June 18, 2006

Chechen rebels pledge to fight on after head killed

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chechnya's rebels pledged on Sunday to
press ahead with their fight for freedom from Russian rule
despite the death in battle of their leader.

Statements on separatist Web sites confirmed that
Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev -- also known as Saidulayev -- had been
killed in the town of Argun, 30 km (20 miles) east of the
regional capital Grozny.

Pro-Moscow forces said they were combing the town for
accomplices of Sadulayev, who was the fourth resistance leader
to be killed in 11 years of separatist warfare in the southern
Russian region.

"The death of even the most worthy will not weaken our
jihad (holy war). On the contrary, our martyrs encourage the
fighters with their heroic example," said a statement on a
rebel Web site (www.chechenpress.info).

"Today our enemies, not hiding their baseness, are
celebrating. But it should be us, not them, who are
celebrating, because our brother and leader Abdul-Khalim
Sadulayev is in heaven, as is the will of Allah."

Sadulayev, a cleric from Argun, was little known outside
Chechnya but had reorganized the resistance since taking over a
year ago and tried to increase its links with Islamist fighters
elsewhere in Russia's turbulent North Caucasus.

Unceasing Russian pressure has fragmented the rebel
movement, but rebel fighters stage daily attacks in Chechnya
and neighboring regions.

Sadulayev will be succeeded as head of the Chechen
resistance by warlord Doku Umarov, who unlike Sadulayev has
long been a hands-on guerrilla leader.

Along with Shamil Basayev, who organized the war's worst
attacks on civilians such as the Beslan school siege in 2004,
Umarov commands troops in the field. They are key targets for
Russian security services.

Pro-Moscow police in Chechnya said they were hunting two of
Sadulayev's guards, who had slipped away from an operation that
had apparently been sparked by an informer.

Sadulayev took over from Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed a
year ago. He in turn took over from Dzhokhar Dudayev -- killed
in a bombing in 1996.

Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who briefly led the resistance after
Dudayev's death, was killed in a car bomb in Qatar in 2004. Two
Russian agents were jailed in the Gulf state for the attack.