Shamil Basayev

Chechen 'terrorist No 1'


Shamil Salmanovich Basayev, guerrilla leader: born Vedeno, Soviet Union 14 January 1965; married; died Ekazhevo, Ingushetia 10 July 2006.

Charismatic, publicity- hungry and scarily violent, Shamil Basayev embodied all the attributes his fellow Chechen rebels admired. Steeped in a history of Chechen bravery in the face of centuries of Russian brutality, he combined the dedication of a fighter with cunning and imagination, and struck fear into every Russian with his ruthless attacks.

From his first terrorist venture - hijacking a Russian plane to Turkey in 1991 - to his most notorious act - seizing the hospital and its civilian occupants in the sleepy southern Russian town of Budennovsk in 1995 - he used panache and style not only to conduct his attacks but to promote his cause. Doubt remains as to whether he personally organised the seizures of the Nord-Ost theatre in Moscow in 2002 or the school in Beslan in North Ossetia in 2004, though he did little to disavow such suggestions. The Russian authorities came to regard him as terrorist No 1.

Yet, as the Russian authorities skilfully turned the fight for Chechen independence into an inter-Chechen fight, Basayev and others on the terrorist wing of the Chechen resistance began to lose their glamour among a weary population decimated by a decade of war.

The elder of two brothers, Basayev was born in the hamlet of Dyshne-Vedeno, in the home rebuilt only a decade earlier, after survivors returned from exile in Siberia, on the site where the family had lived for at least nine centuries. Even in the highlands of southern Chechnya, where nationalism remained strong, Communist ideas were inculcated. Basayev grew up as a self-confessed Soviet child, despite being named after Imam Shamil, who had bravely fought off the forces of the Russian Empire before being captured.

Basayev's encounter with the wider Soviet world came in 1982 when, after completing his education in the village school, he was called up into the Soviet army. Racism saw him being sent to a fire-fighting unit. He then worked on a collective farm in Volgograd region.

In 1986 he moved to Moscow, hoping to enrol in Moscow University's law faculty, an unlikely prospect for a not too well educated village lad, let alone a Chechen. Shocked to learn that a $5,000 bribe was needed to get in, he enrolled in the Land Institute and took odd jobs as a ticket inspector and working on building sites while living among Africans and Cubans in a Moscow hostel. Thanks to family connections, he took to selling foreign computers as the economy opened up to private trade under Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was in Moscow that he first came into contact with ideologists of Chechen and North Caucasian independence (Che Guevara was already his hero). Having rushed to the White House in Moscow to defend the Russian president Boris Yeltsin during the pro- Soviet 1991 coup attempt, he abandoned the barricades on learning of Dzhokhar Dudayev's return to Chechnya to lead a newly declared republic.

In November 1991, his terrorist career was born with the hijacking to Turkey. The following year he was leading a group of Chechen fighters across the Caucasus mountains in Abkhazia, fighting off Georgian forces in their bitter but successful struggle for independence. Ironically - and to the subsequent regret of the Russians - he was trained in commando-style warfare by Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) specialists. On the back of his success and brutality, Basayev became Abkhazia's deputy defence minister.

On his return to Chechnya in 1993, he was a key rebel commander as war with Russia began. Basayev's attack on Budennovsk - helped by wads of US dollars - raised rebel spirits. His fearless negotiations with senior Russian officials led to widespread admiration. The raid was launched just days after Basayev lost 17 relatives - including his wife and children - in a Russian air strike on his home in Dyshne-Vedeno.

By the time Russian forces had been forced out of Chechnya and a relatively free presidential poll could be held in December 1996, Basayev picked up 23 per cent of the vote, second only to Aslan Maskhadov. The following month he was appointed prime minister, but resigned after an ineffectual six months in office.

When Vladimir Putin launched a new war to retake Chechnya, Basayev was able to return to what he knew best: fighting and killing. It was almost a relief to him. He lost a foot in the Chechen retreat from Grozny in 2000 (he was shown on video unflinching as a surgeon amputated what was left of it).

Hardly a profound thinker or a strategic politician, Basayev had a rock-solid image of himself as a heroic defender of the Chechen nation whose bravery would be retold throughout history. Even Islam was subjugated to this ideal. Like many Chechens, he had a contempt for and fearlessness towards death. He always expected to die young as a martyr.

Felix Corley

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine