Chechen rebel leader 'steps down'

Doku Umarov says he is retiring for "health reasons" according to online video.

    Doku Umarov is Russia's most-wanted man and listed as a terrorist by the United States [EPA/Intelcenter]

    The authenticity of the video has not yet been verified independently.

    Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen president, said on Monday that efforts to capture Umarov would continue.

    "He is sick, hiding like a rat in a hole, overrun with lice, toothless and in no position to lead," the Interfax news agency reported him saying.

    New rebel leader

    Umarov took over as so-called Emir of the Caucasus Emirate, the separatists' top post in Russia's North Caucasus region, in 2006.

    in depth

      Timeline: Attacks in Russia
      The North Caucasus: A history of violence
      Chechnya's battle for independence
      Analysis: Moscow metro explosions

    The rebels are seeking independence in what is a predominantly Muslim region.

    "This [stepping down] does not mean that I give up jihad," Umarov said in the video, which showed him sitting on the ground in a forested area.

    "I will do whatever I can by word and deed."

    The four-minute video showed two other separatists including Aslambek Vadalov, who Umarov proclaimed as his successor.

    Little is know about Vadalov, but according to local media he fought in both wars between Chechen rebels and the Russian authorities in the 1990s.

    Umarov, also known as Abu Usman, has for years been at the centre of the rebellion in the Caucasus, which has claimed scores of lives annually.

    Umarov, also known as Abu Usman, has for years been at the centre of the rebellion in the Caucasus, which has claimed scores of lives annually.

    He joined Chechnya's separatists in 1992, fighting in both Chechen wars against Russian forces, and also served as security minister in the province's separatists government from 1996-99.

    Aslambek Vadalov has been appointed Doku Umarov's successor [Reuters]

    He is believed to have been wounded several times in recent years, causing some speculation over whether the rebel leader is still alive. Russian authorities have prematurely announced his death on a number of occasions.

    Umarov's last video was posted on March 31, two days after the Moscow metro bombings, in which he vowed more attacks on the Russian mainland.

    "The war will come to your streets, and you will feel it with your own lives and skins," he was recorded saying.

    His separatist movement has evolved from one seeking independence from Moscow to a broader Islamic movement looking to establish an Emirate" across the Caucasus mountains.

    Last month the Chechen rebels attacked a hydroelectric plant in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, signalling a change in their tactics and making good on their pledge made long ago to attack Russia's economic targets.

    The United States has listed Umarov, who is also Russia's most-wanted man, as a terrorist.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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