MOSCOW (AFP) -The killing of “the Russian bin Laden”, Shamil Basayev, was greeted joyfully by tabloid newspapers here, but some commentators doubted it would stem the continued instability in the North Caucasus.
“Basayev’s head taken for identification in a rubbish sack,” declared the largest circulation paper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, showing a picture of a bearded Basayev with grenades strapped to his combat fatigues, taken during a 1995 siege at a hospital in the town of Budennovsk that left 129 people dead.
Russian officials announced on Monday Basayev’s death in an explosion. For more than a decade he helped mastermind Chechnya’s independence struggle, routing Russian troops in numerous battles, and also claiming responsibility for a series of bloody terrorist attacks.
The Kremlin said Basayev had been killed in a special operation by its forces, but members of the separatist movement said the explosion had been an accident.
Basayev’s mangled remains have been transported to a mortuary in the southern town of Vladikavkaz, from where they will be taken to Rostov-on-Don, the RIA-Novosti news agency said Tuesday, quoting a source in the FSB security force.
Several newspapers Tuesday featured interviews with Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whose father Akhmad abandoned the separatist cause that Basayev symbolised and went on to help return Chechnya to Russian control following the retaking of the province by Russian forces in 1999.
“He got what he deserved. He died not fighting, but on the run, like a jackal. He deserved his death,” Kadyrov said.
Other newspapers were similarly jubilant.
“The one-legged jackal stumbles forever,” announced the armed forces’ Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) newspaper, referring to Basayev’s loss of his lower right leg to a landmine explosion in 2000.
“The killer of the Beslan children, the number one terrorist, the scourge of the North Caucasus, is finally eliminated,” the newspaper said, referring to the Beslan hostage siege in 2004, which ended with 375 people dead, including 186 children.
Izvestia predicted that after a string of such killings of separatist leaders, it would not take long for Russian forces to kill Chechnya’s current separatist underground leader, Doku Umarov.
“The myth of the powerlessness of the special forces suddenly died yesterday…. There is no longer any sense in talking about the supposedly continuing Chechen war,” Izvestia said.
However the independent daily Kommersant disputed Russian authorities’ claims that Basayev had been killed in a special operation, saying that the local office of the FSB security force had initially announced that Basayev died when the truck-load of explosives he was accompanying was accidentally detonated.
The “chekists”, a slang word for spies, “even said that the purpose” of the explosives “was to blow up the building of the interior ministry in Nazran”, a southern Russian town, said Kommersant.
The 10-million-dollar reward on Basayev’ head was now likely to be distributed among unidentified FSB employees, the newspaper speculated.
The paper went on to provide varying opinions on the significance of Basayev’s death.
The killing would not spell an end to terrorism in Russia, but would send a message that “anyone who turns to terrorism and stands up to the state can expect the same treatment,” the paper quoted the deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, Vladimir Katrenko, as saying.
The paper went on to quote several representatives of the separatist cause saying that their struggle would continue.
“The death of Shamil Basayev is a big loss for the Chechens, but it doesn’t mean that a new leader won’t take his place,” Khizri Aldamov, a Chechen rebel representative living in Georgia, was quoted as saying.