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Security Officials Deny Umarov Is Hiding In Ingushetia

A screen grab showing a man identified as Chechen Islamist rebel leader Doku Umarov
A screen grab showing a man identified as Chechen Islamist rebel leader Doku Umarov
The Republic of Ingushetia Security Council categorically rejected on June 27 claims by security officials in neighboring Chechnya that self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov has returned to the Caucasus after undergoing medical treatment in Turkey and may be hiding in the mountainous Jeyrakh district of southern Ingushetia.

Top Ingush security officials insisted on June 27 that the situation in Jeyrakh is "completely stable," and the entire district is "under intensified surveillance."

"A mole couldn't surface there without being noticed, let alone Umarov," one of them commented. All the same, counter-terror measures launched in Jeyrakh on June 25 were lifted only at midday on June 28
A source in the Chechen directorate of the Federal Security service (FSB) had claimed earlier on June 27 that Umarov was wounded in March when his group came under attack in Ingushetia's Sunzha district, presumably following the air attack on March 28 that killed Umarov's deputy and long-time comrade-in-arms Supyan Abdullayev.

Umarov then travelled in April to Turkey, the source said, where he spent a month receiving medical care, including treatment for frostbitten feet. In mid-May, Russian agencies similarly quoted an unidentified source from the Chechen Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying Umarov was "probably" undergoing hospital treatment in Turkey.

Umarov returned to Russia "several weeks ago" and convened a meeting of field commanders in Jeyrakh, which borders on Georgia, the Chechen FSB source continued.

He said Umarov "may" still be in Jeyrakh, or alternatively in the forested uplands on the border between Sunzha and the neighboring Chechen district of Achkhoi-Martan.

Thought To Be 'Dead Or 'Terminally Ill'

The FSB official claimed to have information indicating that Umarov's fighters are planning a series of high-profile terrorist attacks in Stavropol Krai and Astrakhan Oblast in the near future.

That account of Umarov's movement since late March fails to convince on several counts. First, Umarov telephoned RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on April 7 and rejected as untrue persistent Russian media reports that he was either dead or terminally ill.

Second, on May 12, when Umarov was purportedly still hospitalized in Turkey, his official website kavkazcenter reported that he was in Chechnya, and had convened a meeting "a little over a week ago" with several Chechen local commanders.

At the same time, Umarov has failed to deliver on the veiled threat he uttered during his phone call to RFE/RL that "they [presumably meaning the Russian authorities] will be hearing from me soon."

Question Mark Over Resources And Personnel

A planned suicide attack in Grozny in late April by two young fighters subordinate to Umarov was averted by a counter-terror operation in which the two men reportedly blew themselves up after running out of ammunition.

The failure to launch any follow-up operation over the ensuing two months raises questions about the resources and personnel at Umarov's disposal, even though he himself declared in an interview given to Kavkazcenter last month that "we are not in any hurry."

By contrast, the Chechen insurgency commanders who split with Umarov last summer have staged up to 15 attacks or ambushes on pro-Moscow Chechen forces since May 1 (one every five-six days on average), in which up to 14 pro-Moscow police and security personnel have been killed and 49 wounded. All but three of those attacks were in the south or south-west, the theater of operations of veteran commander Tarhan Gaziev.

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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