Chechen Rebel Leader Dies in Explosion The man who claimed responsibility for the bloody Beslan school siege is dead, according to the Russian government. Officials say Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev was killed as he was planning an attack to coincide with this week's G8 summit in St. Petersburg.
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Chechen Rebel Leader Dies in Explosion

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Chechen Rebel Leader Dies in Explosion

Chechen Rebel Leader Dies in Explosion

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The man responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in Russia in recent years is dead. Shamil Basayev had taken responsibility for the seizure of a school in the town of Beslan in 2004 as well as attacks on a theater in Moscow and a hospital in the south of the country. He was killed in an explosion today. The Russian government says its special forces were responsible. Other reports indicate it was an accident.

NORRIS: NPR's Gregory Feifer joins us now from the Chechen capital, Grozny. Gregory, what more can you tell us about Basayev was killed?


Well, the Interior Ministry is saying that Basayev was killed accompanying a truck filled with 220 pounds of dynamite in the village of Ekazhevo, which is west of Chechnya in Ingushetia. They say that Basayev was one of four militants killed. They say that he was killed inadvertently. They weren't after him at the time, but that it was during a special police operation to stop an attack that was meant to coincide with the G8 summit.

NORRIS: And could you - give us a bit of background. Remind us once again who Shamil Basayev was and why his capture and his killing is so important.

FEIFER: Basayev is the biggest symbol of the Chechen separatist movement. He's 41 years old. He has taken responsibility for some of the biggest terrorist operations. In 1995 there was the siege of a hospital in southern Russia in Budyonnovsk. In 2004 the hostage attack on a school in the southern city of Beslan. Also, about two years before that, a hostage attack in Moscow where Chechen rebels took an audience watching a musical hostage. So he really is the biggest symbol of the Chechen rebel movement and certainly the biggest terrorist leader.

NORRIS: Even though this was, it sounds like it was an accidental killing, they weren't actually targeting Basayev, this must still be quite a coup for President Putin?

FEIFER: It's a huge coup. Putin can say that he is having great successes in the war against international terrorism, which is how Moscow characterizes the ongoing hostilities in Chechnya. Putin was on television today with the Federal Security Chief, Nikolai Patrushev. Putin said that this is deserved retribution against the bandits for our children in Beslan, in Budyonnovsk, for all those acts of terror they committed in Moscow and other Russian regions, including Ingushetia and Chechnya. He went on to say that the Russian operatives who took part in the alleged operation will be rewarded.

NORRIS: How is this killing likely to affect the continuing conflict in Chechnya?

FEIFER: It's unclear at the moment. Locals in Chechnya are saying that someone else will step up and take his place, that the rebel movement will continue. But as I say, it's unclear. Shamil Basayev was a huge symbol of the war in Chechnya. It's a huge victory for Putin and likely to be a very big setback for the rebel movement, but there are other rebel leaders and certainly others who'd be able to plan such operations.

NORRIS: Gregory, when you say he's a symbol, a symbol for those who were trying to target the terrorists and for the rebels as well?

FEIFER: Yes, I think so. Both. Shamil Basayev was one of the most radical rebel leaders who actually split from the Chechen government before Moscow launched its second war in Chechnya in 1999. He led an incursion into neighboring Dagestan which sparked the second war in Chechnya. But for - I think it's a bigger symbol, I think, for Moscow, because for Moscow Basayev was the most wanted man, wanted dead or alive. In Chechnya, it's less clear how it's going to affect the long-term situation here on the ground.

NORRIS: Gregory, thanks so much.

FEIFER: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Gregory Feifer, speaking to us from the Chechen capital, Grozny.

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