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Chechen Leader Demands Turkey Hand Over 'Terrorists'

  • Liz Fuller

Ramzan Kadyrov said Akhmad Chatayev organized an attempt to infiltrate a group of Chechen volunteers recruited in Austria into Chechnya from Georgian territory.

Ramzan Kadyrov said Akhmad Chatayev organized an attempt to infiltrate a group of Chechen volunteers recruited in Austria into Chechnya from Georgian territory.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is seeking to take advantage of the thaw in Russian-Turkish relations occasioned by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's formal expression of regret late last month for the death of a Russian pilot in connection with the shooting down in November by Turkish fighter aircraft of a Russian bomber that Ankara claimed had entered Turkish airspace from Syria.

In an Instagram post on July 5, Kadyrov demanded that Erdogan order the handover to the Russian authorities of 12 Chechens he identifies as "terrorists," some of whom allegedly played key roles in the wars of 1994-96 and 1999-2000 and the subsequent low-level insurgency. Kadyrov further lent credence to suspicions that another former Chechen militant, Akhmad Chatayev, masterminded the June 28 suicide bombings at Istanbul airport in which 45 people died and hundreds more were injured.

The men whose handover Kadyrov is demanding include Movladi Udugov, the ideologue and press spokesman first of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) and then of the Caucasus Emirate proclaimed in 2007 by then-ChRI President Doku Umarov; Umarov's brother Akhmad; and Shirvani Basayev, the brother of renegade field commander Shamil Basayev, who was killed in 2006. All three have lived openly in Turkey for many years.

Others, including field commanders Makhran Saidov (aka Yakup) and Aslambek Vadalov, are known to have remained in Chechnya until at least late 2014, when it was reported that half a dozen prominent insurgency commanders from Chechnya and Daghestan, including Saidov, had transferred their allegiance from the virtual Caucasus Emirate to the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

Chechen field commander Tarkhan Gaziyev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service two years ago he had left Chechnya; he is reportedly currently in Syria heading a band of fighters aligned with IS.

Khadi Alaskhanov, 25, was listed in April 2015 among seven young Chechens said to be fighting in Syria. There is little or no information available about the remaining five men.

It is significant that Kadyrov does not name Aslan Byutukayev (aka Khamzat), whom Umarov had named in 2011 to head the Chechen insurgency wing. Reports in June 2015 that Byutukayev had pledged allegiance to IS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were never confirmed, but eight Chechen fighters killed in late July 2015 in Ingushetia's Sunzha district that borders on Chechnya were identified by the National Counterterrorism Committee as Byutukayev's men and recent recruits to IS.

It is conceivable that Byutukayev, who is thought to have mentored the young Ingush who blew himself up at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport in January 2011, was behind the attack by two suicide bombers on a police post in Grozny in May.

As for Chatayev, who fought under the command of Shamil Basayev during the 1999-2000 war, Kadyrov claimed that he was trained by the intelligence services of Austria (where he was granted political asylum in 2003), Georgia, and Turkey with the aim of causing problems for Russia.

Specifically, Kadyrov said that with the support of Austrian intelligence, Chatayev collected a large sum of money on behalf of Chechen insurgent commander Khuseyn Gakayev, and that in 2011 he organized an attempt to infiltrate a group of Chechen volunteers recruited in Austria into Chechnya from Georgian territory.

In fact, that abortive attempt took place in August 2012. According to Georgian ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili, who in 2013 conducted an independent investigation into the incident, Chatayev played no part in recruiting the volunteers, and was simply called on to mediate in a standoff between them and their Georgian handlers.

That altercation culminated in a shoot-out in which two Georgian Interior Ministry special-forces personnel and a military doctor were killed, along with seven Chechens. Chatayev reportedly received a gunshot wound that necessitated the amputation of part of his left leg. (He had reportedly lost his left arm during the second Chechen war.)

Chatayev was identified last summer as the head of an IS cell based in Istanbul. But representatives of the Chechen community in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge nonetheless expressed doubts that it was he who organized the Istanbul airport bombing. They reasoned that given his concern for Chechen communities abroad, he would not deliberately have done anything that could cause problems for Chechen emigres, whether from Russia or Syria, currently living in Turkey.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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