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Top Chechen Rebel Announces Command Handover


The unconfirmed report cites "health reasons."
Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov is reportedly stepping down as leader of the North Caucasus insurgency and has appointed a successor.

The announcement came on the website, which is regularly used by insurgents in Russia's North Caucasus region.

It said 46-year-old Umarov was resigning "for health reasons" but that he intends to continue to wage "jihad" and will do his utmost to help the new leadership.

In a video made available to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service and posted on the Internet, a man believed to be Umarov says Aslambek Vadalov will be a worthy successor.

"I am resigning my position [as emir of what insurgents describe as the "Caucasus Emirate"]," the speaker says. "Today I really think that our brother Aslambek [Vadalov] is younger, that he will be more energetic, and he is going to achieve different results. But this doesn't mean I'm giving up jihad. God willing, as an old mujahedin fighter I will continue doing everything I can, in word or deed."

In the blurry footage, Umarov sits in a dense forest with two other men, one of whom is supposedly Vadalov.

'Emirate' Building

In the same footage, Khusein Gakayev, Umarov's "right-hand man," voices his support for Vadalov. He says Vadalov is dedicated to the cause of an independent "Chechen Emirate."

"We are satisfied this change that our brother Doku has made," Gakayev says, "and we ask our brothers, Daghestanis, Ingush, and Kabards to pledge allegiance to him."

No officials have reacted to the video as of yet.

Grigory Shvedov, editor in chief of the "Caucasian Knot" information website, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that Umarov's announcement means that the insurgency in the Caucasus is not going to quiet down soon.

"Many of the fighters in the organization are part of difficult sabotage missions,"Shvedov says, "and so, while this announcement seems unexpected, the reason behind it is to support the opposition and to keep up the number of combat operations."

Unquestioned 'Loyalty'

While Umarov has created a strong cult of personality in the North Caucasus, allegiance and loyalty within the insurgency have been questioned since Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested a leading Ingush militant, known as Amir Magas, in mid-June.

Magas was arrested in a private house where he had been staying for several days. The arrest suggests that someone within the insurgency might have betrayed Magas and notified the FSB.

Liz Fuller, RFE/RL's North Caucasus analyst, says Vadalov looks to be in his mid-30s in the video. He has been commanding insurgents in the eastern region of the North Caucasus for several years, but she says his most important quality might be his allegiance to his predecessor.

Fuller says he is known to be "personally, 100 percent loyal to Umarov, and loyalty is of course one of the key requirements of all the people in this very tightly-knit group, which is always on guard against being infiltrated by plants from the FSB."

Umarov has made several videotaped proclamations in the past. In June, a grainy video circulated in which a thinner, younger-looking Umarov claims responsibility for the March attacks on the Moscow subway, which killed at least 40 people and injured 100.

His group also claimed the November 2009 bombing of the Moscow-St. Petersburg "Nevsky Express" that killed 26 people.

Umarov has been engaged in rebel activity in the North Caucasus since the first Chechen war in 1994. In both the first and second Chechen wars Umarov fought Russian forces and rose in rank in the Chechen Army.

In June 2006, Umarov was named the president of the unrecognized independent "Chechen Republic Ichkeria." However, one year later, Umarov gave up the cause of an independent Chechnya and instead appointed himself the "Emir of the Caucasus Emirate," a would-be Islamic separatist state spanning the Russia's North Caucasus, southern Russia, and the Volga region.

Both Moscow and the United States list Umarov as a terrorist.
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