Shamil Basayev’s trademark tactic was hostage taking on a scale massive enough to win the attention of the world’s media for the plight of the Chechen people.
Two years ago guerillas following his orders took 1000 people hostage at a school in Beslan southern Russia. When troops stormed the building, 344 people died including 186 children. Bassayev expressed no regrets.
‘Officially over 40000 of our children have been killed and 10s of thousands mutilated. Is anyone saying anything about that?’ he told a journalist.
‘So you mean to say their children are responsible?’
‘It’s not their children who are responsible. The responsibility of the whole Russian nation.’
Basayev was Moscow’s public enemy number one for more than a decade and it’s remarkable he managed to escape retribution for so long. In 1995 he and 150 men took 1500 people hostage at a hospital in Budennovsk, also in the south of Russia.
Elderly people, women, children and even new born babies were seized. more than 100 hostages died in the attempt to liberate them. Thirty three of Bassayev’s supporters died too but he escaped -even securing the promise of peace talks to end the conflict in Chechnya.
When the peace initiatives broke down, Basayev returned to action, claiming responsibility for the seige of a theatre in Moscow in 2002 – 130 people died when the authorities attempted to stun the hostage-takers with powerful gases.
During the brief era of peace talks on Chechnya in the late 1990s, Basayev stood for the Chechen presidency. But he was heavily defeated by the more moderate Aslan Mashkadov, who distanced himself from Basayev but was nonetheless killed by Russian soliders last year.
The death now of Basayev leaves the Chechen independence movement decapitated – whether a new generation rises up to take the place of the old remains to be seen.