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30 Mar, 2009 09:15

Chechen Hero of Russia shot dead in Dubai

A Chechen who was a former leading commander of a crack Russian anti-terrorist battalion has been assassinated at the luxury Jumeirah Beach Resort in Dubai where he lived.

Sulim Yamadayev (36) – former commander of the elite “Vostok” Unit – was shot dead on March 28th as he approached his car outside the luxury complex, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant.

Yamadayev’s bodyguard attempted to stop the attacker but may have been hit with the butt of a weapon or a stun-gun. The assassin then opened fire on Yamadayev.

He was taken to a military hospital but died from his wounds.

Reports in Dubai’s Gulf News said that security guards nearby witnessed the assassination.

“The security guard at that section of the building found the body… in a pool of blood covering the entrance to the lifts…," one guard was reported as saying.

Security staff also said people saw a man fleeing the building and heard gunshots.

Russia’s Consul in Dubai, Sergey Krasnogor, confirmed the killing of the Chechen who was decorated as a 'Hero of Russia’ for his anti-terrorist military service in the Caucasus.

"I just received confirmation from the Dubai police that he was killed," a Russian consular official told the Reuters news agency.

Investigation begins

Dubai police remain tightlipped about the shooting. Chief of the Dubai Police, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, would only say that the victim was believed to have been “under surveillance for some time”.

Gulf News also reported police sources as saying that a Russian national is currently in custody in connection with the killing.

There had earlier been confusion over the victim’s identity. Arab news agencies reported that a 36-year-old ‘Sulaiman Medov’ had been shot. But later it was confirmed the victim was Sulim Yamadayev. The confusion appears to have arisen because of the similarity of both names in Arabic, although other reports said the victim had held a passport in this second name.

According to Kommersant, Sulim Yamadayev together with his wife Milana and 6 children left Russia in late December 2008. It was not known under what circumstances they left for the United Arab Emirates.

Long-running row

In the First Chechen campaign (1994-1996) Sulim Yamadayev fought on the side of militant insurgents, but joined Russian federal forces in the second (1999-2000). In 2003, Yamadayev headed the “Vostok” squadron and by 2006 the armed group is thought to have routed some 400 militants. After that he was promoted as a “Hero of Russia”.

For many years the Yamadayev clan has been in conflict with Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. In spring 2008, Yamadayev refused to move his auto to the side of the road to make way for a motorcade of vehicles with presidential bodyguards in Chechnya, and a shootout followed.

Shortly afterwards, President Kadyrov accused the commanders of the “Vostok” unit, including Yamadayev, of being involved in killings and abductions in the Chechen republic. In May 2008, Yamadayev was removed from his duties. In summer 2008 he was put on a wanted list by Chechen prosecutors. Three criminal cases were launched against him for murder and kidnapping.

In September 2008, Yamadayev’s older brother, Ruslan, a former Duma Deputy and also Hero of Russia, was shot dead while driving through the centre of Moscow.

Different angles of the story

Ziyad Sabsabi, a member of the Federation Council representing the Chechen Republic, says the situation “is obviously provocative and is aimed at destroying tentative positive ties between Chechnya and some Arab states and large private companies from those states”.

Some experts, however speculate, there might be someone behind this who is looking for power in the republic:

“I don’t want to guess what exactly happened in Dubai, but it’s obvious that figures who in one way or another could have a claim for power in Chechnya are being kicked out of the game”, said Sergey Markedonov, an expert on the Caucasus from the Institute for Military and Political Analysis.

Meanwhile, Ali Karimov, President Ramzan Kadyrov’s press secretary, said that Chechnya’s authorities and the republic’s law enforcement bodies will render assistance in investigating Yamadayev’s murder, if requested.

”We hope that the United Arab Emirates’ police will carry out a thorough investigation and find those implicated in Sulim Yamadayev’s death,” Karimov said.

The third angle on the story has Kommersant suggesting the incident could have traces to Saudi Arabia. One of the most prominent Arabs fighting in Chechnya, Abu al-Walid, was from there and he was killed by Russian federal forces in April 2004. For that operation, Sulim Yamadayev received his award.