Russia kills 'Saudi Al-Qaeda leader' in Chechnya
Russia on Friday announced the killing of Al-Qaeda's top militant in the Caucasus in an operation analysts said marked one of the biggest successes by security forces in the region in years.
Security officials identified the Saudi-born militant -- known by the nom-de-guerre of Moganned -- as a "religious authority" and top field commander responsible for the most recent bombings on Russian soil.
"Almost all acts of terror using suicide bombers in the last years were prepared with his involvement," a spokesman for the National Anti-Terror Committee said in a televised statement.
The rebel-linked kavkazcenter.com website confirmed that the militant was killed on Thursday in a clash with security forces in Chechnya that also claimed the lives of at least two other militants.
"The rats have started coming out of the woodwork," the war-torn republic's Kremlin-appointed leader Ramzan Kadyrov told news agencies after the death was confirmed. "Each one of them will be either arrested or destroyed."
Russian officials said Moganned had been operating in the Northern Caucasus since 1999 and by 2005 had emerged as the main "coordinator" for handling money that was coming in from abroad to support the militant underground.
He had also served under the notorious fellow Arab-born militant Khattab until his death in a clash with security forces in 2002.
This "marks a tremendous success in the fight against the terrorist underground," Alexander Cherkasov of the Memorial rights group told Moscow Echo radio. "He has been the head of the Chechen Arab (militants) since 2006."
Moganned's death marks a particularly important victory for the regional authorities of Chechnya because the rebel had made it his mission to oust Kadyrov from power.
"He has caused many difficulties for Ramzan Kadyrov," Cherkasov said.
Russia has frequently pointed to the role played by foreign forces such as Al-Qaeda in its 15-year-old North Caucasus insurgency.
President Dmitry Medvedev has warned that the rise of Islamists in the North Africa and Middle East revolts could impact Russian security and further accused neighbouring Georgia of providing a safe haven for the guerrillas.
The first North Caucasus conflict began at the end of 1994 in Chechnya when local fighters -- almost all them former members of the Soviet armed forces -- stood up against Moscow rule.
That war ended in 1996 with Chechnya enjoying de-facto sovereignty but still suffering through endemic poverty that produced a rife climate for the rise of organised crime.
The second campaign began in October 1999 and included two rebel camps -- one composed of Chechen and the other of Arab militants.
Some of the Arab fighters stayed in the region and expanded their operations once Russia reclaimed control of Chechnya to the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan.
The insurgency has recently had rival leaders who included Moganned in Chechnya and the feared warlord Doku Umarov -- the self-proclaim Emir of the Caucasus Emirate who is often identified as Russia's top enemy.
Russian security officials said a growing rivalry between them was prompting each to stage ever-more brutal attacks aimed at winning respect among the guerrillas and securing control of the overall insurgency.
The past year has seen Moscow rocked by a bombing at the country's busiest airport that killed 37 in January 2011 and a twin suicide attack that claimed 40 lives during morning rush hour on the metro in March 2010.
But both of those strikes were claimed by Umarov.
The National Anti-Terror Committee committee said Moganned was planning in the coming weeks to ship a large group of rebels through the mountain gorges that separate Chechnya from Georgia.
© 2011 AFP