Chechen Islamist chief quits for younger successor

2nd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Islamist rebel who led the bloody anti-Kremlin insurgency in Chechnya unexpectedly announced on Monday that he was stepping down in favour of a "more energetic" successor.

Doku Umarov, the bearded guerrilla leader who claimed the attacks on the Moscow metro that killed 40 people this year, said in a message broadcast on YouTube and other sites he had grown tired and would leave his "post".

"We have unanimously decided that I shall leave my post today," Umarov said in the video which showed him seated on the ground in an unidentified forested area in khaki trousers and a dark blue sweater.

"I have grown tired"

The new head of Islamist group "Caucasus Emirate" will be Aslambek Vadalov, who Umarov said was "younger and more energetic."

But Umarov, 46, stressed that "this does not mean that I will withdraw from the jihad" and promised to do "all I can, in words and deeds," to help his successor.

Little is know about Vadalov but according to rebel sites he fought in both the separatist wars between Chechen rebels and the Russian authorities in the 1990s.

The four-minute video showed two other militants seated on either side of Umarov. One was Vadalov, dressed in battle fatigues with a long black beard, who said he had nothing to add to Umarov's message.

The other was a similarly dressed militant who identified himself as Mustafa and who it was not possible to identify further.

Umarov -- also known by his non-de-guerre of Abu Usman -- has for years been at the centre of the rebellion in the Caucasus which has claimed scores of lives annually in the police and the security forces.

He has led a rebellion that has morphed from a separatist insurgency seeking independence from Moscow to a broader Islamist movement looking to establish an "Emirate" across the Caucasus mountains.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took action in late June to help stem the flow of funds and other aid to Umarov, on the eve of a visit to Washington by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Umarov has evaded capture in the thickly forested valleys of the Caucasus mountains for almost two decades, although Russian authorities have several times prematurely announced his death.

In October 2007, Umarov styled himself as head of the "Caucasus Emirate", uniting rag-tag rebel groups in several southern Russian regions in a drive to establish Sharia, or Islamic law, in the North Caucasus.

In his claim for the Moscow strikes posted March 31 on a radical North Caucasus website, Umarov vowed more attacks on the Russian heartland: "The war will come to your streets, and you will feel it with your own lives and skins."

He was known as an ally of notorious rebel chief Shamil Basayev, who claimed to have led dozens of bloody attacks, including the infamous 2004 Beslan school hostage siege that killed over 330 people, most of them children.

Umarov became head of the Chechen guerrilla movement in June 2006 after Basayev was killed by Russian forces a month earlier.

The two rebels were at the forefront of the Chechen separatist struggle in which as many as 100,000 civilians, or about 10 percent of the region's mostly Muslim population, are feared to have been killed.

The footage of Doku Umarov's announcement is available on:

© 2010 AFP

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