After 11 years on the run, numerous reports of his demise, multiple attempts on his life, and a $10m bounty on his head, Chechnya's most feared and blood-soaked rebel commander, Shamil Basayev, has finally been killed.
According to Russia's FSB security service, Basayev, 41, was killed in a special forces operation in southern Russia in the early hours of Monday as he organised a terrorist attack to coincide with this weekend's G8 summit in St Petersburg. The FSB said that he was killed when a consignment of explosives was deliberately detonated yards from where he was sitting in a parked car in a rural part of Ingushetia, a Russian republic bordering Chechnya.
The rebels allege that Basayev and three other fighters were killed by an "accidental spontaneous" explosion of the consignment.
Known as the Butcher of Beslan after he masterminded the bloody school siege in 2004, Basayev was Russia's most wanted man. His death is a public relations victory for President Vladimir Putin, and a powerful blow to the Chechen separatist movement.
The one-legged Islamic radical was involved with every major terrorist atrocity in Russia in the past decade, and viewed Russian civilians as legitimate targets in his jihad on a Kremlin he accused of crushing his homeland.
State television broadcast footage of Nikolai Patrushev, head of the FSB, reporting Basayev's death to a solemn-looking President Putin in the Kremlin. "They intended to use this terrorist act to put pressure on Russia's leadership at a time when the G8 summit was being held," Mr Patrushev said.
Mr Putin, who launched the second Chechen war in 1999, said the rebel's death was "retribution" for the death he had wrought in his lifetime. "This is well deserved payback to the bandits for our children in Beslan, for Budennovsk, for all the terrorist acts they perpetrated in Moscow, and other regions of Russia including Ingushetia and Chechnya," he said.
In the Beslan school siege 331 people died, more than half of them children, in three days of violence.
Mr Putin congratulated the special forces responsible for Basayev's "elimination", ordering that they receive medals, but conceded that Moscow would continue to face resistance in Chechnya, a part of Russia riven by separatist conflict on and off since 1994.
"We know well that the terrorist threat is still very great and under no circumstances can we relax our operational work," he said.
State television broadcast graphic images of what remained of several rebel fighters killed with Basayev, their bodies bloodied and their clothes shredded. The body of Basayev was not displayed, apparently because there was not much left of it. Officials said he had been decapitated by the blast but could be identified by his prosthetic leg, his thick beard, and his severed head.
The FSB said that the operation was planned over six months and that Basayev was located due to surveillance of foreign countries that were supplying the separatists with arms.
His words prompted the Russian media to speculate that the FSB had concealed a bomb in the explosives-laden truck that blew up.
Basayev came to prominence in 1991 when he and a group of accomplices hijacked a Russian airliner to Turkey to highlight Chechnya's plight.He fought against the Russians in the first, 1994-96 Chechen war, and was briefly prime minister of an independent Chechnya in 1997.
Initially, he styled himself as a nationalist admirer of the South American revolutionary Che Guevara, but he grew increasingly religious in later years, calling himself "a slave of Allah" and wearing a green headband with Islamic verse.
He lost the lower part of a leg in 2000 after stepping on a Russian landmine, an incident that almost killed him. In 1995 he seized 1,700 people at a hospital in Budennovsk in southern Russia; around 100 people died.
He later assumed responsibility for the 2002 seizure of a Moscow theatre in which 129 hostages died, and for the 2004 double suicide bombing of two airliners, in which 89 people were killed.
The rebels' website said last night: "There was no special operation. Shamil ... has become a martyr. As for special operations, our Mujahideen will show how they should be carried out."
Fifteen years of carnage
* Basayev's first major terror attack was an airliner hijacking in 1991 which aimed to raise awareness of the state of emergency declared in Chechnya. He returned to Chechnya a free man.
* Basayev turned to increasingly violent tactics during the first Chechen war, taking more than 1,600 doctors and patients hostage in the town of Budyonnovsk. He escaped after more than 100 were killed in a bungled rescue mission.
* Chechen fighters struck at the heart of Russia in October 2002, taking more than 800 people hostage in a Moscow theatre. A rescue attempt resulted in the deaths of 129 hostages after Russian forces pumped narcotic gas into the theatre.
* Basayev admitted responsibility for co-ordinating twin suicide bomb attacks on airliners on the same day, killing 89 people in September 2004. Two weeks later 300 people, mainly children, were killed when Chechen fighters took 1,200 pupils and teachers hostage from School Number One in Beslan. Basayev said he financed the operation with just €8,000 (£5,500).
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