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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Chechens 'confirm' warlord's death
Khattab: One of the most high-profile warlords
A Chechen rebel website says it has received confirmation that Russia assassinated the warlord Khattab, saying he was killed by a poisoned letter.

A statement attributed to the "command headquarters of the Chechen mujahideen" and carried by the Kavkaz Centre news agency said that the fatal letter had been delivered by a messenger known to Khattab.

This information officially confirms the death of the Chechen commander (Khattab)

Kavkaz Centre
It adds that the messenger is now with the Russians.

Chechens have previously denied Russia's claims to have killed the rebel leader, despite a film which apparently shows his dead body having been screened on Russian state television.

The new report says that the presence of Khattab's bodyguard Elsi on the film suggests that it is genuine.

Correspondents say the death of Khattab - one of the most feared Chechen warlords - is a significant triumph for Russia, which has failed to kill or capture the major guerrilla leaders in its drawn-out conflict with the breakaway republic.

Film 'authentic'

After opening the letter, Khattab felt sick and died seconds later, the Russian Kommersant newspaper reported.

Russian image of Khattab's body, from FSB website
Russia says its film images confirm his death

Kavkaz Centre said it was not known who had sent the poisoned letter.

It said the videotape showing the Khattab's body fell into Russian hands after Elsi was killed in a clash with Russian Government forces on 23 April.

The agency said Khattab had been buried in southern Chechnya at a secret location, known only to a narrow circle of his trusted men, to prevent Russian forces defiling the grave.

Russia's secret services say they killed Khattab in a special assassination mission in March.

Kavkaz Centre gives the date of death as 19 March.

It says the Chechen mujahideen headquarters kept the news of his death secret to allow him to be buried in peace.

Grinding conflict

Khattab, who is thought to have been born to a Saudi Arabian family near the border with Jordan, has led Muslim guerrillas against Russia in both Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Both Russia and America accuse him of having had direct links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The Kavkaz Centre agency describes rumours that Khattab's body had been returned to Saudi Arabia as unlikely, since Sharia law requires participants in a holy war to be buried where they die.

It says he first went to fight in Afghanistan at the age of 15, and travelled to Chechnya after seeing reports of the war there in 1994 on CNN.

Correspondents say the strength of the Chechen guerrillas is largely due to Russia's inability - until now - to eliminate key leaders.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Moscow says Khattab's death could represent a turning point for the Russians.

Russia returned to Chechnya in 1999, after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the rebels in 1996.

Russian soldiers continue to die there in high numbers.

See also:

26 Apr 02 | Europe
Profile: Chechen rebel Khattab
25 Apr 02 | Europe
Russia 'kills' Chechen warlord
15 Nov 01 | Europe
Russia tries Chechen warlord
06 Sep 01 | Europe
Chechnya's decade of disaster
30 Sep 99 | Europe
Khatab: Islamic revolutionary
22 Apr 99 | Europe
'Dual attack' killed president
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