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Reports Of Umarov's Death Have (Often) Been Greatly Exaggerated


Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov during a video statement in which he claims responsibility for the suicide bombings in the Moscow subway in March 2010.

Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov during a video statement in which he claims responsibility for the suicide bombings in the Moscow subway in March 2010.

He's been killed and come back to life more times than a zombie in a B movie.

On April 8, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced what they called the "neutralization" of Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov, the alleged mastermind of the horrific 2004 Beslan school massacre and one of Russia's most-wanted men.

Notice that they didn't say Umarov had been "killed."

Even Russia's Interfax news agency was quick to point out that Umarov's body has not yet been found.

"That is why today it is more proper to speak about the 'neutralization' of Umarov's activities," Interfax quoted a source close to the situation as saying.

Interfax is right to be cautious. They themselves erroneously reported Umarov's death in 2009. But not only Interfax. RFE/RL, too, has reported Umarov's ultimate undoing over the past few years.

Here's a rundown of some (if not all) of Umarov's brushes with death:

June 8, 2009 -- Umarov is reportedly "severely wounded" in a special operation conducted by an adviser to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Interfax quotes a source in Russian law enforcement that Umarov has been killed.

"Tests are being made on the remains to make a final identification," Interfax quotes the source as saying.

July 3, 2009 -- A man purporting to be Umarov calls RFE/RL from an undisclosed location in Chechnya to say he is alive, uninjured, and planning future attacks. He says his fighters will attempt to avoid attacks on civilians, while saying that he regards civilians as legitimate military targets.

March 18, 2010 -- RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reports that Umarov is dead, killed in a gun battle on March 10 near Chechnya's border with Ingushetia. The report is based on a phone call made to RFE/RL by a man identifying himself as a Chechen militant and who was known as a reliable source by the Caucasus Service.

April 7, 2011 -- Umarov purportedly telephones RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service to say that that rumors of his death are, once again, greatly exaggerated. Umarov laughs off Russian media speculation that he is terminally ill, perhaps with diabetes, saying he is "absolutely healthy" and that the Russian authorities "should expect news from me soon," before the telephone connection is cut.

December 18, 2013 -- Kadyrov tells journalists in Moscow, "I officially state that Umarov is long dead." Hours later, a video of Umarov, believed to have been filmed in autumn 2013, is posted on YouTube.

January 28, 2014 -- Kadyrov is quoted by "Izvestia" as saying that he believes Umarov is dead, having been gravely wounded in a security operation sometime in late 2013.

February 18, 2014 -- Israeli scholar Avrom Shmulevich says that Umarov was poisoned last fall while visiting an insurgency winter base in Chechnya.

March 18, 2014 -- A pro-Islamist militant website says Umarov has "become a martyr," but gives no details.

April 8, 2014 -- Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announces the "neutralization" of Umarov's "activities" earlier this year. FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov does not elaborate.

Standing by for the phone call from Umarov.

-- Grant Podelco

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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