Friday, June 23, 2006

Versions of a Death

The Jamestown Foundation's Chechnya Weekly examines both the official and the unofficial versions of the killing on June 17 of ChRI President Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev. While the official version presented by Moscow and the Moscow-backed Chechen authorities is built around a predictably cut-and-dried story of "bandit formations", superior Russian and Chechen intelligence, and Sadulayev's betrayal by his own followers, the unofficial version, reported by Kommersant and the Memorial Human Rights Centre, suggests a different pattern of events. According to Memorial, based on its own investigation,
Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev was discovered by luck. According to its version of events, as reported by the Kavkazky Uzel website on June 20, several FSB officers arrived at the headquarters of the Argun police at around 10 AM on June 17 and asked for assistance in checking a house located in the city's "Indian Hamlet" section. A group of FSB and local police officers numbering up to ten men went to the address and were fired on as they approached the entrance. An FSB officer was killed immediately, after which a policeman tossed a grenade into the house and the group called for reinforcements. Around 20 minutes later, two armed men – one carrying two assault rifles, the other carrying three – approached a home on a neighboring street where a funeral was taking place. The men, whose clothes were stained with blood, asked for the driver of a Gazel microbus that was standing nearby. The vehicle's owner, Argun resident Roman Ubraimov, was summoned and the armed men told him that their comrade had been killed, that many soldiers would be arriving soon and that a large number of civilians might suffer in the ensuing firefight. They demanded that Ubraimov drive them out of the city.

As Ubraimov drove the two militants out of Argun, they passed a large number of military vehicles and hardware that was being brought into the "Indian Hamlet" neighborhood. They were able to drive undetected toward the city of Shali. En route, the militants phoned someone and said, "One of our brothers has been killed." Before they reached a checkpoint at the crossroads located at the Shali district village of Mesker-Yurt, the two militants ordered Ubraimov to stop the car and got out, after which Ubraimov drove back to Argun.

According to Memorial's account, the reinforcements who arrived at the house in "Indian Hamlet" where the shootout took place, found the body of a man inside, subsequently identified as Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, who had apparently been killed by the grenade that was thrown into the house. The body was taken to the village of Tsentoroi. Local police reported that after the shootout, some "Indian Hamlet" residents said they saw two armed young men and a young woman with three large satchels and bloodstained clothing leave the house through the garden.

Roman Ubraimov, the driver of the microbus, said he had not seen how many people had sat in his vehicle because the gunmen had ordered him not to turn around and had turned his rear-view mirror around so he could not see them. "Thus, according to the information of the Memorial Human Rights Center, the death of A. Kh. Sadulaev was not the result of some sort of pre-planned or large-scale operation," Kavkazky Uzel wrote. "Furthermore, there was no 'surrender' of him [disclosure of his location for 1,500 rubles] by the militants, as was officially declared. A. Kh. Sadulaev was killed by chance as the result of a short armed confrontation during a routine check of a suspicious house and grounds," stated the Memorial Human Rights Center report received by the Kavkazky Uzel editorial office.
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