By KAZBEK VAKHAYEV, Associated Press Writer Tue Jul 11, 3:16 PM ET
GROZNY, Russia - The death of Russia's most-wanted man, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, ends a long hunt for
the fugitive, but questions were raised Tuesday over what caused the dynamite-filled truck next to his car to explode.
Rebels close to Basayev
said the explosion that caused his death Monday was an accident, but reports also circulated of a targeted missile strike
and of a secret services operation that had an agent detonating the truck's explosives.
Russia's defense minister hailed the death of "our bin Laden" as a "landmark event." Still, Sergei Ivanov warned that the
12-year struggle with Chechen separatist rebels — which has spread across the impoverished and mainly Muslim North Caucasus
in Russia's south — was not over.
"The killing of that terrorist
doesn't mean that the fight against militants is over," Ivanov said during a trip to the conflict-scarred Chechen regional
capital, Grozny. "There is still work to do, and it's being
Russian newspapers reported
Tuesday that Basayev's death resulted from a carefully planned secret services operation that used a shipment of weapons and
explosives to ensnare the warlord just outside the main Ingush city of Nazran.
Unidentified security officials
quoted by the Vremya Novostei daily said the preparations took six months. Intelligence agents planted in Basayev's entourage
led him to a trap in which Russian special services detonated the explosives at the moment when he got near the truck, the
The Komosmolskaya Pravda
daily reported the undercover agent who was traveling in Basayev's convoy received a payment of up to $500,000.
But there was also a report
of a missile strike.
The ITAR-Tass news agency,
citing an unidentified law enforcement official in southern Russia,
reported Tuesday that Basayev was killed by a rocket that homed in on his phone — the method used to kill Chechen separatist
President Dzhokhar Dudayev in 1996.
Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed
Zakayev denied that Basayev's killing occurred during a special operation and insisted Monday's explosion was an accident.
He said local policemen began to suspect Basayev might be among the dead when they found fragments of an artificial leg.
Basayev lost a leg while
fleeing Russian forces through a minefield on the outskirts of Grozny
"According to information
I received from Chechnya, it is absolutely certain that the explosion
happened accidentally. There was no special operation as they claim," Zakayev told The Associated Press by telephone from
Nazir Yevloyev, a spokesman
for regional police in Ingushetia, told the AP that remains of 10 charred bodies, 10,000 Kalashnikov rounds and several rocket-propelled
grenades were collected from the explosion site.
He said that both Interior
Ministry and Federal Security Service forces took part in the operation.
Local police officials in
Ingushetia who inspected the explosion site told the AP that all the signs suggested it was an accidental explosion of dynamite
in the truck, not a missile strike. And officials' initial accounts of the blast, before Basayev's death was confirmed, described
it as an accidental detonation.
The differing accounts undermine
claims that Russia's intelligence capabilities,
rather than a stroke of luck, rid the country of the feared warlord.
The inability to hunt down
Basayev was a long-standing embarrassment for Russia,
as he took responsibility for one terror attack after another, including the Beslan school hostage-taking in September 2004
that killed more than 330 people.
Russian forces repeatedly
claimed to have reliable tips on Basayev's location but failed to catch him despite an offer of a $10 million reward and plastic
surgery to anyone providing information leading to his death.
One factor that protected
him was his popularity among many residents of the restive North Caucasus, as he joined a
succession of Chechen heroes who had challenged Russian domination. According to Russian law, his body would be buried in
secret; family funerals are prohibited for those deemed to be terrorists, in part to avoid creating potential sites of pilgrimage.
On Tuesday, relatives of
those killed in Beslan complained that the remains of Basayev and the other rebels were being kept in a morgue in the southern
city of Vladikavkaz, just 10 miles from the school. Officials
have not said where the remains are.
In Grozny, residents were relieved at Basayev's death, but wondered why he had managed to managed
to stay alive for so long. There were long-standing rumors the rebel warlord had shadowy ties to Russian intelligence.
"It's strange that they
hadn't eliminated Basayev before, as most of his close circle was eliminated long ago. Nevertheless, I am glad that he won't
present any danger to anybody anymore," said Satsita, a hair stylist who declined to give her last name out of concern for
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