Son of Chechen Warlord Dies Fighting Assad

By Nikolaus von Twickel
The Moscow Times
23 August 2012

The son of a prominent Chechen warlord was killed in Syria while battling President Bashar Assad’s troops, according to reports on three Russian-language websites linked to Islamist rebels.

Rustam Gelayev, 24, was killed during an artillery attack in Aleppo between Aug. 11 and 13, the sites said. His body was taken to Chechnya, where he was buried Aug. 17.

Gelayev was identified as the eldest son of Ruslan Gelayev, who rose to fame during the second Chechen war and was killed in 2004 during a clash with border guards close to Georgia in Dagestan.

Rustam Gelayev was born in Omsk, where his father lived during the 1980s and married a local woman named Larisa Gubkina, according to an NTV report in 2003 that was republished on the website of the Memorial human rights organization.

After living in Chechnya, Rustam moved to an unspecified Middle Eastern country to study Islam, the rebel websites reported. He joined the anti-Assad forces in Syria earlier this summer.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has in the past vehemently denied reports about Chechen fighters in Syria, calling them "fabrications" to discredit Moscow’s stance on the conflict.

The Kremlin has defied Western criticism by backing Assad in the bloody uprising that has left more than 15,000 dead since last year.

Foreign correspondents have claimed to have spotted Chechens among the insurgents, although they have not provided much proof so far. The latest instance was a tweet from the Guardian’s Martin Chulov on Monday, who said he saw Chechens in an Aleppo village, en route to the frontline.

"Chechens [are] open about where they were from," he said.

Syria also has a population of perhaps 5,000 ethnic Chechens, who are descended from refugees who immigrated to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.

Kadyrov’s spokesman, Alvi Karimov, said Wednesday that "no inhabitants of Chechnya" are among the participants of the conflict, Interfax reported.

But he seemingly did not rule out the presence of individual fighters by saying "the so-called armed opposition in Syria, lavishly supported by Western countries with arms and money, buys politicians and generals, but single volunteers can’t affect the climate."

Moscow believes that Syria has no intention of using its chemical weapons and is able to keep them safe, Kommersant reported Wednesday, citing an unspecified Foreign Ministry official.

A "confidential dialogue" with the government in Damascus on the security of the arsenal has convinced Russia that "the Syrian authorities do not intend to use these weapons and are capable of keeping them under control," the report said.

 

Son of late Chechen warlord reported killed in Syria

By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW | Thu Aug 23, 2012 1:19pm EDT

(Reuters) – The son of a late Chechen rebel warlord has been killed in Syria by government forces battling a rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, Russian media and websites sympathetic to Islamist insurgents in Russia’s Caucasus region reported.

Rustam Gelayev was killed in the shelling of a mosque in Aleppo by forces loyal to Assad earlier this month, according to the website chechenews.com.

The report, which cited unidentified sources in Chechnya, said Gelayev, 24, had joined a unit of ethnic Chechen volunteers fighting alongside Syrian insurgents in a 17-month-old uprising against Assad, who has close ties with Moscow.

Another website sympathetic to the insurgents, kavkazcenter.com, said he had been killed when his unit "entered into a battle with superior forces of the Alawite regime … presumably between August 11 and August 13."

Syria’s conflict pits largely Sunni Muslim insurgents against Assad’s minority Alawite community that has long dominated the power structure. Chechens are Sunni Muslims.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant, however, cited a relative of Gelayev as saying he had been studying in Syria, had decided to leave because of the violence and was making his way to Turkey when he was killed.

There is a large ethnic Chechen diaspora in Turkey, whose prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, was once an Assad ally but is now among his most vocal critics.

Russia, which has shielded Assad from concerted international pressure to end the bloodshed by vetoing three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions, says some of those fighting the government are foreign "terrorists".

A Russian diplomat said in March that there were at last 15,000 foreign fighters battling Assad’s government.

Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed regional leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, said on Thursday that "no Russian citizens of Chechen nationality are fighting in Syria on any side", but indicated insurgents or Chechens living abroad could be doing so.

"Chechens are not fighting in Syria – at least we can very responsibly say that about residents of the Chechen Republic," Kadyrov told reporters. "As for Gelayev … and others like him, they have no homeland – they lost it long ago."

The body of Gelayev was brought to Chechnya and he was buried there in his ancestral village, the reports said.

His father, Ruslan Gelayev, was a prominent warlord who fought Russian federal forces in the two post-Soviet separatist wars in the 1990s and early 2000s in Chechnya, one of the mostly Muslim provinces of Russia’s North Caucasus.

Ruslan Gelayev was fatally wounded in a gunbattle with Russian border guards on the frontier with Georgia in 2004.

Relatives of Gelayev and Chechen government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Russian media say Gelayev’s mother is an ethnic Russian living outside Chechnya and that he spent little time there. Kommersant said he had moved to Belgium with his wife and child, then to Egypt several years ago to study Islam.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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