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Exiled ex-leader of Chechnya killed in blast

DOHA, Qatar -- Chechnya's exiled former president, wanted by Russia for terrorism and ties to Al Qaeda, was assassinated yesterday when a bomb blew apart his car as he left a mosque with his teenage son.

Russia's security services denied any involvement in the death of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, 51. But a Chechen rebel group called the slaying "the latest bloody Kremlin crime."

Yandarbiyev's 13-year-old son was critically wounded in the 12:45 p.m. blast after prayers in the capital of Doha, according to an Interior Ministry statement and Hamad General Hospital.

The white sport-utility vehicle was demolished by the blast. A body lay wrapped in white and blue sheets as camouflaged security forces picked up debris from the bloodstained pavement.

"We are collecting evidence in order to reach the perpetrators," Qatar's chief of security, Mubarak al-Nasr, said on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar. Such bombings are rare in this quiet state with tight security.

The blast occurred a week after a bombing in a Moscow subway killed 41 people and wounded more than 100. President Vladimir V. Putin blamed Chechen rebels and took a hard line, saying, "Russia doesn't conduct negotiations with terrorists -- it destroys them."

An aide to Yandarbiyev, Ibrahim Gabi, attributed Yandarbiyev's killing to the Kremlin and Russia's Federal Security Service, the FSB, a pro-rebel website reported.

"There's no doubt that Lubyanka is behind this bloody terrorist act," the site quoted Gabi as saying, referring to the Moscow building that was the headquarters of the Soviet KGB and now houses the FSB, its main successor. "In the 21st century, the Kremlin terrorists use bombs instead of ice picks and poisoned umbrellas."

A pro-rebel website quoted Akmed Zakayev, an aide to separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, as calling Yandarbiyev's death "the latest bloody Kremlin crime."

"There is not the slightest doubt that this despicable terrorist act . . . is the work of the Russian special services," he said on the site, adding they are "settling accounts with the firmest supporters of Chechen independence."

Boris Labusov, a spokesman for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, another successor to the KGB, said his agency had nothing to do with the death, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported from Moscow.

Putin, who is expected to easily win Russia's March 14 presidential elections, has built much of his strong image on a firm refusal to negotiate with Chechen rebels.

Anatol Lieven, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said Yandarbiyev could have been targeted by the Russian security services, by Chechen political rivals, or because of a business feud. Lieven said Yandarbiyev has raised money for use in Chechnya but that it was unclear whether he was important enough to be targeted by Russia.

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