Chechen rebel chief disowns top-ranking commanders

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The Islamist rebel leading the anti-Kremlin insurgency in the Russia's Chechen region Monday disowned several top-ranking commanders, in the latest sign of dissension among the rebel ranks.

In a video message, the self-declared Emir of the Caucasus, Doku Umarov, said he was removing several top-ranking Islamist insurgents from leadership over flanks of the scattered rebel groups in the North Caucasus.

"I the Emir of the Caucasus, Umarov Abu Usmanov, by the power given me by Allah, relieve of their duties the emir of the eastern front... and the emir of the southwest front," he said in a video posted on YouTube and rebel websites.

"All these people must respect the procedure of Sharia (Islamic law)."

From the grainy video -- in which Umarov is shown in short-sleeve military fatigues sitting in a wooded area flanked by loyal rebel commanders -- it was not possible to discern to whom he was referring.

However, it appeared to be a response to an August 12 video in which four high-ranking members of the insurgency -- including Umarov's designated successor Aslambek Vadalov -- rescinded loyalty to him.

"We do not plan on violating our subordination to our emir because we are under the orders of Allah," said one rebel sitting at Umarov's side and cradling an automatic rifle in the latest video.

"Those who were selected among you, you must have a very good reason to refuse submission to your emir."

Monday's video follows one month of confusion over Umarov's place at the helm of the rebel movement, who claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Moscow metro that killed 40 people this year.

On August 4, the bearded rebel chief withdrew an earlier announcement that he had grown tired and was stepping down in favour of a younger militant successor Vadalov.

The string of rebel videos has fueled rumors of a power struggle within the insurgency, with some analysts claiming the discord was a successful plot by Russia FSB secret services to dislodge Umarov.

Umarov is one of the last remaining original leaders of a separatist Chechen rebellion in the early 1990s that has morphed into a broader Islamist movement seeking to establish Sharia law across the Russian Caucasus.

The bearded rebel leader has evaded capture in the thickly forested valleys of the Caucasus mountains for almost two decades and was known as an ally of notorious rebel chief Shamil Basayev, who claimed to have led dozens of bloody attacks.

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

© 2010 AFP

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