Leader of Islamist militant group quits

The leader of a group of Islamists who have waged a fierce insurgency in Chechnya and neighbouring Russian provinces said in a video posted on YouTube that he is resigning after years of attacks, including a subway bombing in Moscow that killed 40 people.

A man recognisable as Doku Umarov says in the grainy footage that was posted late on Sunday that he is handing over command of the group of fighters known as the Caucasus Emirate, which experts say has links to al-Qa'ida and related terrorist groups.

The video was uploaded by a user whose account identifies him or her as a 28-year-old Georgian. The same user also posted several video addresses by North Caucasus field commanders. No other information about the video was available.

The bearded 46-year-old appeared frail as he addressed other Islamist militants in the North Caucasus region in broken Russian. "Today I am leaving my post, but it does not mean that I am leaving jihad," he said. "As an old veteran, I will be doing my best to help with words and deeds."

The Kremlin-backed government of Chechnya has claimed that Umarov was seriously wounded in June 2009 and nearly died in July after a federal intelligence agent poisoned his food. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said yesterday that Umarov had stepped down due to deteriorating health, and security forces were still hunting for him.