If the reports about the death of Abu Walid, Saudi leader of Chechen militants, are true, it would be a significant success for Russia in the five-year-old Chechen war. Abu Walid has coordinated the distribution of funds from foreign sponsors to guerrillas in Chechnya, has been a top Chechen military commander and has organized many recent major attacks in Russia. While the war in Chechnya certainly will not end, Abu Walid's death will weaken the Chechen resistance for a time.
Arab media reported April 19 that Russian forces have killed Abu al-Walid al-Ghamidi, known as Abu Walid, a prominent Saudi Wahhabi militant and leader of guerrillas in Chechnya. The reports credit a mix of sources — including Abu Walid's father and brother in Saudi Arabia — who claim to have received information from contacts in Chechnya. The Russian government has yet to confirm the story. Russian forces in April carried out a series of heavy attacks in Chechnya's mountainous south and along the porous border with Ingushetia — regions that have seen a host of militant activity. Among dozens of unidentified militants killed there, Abu Walid indeed might have fallen. Pro-Chechen Web site Kavkaz.org reports that Abu Walid was killed in an attack during prayers in a "mountainous area." Russian intelligence sources tell STRATFOR they have not intercepted radio communications between Abu Walid and Chechen field commanders since April 10. If Abu Walid is dead, and this is still a big if — Chechen forces in the past have faked his death as a disinformation tactic — it would be a significant success in Russia's war against Islamist militants in Chechnya. Abu Walid has been one of the two most important Chechen military commanders since March 2002 (the other being Shamil Basayev, an ethnic Chechen). During this time, he has spearheaded much of the strategic and operational planning for the guerrillas, as well as led some of the most important attacks against Russian forces and pro-Moscow Chechens in Chechnya. He has been the de facto commander of most of the foreign — majority Arab — fighters that have come to Chechnya to fight the Russians. Russian intelligence sources indicate Abu Walid has been a leading organizer of attacks throughout Russia. He is believed to have masterminded the Moscow theater hostage crisis in October 2002 in partnership with Basayev, and the February 2004 subway blast in Moscow. In March 2004, Al Jazeera TV released a video featuring Abu Walid threatening further attacks against Russia. Most importantly, Abu Walid has been the key figure in the distribution of funds from Middle Eastern sponsors, primarily Saudis. Numerous sources in Russia and Chechnya say these funds are a leading enabler for militant activities within and beyond the breakaway region. Before his first visit in 1995 to Chechnya as an emissary representing foreign Islamist radical groups — the Russian government says he came as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood — when the first post-Soviet Chechen war was in full swing, Abu Walid had a distinguished career in Saudi Arabia's elite National Guard and General Intelligence Service, training anti-government Yemeni rebels and performing secret missions in Angola and Yemen. His experience in such operations allowed him to make numerous contacts with radical Islamist leaders, organizations and militants. Such actions lend strong support to the claim by Russian intelligence that Abu Walid's role as the "financial controller" for Chechen militants proves the Saudi national is tightly in league with al Qaeda. While it is unclear when — or if — Abu Walid cut his ties to Saudi intelligence, after Russian secret services in 2002 assassinated a Jordanian militant who went by the nom de guerre of "Khattab," he gradually overtook Khattab's role. Abu Walid then became the militants' chief financial officer and de facto leader of Chechnya's foreign militants. If Abu Walid was killed, then the Chechen militants' command and control system is in turmoil. The rupture would not likely interrupt attacks or operations that already were planned, but establishing new lines of command and communication will take months. In that time, the operational and planning capabilities of the militants will be degraded, even without the inevitable power struggle among the militants to replace him. Abu Walid, like Khattab before him, is not irreplaceable. The militants in Chechnya will learn to cope with his loss and will find a replacement commander. It will take longer to hand off Abu Walid's financial role: The foreign and indigenous fighters in Chechnya are not the only ones who will need to have confidence in his successor; those living in the Middle East who help underwrite the Chechen war also will have to trust him.