Ahmed Chatayev allegedly killed in Tbilisi, but who was he?
As a result of a large-scale special operation, Ahmed Chataev, one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, has allegedly been killed in Tbilisi. Novaya Gazeta retells the story of one of the military leaders of the so-called ‘Islamic State’.
On the evening of 21 November, a residential block in the Isani neighborhood of Tbilisi was cordoned off by law enforcement as armed militants had barricaded themselves in a flat on the third floor of an apartment building.
Several police and special forces units, as well as armored vehicles were dispatched, while residents and a nearby school was evacuated.
First there was an attempt made at negotiations, then an attempt to storm the building, then negotiations again, then another assault. Fire broke out in several apartments. Tbilisi hasn’t seen such military operations in a long time.
The operation lasted nearly 24 hours. As a result, four special forces operatives were wounded, of which one later died in hospital. One of the militants was detained early on while the other three were killed.
Ahmed Chatayev was a close associate of the leader of the Caucasus Emirate Doku Umarov, close to the head of the Islamic State of Al-Baghdadi and the world’s ‘number one enemy in the North Caucasus’ (as Michael McCall, US Senator and head of the US Security Committee said in 2015).
Ahmed Chatayev was born in 1980 in the Chechen village of Vedeno. He participated in the second Chechen war, during which he lost his right arm, giving him the nickname ‘Odnorukiuy’ (one-arm). He fled with his family to Europe in the early 2000s. Russia had Chatayev declared wanted by Interpol, but in 2003 he managed to persuade Austrian authorities to grant him political asylum (he supposedly said that he lost his arm due to torture techniques used by Russian security forces). In the years that followed, he traveled to various European countries as an official representative of Doku Umarov.
Several books could be written and many adventure films can be made about Chataev’s life. Over the past ten years, he’s been arrested five times – in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Sweden, and Georgia for illegal weapon possession and suspected ties with terrorist organizations. Every time he managed to walk away. He was released ‘due to a lack of evidence’, and there were always influential politicians or international organizations that stood up for him, a political refugee who was allegedly pursued by Russian authorities.
In August 2012, Chatayev’s surname surfaced in connection with a scandalous anti-terrorism special operation near the mountainous Georgian village of Lapankuri on the border with Dagestan. According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs’ official account of events, a well-armed group of 20 people entered Georgia from Dagestan. Their goal was the ‘destabilization of the situation in the country’ (Georgia was holding parliamentary elections at the time). In the end however, this version turned out to be false. As a result of this special operation, 11 armed men were killed, all of them Kists who had come from Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. According to some reports, for several months young people had participated in military training in Pankisi, some under Chataev’s leadership. The plan was to transfer the group to Russia in order to replenish the ranks of the ‘Caucasus Emirate’.
Akhmed Chatayev got wounded during the standoff and handed himself in several days later. Bidzina Ivanishvili’s government, newly elected at the time, released him on bail, before dropping all the charges altogether. At the same time, according to the official account, Chatayev was invited by Georgian security officials close to Saakashvili to mediate negotiations at the site of the special operation.
After receiving amnesty, Chatayev moved to Turkey. In February 2015, it became known that he had gone to Syria where he swore allegiance to the head of ISIS, Al-Baghdadi. He immediately took a prominent position in ISIS, becoming the apprentice of another famous Kistin and longtime acquaintance Tarkhan Batirashvili (known as Abu Umar al-Shshani in the ranks of ISIS), who was in charge of the so-called “Ministry of War” at the time.
Chatayev headed the Yarmuk batallion, a subdivision of ISIS made up of Chechens. He could not take part in military actions as he lost his right arm during the second Chechen war and his left leg during the counter-terrorist operation in Georgia. He began to plan operations and manage finances in the military ministry (Chatayev handled his own duties so well that after Batirashvili’s death in summer 2016, he temporarily performed his duties).
In October 2015, the US announced that Chatayev was wanted as a terrorist and included him on the sanctions list, which meant freezing all his assets and seizing his property in the United States. The UN Security Council followed a little later on with a similar initiative against Chatayev.
In June 2016, a major terrorist attack took place at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, killing 43 people and injuring 240 others. A few days after the tragedy Senator McCall announced that Ahmed Chatayev was considered to have organized the attack, having coordinated the three suicide bombers that detonated their vests at the airport.
In 2015, Chatayev sent Georgian authorities an audio recording of threats from Syria. He demanded the release of Ayub Borchashvili, a former Imam of one of the Pankisi villages who had been detained by Georgian security forces under suspicion of having links to ISIS. Chatayev threatened to carry out terror attacks on Georgia if they failed to meet his demand. During his trial, Borchashvili admitted that he was a representative of ISIS in Pankisi and recruited young people, sending them to fight in the lands of the ‘Caliphate’. Borchashvili is now serving a 14-year prison sentence.
How Ahmed Chatayev, one of the most wanted terrorists in the world managed to get back into Georgia is still unknown. According to Novaya Gazeta sources in Georgian law enforcement, security officials ‘led’ Chatayev and his people, even during the special operation by entering into negotiations with him until the last attempt to take him alive.
The identities of the deceased have not been officially confirmed yet.