Sulim Yamadayev, a bitter opponent of the Moscow-backed leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, has been badly wounded in an assassination attempt in the United Arab Emirates, Russian newspapers said today.
Former rebel chief Yamadayev challenged Kadyrov for control of Chechen security forces until last year when he was dismissed from the command of an elite battalion and forced to flee.
Last September Sulim's brother Ruslan was killed by unidentified gunmen in central Moscow. Kadyrov rejected accusations he had been behind the murder and said the killers wanted to discredit him and to destabilise Chechnya.
The Moskovsky Komsomolets daily said unidentified gunmen had attacked Sulim Yamadayev in an underground garage at his home in Dubai on Saturday.
"I am right now in hospital in Dubai," the daily quoted Yamadayev's younger brother Isa as saying on Sunday. "Sulim is in a bad state, unconscious and no one is allowed to see him. But I think he will escape death. I hope so..."
In a conflicting report, Dubai's state news agency WAM reported on Saturday a 36-year-old Chechen had been killed in what appeared to be an assassination.
Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan said the man, whom WAM named as Suleyman Madov, had been monitored closely before being shot, WAM reported.
Officials in Dubai were not immediately available today to comment on whether the individual named as Madov was in fact Yamadayev.
Yamadayev fought against Russia in the first Chechen war of 1994-96 when Moscow suffered a humiliating defeat and had to pull out of the separatist southern province.
But like some other leading rebels, including Kadyrov, he switched to the Russian side after then President Vladimir Putin sent troops in 1999 to retake mainly Muslim Chechnya.
Yamadayev became the commander of the Vostok battalion, a unit of battle-hardened former rebels which played a key role in subduing large-scale separatist resistance in Chechnya. In 2005 he was named a Hero of Russia, the top national honour.
Ramzan Kadyrov, who took over the job of Chechen leader from his father Akhmad who was assassinated in 2004, has tried to concentrate power in his hands and has drawn fire from human rights groups alarmed at alleged abuses in the province.
Kadyrov has successfully waged a campaign to take over control of the security forces from the Moscow federal government. His powers are likely to grow even stronger after President Dmitry Medvedev last week backed lifting security restrictions in the region.
Last May, Yamadayev was dismissed as Vostok commander over charges of involvement in kidnapping and illegal arrests.
However, it took a reluctant Moscow three months to dismiss him from the military and he left with full honours. In August, Yamadayev led his battalion in Russia's brief war with Georgia.