Yandarbiyev became vice president of the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya under separatist president Dzhokar Dudayev and later served as acting president of a de facto independent Chechnya in 1996-97.
He was wanted by Moscow on charges relating to the separatist movement and his alleged terrorist ties as well as suspicions that he was connected to the 2002 Chechen rebel takeover of a Moscow theater that killed some 129 hostages and at least 41 guerillas.
Yandarbiyev has lived in Qatar for the last three years and the Kremlin has repeatedly sought his extradition.
A hospital spokesman told Reuters the former Chechen leader was leaving a mosque in northern Doha after Friday prayers when the blast occurred. His 13-year-old-son, Daud, survived with extensive burns.
The pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, showed images of the mangled remains of Yandarbiyev’s car and a covered body being taken away by an ambulance. The station also reported on its Web site that Yandarbiyev was traveling with two bodyguards who were also killed in the blast.
“We heard a very loud blast and the car was on fire. A young man fell out of the car,” an Indian man at the mosque told Reuters.
The Qatari government said Friday that an investigation into Yandarbiyev’s apparent assassination would ensue.
“We are collecting evidence in order to reach the perpetrators,” Qatar’s chief of security, Mubarak al-Nasr, said on Al-Jazeera television.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. Such explosions are unusual in Qatar, which is known for its tight security.
The Russian embassy in Doha had no immediate comment on the incident.
Boris Labusov, a spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, considered a top KGB successor, said his agency had no involvement in Yandarbiyev’s death, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Moscow-backed Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov condemned Yandarbiyev as the chief visionary of the separatists and a “terrorist.”
“You will find no one (in Chechnya) who will regret what happened to Yandarbiyev,” Kadyrov told Interfax, a Russian news service.
A nationalist poet and children’s book author, the 51-year-old Yandarbiyev was a well-known figure in the Chechen separatist movement and was believed to be a key link in the rebels’ finance network. He was also considered one of the most prominent proponents of radical Islam among the rebels, according to press accounts.
Yandarbiyev was added to a United Nations list of people with alleged links to the al-Qaida terrorist network at Russia’s request and was also on a list of international terrorists subject to U.S. financial sanctions. He has been on the Interpol wanted list since 2001 along with former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other prominent Chechen rebels.
He denied links between Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and the Chechen rebels, according to the AP.
During his time as Chechnya’s president, he headed the rebel delegation that held talks with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in 1996. Yandarbiyev and Yeltsin signed a short-lived peace agreement after the negotiations.
During the rule of the Islamic militant Taliban in Aghanistan, Yandarbiyev opened a Chechen embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul, and a consulate in the southern city of Kandahar.