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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Basayev Takes Credit for Suicide Bombings

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev said Monday that his men were responsible for last week's suicide bombings in Chechnya, while separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov distanced himself from the violence.

The attacks last Monday and Wednesday killed at least 77 people, mostly civilians.

"By the grace of Allah, mujahedin fighters from our suicide ... brigade carried out two successful operations against the Russian occupiers and their local lackeys," Basayev said in a statement published by the Kavkaz Tsentr rebel web site.

Basayev said the attacks were "a tiny part" of a new campaign against what the Kremlin calls its "anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya.

"And, God willing, this whirlwind will rage everywhere," he said.

Maskhadov, in response to questions submitted by Reuters, said he would never have sent his men to kill innocent people or Chechens working for the local pro-Moscow administration.

"I am totally convinced that those who kill Chechnya's civilians operate under the umbrella of Russian special forces with the aim of discrediting Chechen resistance fighters," he said.

Maskhadov said his fighters were gearing up for a "summer campaign" to "clear our land of the occupiers."

Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said Monday that investigators suspected three women had taken part in the suicide bombing at a religious ceremony Wednesday, and that attack and a truck bombing two days earlier may have been planned by the same people.

Fridinsky said a "pretty big sum of money" had been sent from abroad to carry out terrorist acts in Chechnya.

The militants were coming from abroad as well, he said. "There currently is a group of up to 700 people who periodically conduct military activity and travel from Chechnya to the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia and back again," Fridinsky said.

Russian-Georgian relations have long been strained over the rebel presence in the gorge and Georgia's rejection of Moscow's demands to let its troops flush the rebels out. Georgia launched an operation last summer to search the gorge for suspected militants, but Moscow called the operation largely useless.

Tensions faded after President Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze agreed last fall on some joint measures to improve security on the border, and after Georgia extradited several suspected rebels whom it had detained.

However, Georgia's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that three alleged Chechen rebels should not be extradited to Russia and said they should stand trial in Georgia instead.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov accused Georgia of reneging on a high-level agreement to extradite suspected rebels to Russia.

"I see the Georgian side's latest judicial decision not to extradite them as a failure to fulfill the agreement that had been achieved," Ivanov was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying.

Meanwhile, a Chechen regional police chief was killed overnight in a clash with rebels, Itar-Tass and Interfax reported. Shakhid Muguyev, chief of police in the southern Vedeno region, was killed by automatic weapons fire. Muguyev had been on the job only two months, Interfax said.

(AP, Reuters)