Chechnya's president assassinated

Chechnya’s pro-Russian leader Akhmad Kadyrov was killed Sunday along with at least 31 others in a bomb attack on a Victory Day celebration in the war-torn capital of the separatist republic, officials said.

Russia’s top general to the region was reported to have been seriously injured in the blast, which occurred as Russia was commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, and prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to vow retaliation.

The explosion shook Grozny’s Dinamo stadium where thousands of people—including the republic’s top command—had gathered Sunday morning for the Victory Day observances.

It came only minutes after Putin oversaw a grand military parade on Moscow’s Red Square and appeared timed exactly to coincide with the holiday and show the public the four-year conflict in Chechnya was far from over. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Putin confirmed that Kadyrov, who had been the target of several previous assassination attempts, had been killed in the attack.

“Kadyrov passed away on May 9 on the day of our national holiday, Victory Day,” Russian media quoted the president as saying during a meeting with Kadyrov’s son Ramzan. “This was a real, heroic man.”

Putin appointed Chechen prime minister Sergei Abramov—whose influence in the region appears limited—to temporarily head the republic.

The top Russian general in the North Caucasus, Valery Baranov, was seriously injured in the attack and was undergoing an emergency operation in hospital, Russian media said.

In total at least 32 people were killed, including Reuters photo correspondent Adlan Khasanov, and 46 others were injured, the Chechen interior ministry said.

“I can confirm that 32 people were killed and 46 others injured in the stadium,” said ministry spokesperson Ruslan Atsayev.

The explosion occurred while well-known Chechen artist Tamara Dadasheva was performing on stage, eye witnesses said.
The blast, which ripped off her leg, caused screams of horror and a rush for the exits.

The bomb appeared to have been planted just below the VIP section of the stadium, where Kadyrov and Baranov had been sitting.

Chechen interior ministry officials said the stadium, which had been completed only recently, had been searched meticulously before Sunday’s performance but that the bomb had been carefully hidden in a block of concrete. Two more unexploded bombs had been found in the stadium after the attack, they said.

The impact of the blast hit Kadyrov and the stadium’s front seats, where veterans and artists were sitting, one witness said.

“During the explosion, Kadyrov was hit in the head, shoulders and legs,” Chechen interior ministry spokesperson Tauz Dzhabrailov said, who was himself injured in the attack. He said Kadyrov had been seen wiping away blood from his forehead as he was carried away to hospital.

The explosion, which injured at least one child, was followed by a round of gunshots but it was not clear where they came from.

Separatist rebels have regularly used Chechen or Russian holidays as occasions to stage attacks against Russian targets but there was no initial claim of responsibility for the attack.

The explosion cast a shadow over Victory Day, one of the most celebrated events on the Russian calendar.

Putin reacted quickly and angrily by saying that retaliation was “inevitable” against the “terrorists” who set off the bomb in Grozny.

The Russian president has regularly refused to negotiate with rebels in mainly-Muslim Chechnya and on Sunday used his Red Square address to call on the world to unite against the threat of global “terrorism”.

“Even today, we must not forget that the Nazi swastika and fascist ideology still wander across the world—and that an equally frightening evil has joined them in the name of international terrorism,” Putin said.

“The goal of the whole international community is to give terrorists an honorable rebuff and to rid the world of this disease.”

Putin sent troops into Chechnya in what was meant to be a lightning “anti-terror operation” while he was still serving as prime minister in October 1999.

The war proved popular and helped him win the presidency the following year but it has since degenerated into a brutal guerrilla conflict.

Kadyrov represented Russia’s great hope of finally stamping its control on the region and proving to the world—and voters—its claim that calm has returned to Chechnya after a decade of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Kadyrov (52) is a one-time Muslim cleric who won a landslide victory in Chechnya’s highly controversial presidential election in October 2003.

During the first war between Russian troops and Chechen separatists in 1994-96, Kadyrov fought with the rebels. Appointed a mufti in 1995, he called for a jihad, or holy war, against Russia.

But he later toned down his religious views and when Russia launched the second war against Chechen separatists in October 1999, Kadyrov sided with Moscow.

His recent anti-Islamist stance had earned him respect among ordinary Chechens, who have become disenchanted with their elected separatist leaders, and several warlords had pledged allegiance to him. - Sapa-AFP

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