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Chechen leader steps down, making way for 'more energetic' successor

The Islamist rebel who spearheaded the anti-Kremlin insurgency in Chechnya has announced that he will be making way for new leadership.

Doku Umarov

Umarov has vowed to keep up his fight against Russia

The Chechen guerrilla chief, Doku Umarov has announced that he is relinquishing command of his Islamist rebel movement in the region.

"We have unanimously decided that I shall leave my post today," the bearded rebel fighter said in a video posted on YouTube Monday.

The new leader of the Islamist group "Caucasus Emirate" will be Aslambek Vadalov, described by Umarov as "younger and more energetic."

Vadalov and one other man, known only as "Mustafa", appeared alongside Umarov, sitting relaxed in a forest in the video message.

In recent years, Russia's most wanted guerrilla Umarov brought a string of disjointed rebel groups in several southern Russian regions together, styling himself as the leader of the new "Caucasus Emirate" group - an organization fighting for independence from Russia and the introduction of Sharia, or Islamic, law in the North Caucasus.

Still a fighter

Umarov has claimed responsibility for several attacks in recent months, including the March 29 bombings of the Moscow Metro that killed at least 40 people. He became head of the Chechen guerilla movement in June 2006, following in the footsteps of the notorious Shamil Basayev, who was responsible for the 2004 hostage siege of a school in Beslan that killed over 330 people.

"This stepping down does not mean that I give up jihad," Umarov, bearded and wearing a national skullcap, said in a video address posted on the website www.kavkazcenter.com.

"I will do whatever I can by word and deed," he added.

Umarov, who has been on Moscow's most wanted list for years, has led a rebellion that started as a separatist insurgency seeking independence from Moscow, but has now developed into a broader Islamist movement looking to establish an "Emirate" across the Caucasus mountains.

Author: Mark Hallam, Nicole Goebel (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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