed in recent years in Chechnya," Estemirova said by telephone from Grozny, the Chechen capital, where she is based. "Those who they could have named as accomplices get off scot-free. . . . Criminals are taking their secrets to the grave."

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megan.stack@latimes.com

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