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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report Claims Rival Chechen Rebels Clash

GROZNY -- The government claimed Monday that rival rebel groups in Chechnya clashed when Islamic fundamentalists battled fighters of another faction.

The fighting broke out Sunday night between members of the Wahhabi sect and other rebels in the town of Shalazhi, said a source in Chechnya's pro-Moscow administration, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Wahhabism is a strict Islamic movement based in Saudi Arabia that has made inroads into Chechnya but is distrusted by most rebels, who are predominantly Sufi Moslems. The rivalry has helped to fracture rebel forces trying to drive federal troops out of the republic.

Rebel leaders were unavailable for comment Monday, but federal officials attempted to portray the battle as another indication of how deeply split the rebels have become. The cause of the reported clash was not apparent.

Citing the military command, Interfax reported that radio transmissions intercepted from the rebels indicated that four fighters were killed in the battle. The report could not be immediately confirmed.

Meanwhile Monday, Interfax reported that federal troops killed an aide to rebel Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. The aide, Umar Pashayev, was killed during a shootout in the southern Kurchaloi region, the report said. Pashayev was in charge of financial affairs for Maskhadov's government.

Colonel General Georgy Shpak, chief of the paratroop forces, claimed Monday that his troops seriously wounded both Maskhadov and a rebel warlord known as Khattab. With both men believed to be in Chechnya's southern mountains, the claim could not immediately be verified.

Shpak claimed Maskhadov was wounded two months ago and Khattab was wounded less than a month ago. It was unclear whether Shpak was referring to claims made at the beginning of June that Maskhadov had been wounded, which were never confirmed. Maskhadov appeared healthy in a television interview broadcast in mid-July.

Federal troops also boosted security at the scores of checkpoints dotting Chechnya's roads to keep rebel fighters from entering Grozny in preparation for possible attacks against federal forces.

In Grozny, troops were under orders to detain all cars and search them, while drivers were subjected to strict document checks lasting several hours.

The federal command has said rebels are expected to step up attacks on Aug. 6, when insurgents mark the anniversary of the day in 1996 when they pushed federal troops from Grozny. It was a turning point in the 1994-96 war, and federal forces later withdrew from Chechnya.

Despite the increased security, federal checkpoints came under fire seven times in Grozny on Sunday, and several soldiers were wounded, the government official said.