Russian TV shows body as proof of warlord's death

Saturday, April 27, 2002

MOSCOW -- State television showed footage of a dead body resembling one of Chechnya's two top rebel leaders Friday, in an effort to prove the Russian security agency's claim that it killed the elusive warlord last month.

The Federal Security Service said Thursday that Omar Ibn al Khattab, a Jordanian-born Islamic militant with reputed ties to al-Qaida, was killed in a special operation in mountainous southern Chechnya in late March and that television networks would be given video footage to prove it.

Chechen rebels say Khattab is alive.

In the televised footage the corpse, with a thick black beard and shoulder-length black hair, was shown both in a poorly lit interior with his mouth gaping open and outdoors, in a gray T-shirt and black skullcap, with a white ribbon tied around his chin to keep his mouth closed.

Taking advantage

A narrator on state-run RTR television said disparagingly that Khattab had not gone down in battle, but that the Russian security service had taken advantage of internal disputes among rebels.

No wounds were visible on the man, whom RTR referred to repeatedly as "the black Arab." RTR said the videotape portrayed preparations for Khattab's funeral on the night of March 19 and was produced by rebels, speculating that they wanted to make an accounting before foreign backers.

Russia says the Chechen rebels get financial aid from Islamic militants abroad, and U.S. officials have said Khattab and the other top Chechen rebel warlord, Shamil Basayev, are believed to have financial and other ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

There was no independent confirmation of the claim that Khattab had been killed. In the past, the security service has made claims about operations in Chechnya that have later proved untrue, including a report a year ago that Khattab had been killed.

Chechen rebel spokesman Akhmed Zakayev said Thursday that Khattab was in fine health and "at his post," and officials in the Moscow-appointed government of Chechnya expressed skepticism that the elusive warlord was dead.

"It is premature to say that Khattab has been killed," Chechnya's Deputy Prime Minister Bislan Gantamirov told reporters in Moscow on Friday, hours before the video was broadcast.

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