Russian television showed what it said was Maskhadov lying on his back in a pool of blood, with his arms spread out on either side. There was what appeared to be a bullet mark in his left cheek, Reuters reported.
“A special operation was carried out by us in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt as a result of which the international terrorist and leader of the rebel group Aslan Maskhadov was killed,” FSB Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev told Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian forces reportedly detained rebels who were planning a large terrorist attack on the administration building in Tolstoy-Yurt, according to the Interfax news agency.
Maskhadov was a leading figure in the Chechen separatists fight for independence during the 1994-96 war. In 1997, he became the republic’s president and signed a peace accord with then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin.
However, two years later, the economy was in shambles and Maskhadov reacted to threats from rival Islamic forces by endorsing Islamic Sharia law, which would have removed the parliament’s ability to make laws and overridden the secular constitution.
During this period, his rivals gained influence, especially warlord Shamil Basayev, who adhered to the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam and led an armed incursion into neighboring Dagestan with the goal of creating an Islamic state. In September 1999, rebels attacked a military housing complex in Dagestan, killing nearly 300 people. Newly appointed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed to end Chechen insurrection ordered the air force to bomb the Chechen capital, Grozny. Maskhadov declared martial law and called for ghazevat — holy war — to defend Chechnya. In October 1999, Moscow refused to recognize Maskhadov’s government.
Russian President Putin blames Maskhadov for a string of deadly incidents in Russia, including the hostage crisis at a Moscow theatre, a bombing near the Kremlin and an attack against a school in the south Russian town of Beslan that killed at least 326 hostages — half of them children.
Last year, Russia’s Federal Security Service offered a reward of up to $10 million for information that could help “neutralize” Maskhadov and Basayev.
In February, Maskhadov called a temporary cease-fire and talks with the Russian leadership, which declined, calling the cease-fire a publicity stunt.