Chechen warlord reported killed
MOSCOW, Russia -- One of the leading rebel warlords in Chechnya has been killed, according to Russia's security service.
Omar Ibn al Khattab, a Jordanian who the United States has said may have Al Qaeda connections, was said to be killed in action against Russian troops several weeks ago.
But Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev called the Russian statement "absolute disinformation." He told The Associated Press by telephone that Khattab was in fine health and "at his post."
Federal Security Service spokesman Alexander Zdanovich was quoted by the Interfax news agency on Thursday as saying Khattab was killed in an operation by Russian forces in Chechnya.
He said he would provide documented evidence. The security service's press office confirmed Zdanovich's statement, but gave no other details.
Russian officials have called Khattab one of their worst foes in breakaway Chechnya since accusing him of masterminding incursions into the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan in 1999.
The Dagestan attacks and a series of apartment block bombings around Russia prompted Moscow to send troops back into Chechnya later that year.
U.S. officials have said Khattab and Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev are believed to have financial and other ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov claimed earlier this year that a videotape had recently surfaced showing bin Laden together with Khattab.
Khattab was said to be a Wahhabi -- a sect of Islam that supports independence for the mostly Muslim regions of the Caucasus.
Russian troops fought a 1994-96 war in Chechnya against the separatists but were forced to retreat, leaving the region with de facto independence.
They returned in 1999 to sweep the separatist administration from power and to replace it with a pro-Moscow government.
In a key speech to the Russian parliament President Vladimir Putin last week said the conflict in Chehnya could be considered over although there is still almost daily rebel actions in the republic.
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