Russia’s most wanted terrorist, Doku Umarov, may have been killed as government hit squads swooped on terror cells in the North Caucasus.
Seventeen suspected terrorists were killed in Monday’s three-pronged assault, with two more arrested.
The FSB coordinated the raids with the defence ministry and interior ministry troops, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) announced.
But many details are yet to emerge, including confirmation of Umarov’s fate.
Into the woods
One of three raids was launched in the Sunzhensky forest, which straddles the borders of Ingushetia, Chechnya and North Ossetia. Local warlord Aslan Byutukayev (Amir Khamzat) had made the area his base. The site was used to train bombers, RIA Novosti reported.
Previous attempts to liquidate cells in the area have come to little, as the targets disperse into the surrounding area, which they know well, and leave security forces trailing.
This time the security forces had carried out extensive aerial reconnaissance and carried out a two-stage assault. First was an airstrike from a helicopter on the terrorists’ base and dugout, in which six were killed.
Missile launches then saw to fleeing survivors of the first attack, Kommersant reported. 16 corpses have not yet been officially identified, but one of them is believed to be Umarov. Three servicemen were killed in the raid.
Signs point to Umarov’s death
“Seventeen militants were killed during a special operation on Monday, preliminary reports suggest that Umarov’s bodyguards are among them,” a local police source told Interfax.
“This suggests that Umarov was also killed in the battle,” the source said.
Umarov, self-styled Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, claimed responsibility for last year’s metro bombs in which 40 people died. He is also believed to have ordered the attack on Domodedovo airport, which killed 37 in January this year.
There have been several false reports of the death of Umarov in recent years, including rumours that he had been killed in an airstrike in Chechnya at the turn of the year.
But prosecutors are taking no chances and are bringing charges against Umarov and Byutukayev, RIA Novosti reported.
Three pronged attack
Another two raids took place, with one in Nazran, where Islam and Iles Yandievy were taken alive. The Investigative Committee believes the brothers helped 20 year old Magomed Yevloyev carry out the Domodedovo bombing in January this year.
Relatives of the bomber, who were arrested earlier on, said that it was the Yandiyevs who escorted him to Moscow.
Meanwhile operatives surrounded the house of Aslan Tsechoyev in Verkhny Alkun village in Ingushetia. They were ordered to surrender and Tsechoyev’s wife and children were sent out first. The militants then opened fire to cover their retreat. One was killed and another seriously wounded by police fire. The house was then razed to the ground.