An 11-minute video clip was posted on YouTube last week showing the burial of self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov. Two senior Chechen insurgency commanders, Khamzat (Aslan Byutukayev) and Makhran (Saidov), describe (in Chechen) how Umarov was poisoned in early August 2013 when sharing food with younger fighters, and died one month later. A Russian translation of their statements was posted 24 hours later on the insurgency website Kavkazcenter.com. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov promptly posted a screen grab from the footage on his Instagram account as definitive proof that Umarov is dead.
Byutukayev explained that Umarov consumed a small amount of food that younger fighters had obtained from an Ingush on the highway leading to Djeyrakh (in southern Ingushetia, bordering on the south-westernmost part of Chechnya. Four other fighters died of poisoning; Umarov survived for a month before succumbing, at dawn on September 7.
Makhran dismissed the possibility that the poisoning was the result of a deliberate attempt by either Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov to kill Umarov. He said that, on the contrary, Umarov’s death was purely fortuitous. Makhran disclosed that Umarov had summoned his senior commanders, and Makhran himself had arrived the evening before Umarov’s death.
The video clip shows six fighters helping to place Umarov’s body in the grave prepared for him and cover it over. The two other most senior commanders, Aslambek Vadalov and Tarkhan Gaziyev, are apparently not present. It was in the summer of 2013 that Gaziyev appealed to the Chechen Republic Ichkeria Shari'a Court in exile to rule on whether Umarov's proclamation in late 2007 of the Caucasus Emirate was justified under Shari'a law.
The first, unsubstantiated reports of Umarov’s death had surfaced in January when an audio tape was posted on YouTube in which a speaker tentatively identified as Caucasus Emirate qadi (supreme religious authority) Abu Mukhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov) related how he had learned of Umarov’s death and that he had been proposed as his successor. The audio tape did not give any details of when or how Umarov died.
Kebekov formally confirmed in mid-March that Umarov was dead and he had been chosen to succeed him. But he did not divulge the date or circumstances of Umarov’s death.
The revelation that Umarov died in early September means that his last video address, which was superscribed Autumn 2013, must have been filmed in August or the first few days of September. In that clip, Umarov, apparently in good health, pays homage to the Gakayev brothers, who were killed in January 2013, and to Jamaleyl Mutaliyev (aka Amir Adam), a commander of the Ingushetia insurgency wing who was killed in May 2013. The clip was uploaded to the web on December 19, just hours after Kadyrov announced (not for the first time) that Umarov had been killed in a counter-terror operation, but his body had not been recovered.
The reason for the delay between Kebekov’s confirmation in mid-March that Umarov was indeed dead and the posting of the video clip showing his burial can only be guessed at.
-- Liz Fuller