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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Car Bombings Target Official, Cleric

Chechnya's leading Moslem cleric narrowly survived a car bombing on Monday, a day after a similar car bomb killed the breakaway republic's top security official for fighting kidnappers.

The violence comes just as embattled Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has pledged an unprecedented region-wide crackdown on armed gangs of kidnappers who Chechen law enforcers estimate are holding at least 89 hostages, including seven foreigners.

But violence in Chechnya has been epidemic for much of this decade, and since the region's 21-month civil war to break free of Russia ended in asta lemate in 1996. And analysts said the latest mini-wave was less a threat to Maskhadov's rule than the continuing hostility of such leading field commanders as Shamil Basayev, who was once Maskhadov's prime minister but has since called for him to resign.

On Monday, Mufti Akhmad Khazdhi Kadirov was being driven home through the streets of Grozny when a bomb exploded under his Mercedes limousine. Both Kadirov and his injured driver managed to get out of the burning limousine.

Interfax quoted witnesses as saying the bomb, which demolished a small neighboring building and blew out windows for 100 meters, blew up just a few seconds after the car had passed.

Shadid Bargishev, chief of the anti-kidnapping department of Chechnya's State Shariat Security Ministry, was less fortunate. A remote-controlled bomb detonated on Sunday as the Zhiguli carrying the anti-kidnapping chief and his two bodyguards approached the security ministry. Bargishev was rushed to a hospital but died on the operating table after losing both legs and a hand.

Mufti Kadirov has repeatedly lashed out at those who make a living by kidnapping and called for their extermination. Bargishev was to lead the first ever Chechnya-wide campaign to mop up kidnappers.

Last week he gave kidnappers until Saturday to free all hostages. But Saturday passed with no result, and on Sunday he was killed.

Basayev, who became a hero in Chechnya in part thanks to his 1995 terrorist foray into southern Russia f in which his men took hostages and clashed with Russian forces in Budyonnovsk f said Sunday that Bargishev's murder was probably ordered by the kidnapping gangs he had threatened.

Others blamed foreigners. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov pinned the attacks on the secret services of unspecified foreign countries while the Kremlin's special envoy to Chechnya, Ivan Rybkin, blamed "outsiders" from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Vakha Asanov, Maskhadov's envoy to Moscow, said Bargishev's murder was only a minor setback in the battle against kidnapping. He said the region-wide drive to eliminate kidnappers and free hostages would begin in "the nearest future."

Asanov said the violence posed no immediate threat to Maskhadov's rule. Alexei Malashenko, an expert on Chechnya with the Moscow Carnegie Center, agreed with that, although he added that Maskhadov's reputation "won't be worth a single penny" if he doesn't order the kidnapping dragnet operation forward.

Basayev and two other warlords, Salman Raduyev and Khunkar Israpilov, convened a war veterans' meeting late last month in Grozny to demand Maskhadov's resignation, and accused the Chechen president of violating the separatist republic's Constitution.

Former President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev accused Maskhadov of "betraying the Chechen people" and trying to let Russia retake control of the region.

Maskhadov has defied that criticism, and demanded in turn that all field commanders disarm their supporters and hand their weapons to the authorities. Basayev has warned that Maskhadov is flirting with another civil war.