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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yandarbiyev Killing May Yet Rebound

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In slapping 25-year sentences on two Russian intelligence agents Wednesday in the killing of former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a Qatari judge made a point of saying that the car bombing was approved by the "Russian leadership."

Responding to this charge, Russia once more denied any official involvement in the assassination and insisted that the two agents were in Qatar to gather intelligence on terrorists.

Russia had previously sought Yandarbiyev's extradition on charges of helping to organize numerous terrorist attacks and of acting as a financial go-between with radical Wahhabist groups in the Middle East, but to no avail.

Entire theses could be written on whether extrajudicial execution of suspected terrorist leaders can be justified, regardless of whether Yandarbiyev could have been considered one or who ordered his assassination.

But such arguments do not answer a vital question about the effectiveness of assassinations of leaders of radical Islamic groups and terrorist networks.

Israel, for instance, has enjoyed a relative lull period after two Hamas leaders were killed in successive months. Damage to an organization, though, does not necessarily hurt its cause, and Palestinian rage has only been fueled.

In comparison, since the killing of Yandarbiyev in Doha in February, the Kremlin has seen no letup in the North Caucasus. In the worst of the attacks, its loyal Chechen president, Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated in May and the Ingush city of Nazran was raided by hundreds of Ingush and Chechen rebels in June.

Although Yandarbiyev was far from being the sole pillar of Chechen separatism, his death might have had a short-term effect on the financing of the rebels, but it definitely dealt no mortal blow to their command and control.

Similarly, Russia did not go on to win the first war in Chechnya after the assassination of Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev in 1995. Instead, Yandarbiyev took over, and radical Wahhabi ideas and cash took the rebel movement in a more extreme direction.

Moreover, just like the assassinations of the Hamas leaders, the killing of Yandarbiyev might in the end generate more support for the separatists' cause in Chechnya, as Yandarbiyev's followers seek to portray him as a martyr.

In these circumstances the idea of assassinating a leader in an attempt to bring down an entire movement is a dangerous myth, where the biggest collateral damage is to the long-term chances for peace.