Chechen warlord weds, and calls for holy war

He is Russia's most wanted man but the one-legged Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev is reported to have married his third wife in southern Russia and plotted with his guests to wage a new holy war against Russian forces.

The claim, posted on the official Chechen separatist rebel website, will embarrass the Russian authorities who have been trying to kill or capture Basayev for years.

A bounty of $10m (£5.2m) was put on his head and that of the rebel Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov after last September's Beslan school siege which Basayev claimed to have masterminded. But the rebels claimed yesterday that their talismanic commander-in-chief spent an entire month in southern Russia during which he got married and received medical treatment.

His wedding, which was said to have been on 14 February in Russia's Krasnodar region, had all the hallmarks of someone who is recognised as an international terrorist by the UN. As well as exchanging vows with "the sister of a Russian Islamist warrior", he held meetings with leaders from across the region to discuss how best to inflict terror upon the North Caucasus.

The rebel website quoted Basayev as saying: "The meetings were pleasant and useful and inshallah [God willing] a jihad [holy war] will rage over the whole Caucasus this year." A few days ago, it added, Basayev had returned to Chechnya with his "young bride". Chechnya's Moscow-backed authorities said the claims were propaganda and "a provocation".

A unilateral rebel ceasefire expired yesterday but Aslan Maskhadov appeared to extend it, making a fresh call for the Russians to enter into negotiations with him, an offer they have consistently refused.