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Report: Chechen Rebel chief killed

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Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov

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(CNN) -- Police in Chechnya killed rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Saidulayev during a special operation Saturday, according to Interfax, the Russian news agency.

Saidulayev had succeeded Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed by Russian forces last year.

Chechnya is an autonomous Russian republic. Rebels seeking independence there have long been fighting Russia.

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov was quoted as saying that Saidulayev "and his accomplices are responsible for numerous victims among peaceful civilians, and his elimination vividly shows the end to which terrorists in Chechnya eventually come."

Chechen Cabinet Minister Muslim Khuchiyev told Interfax that the operation was carried out in Argun, Saidulayev's hometown, according to The Associated Press.

He was quoted as saying that police acted on a tip and killed the rebel "when he offered armed resistance."

Argun is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of the provincial capital, Grozny.

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said that rebels under Saidulayev's command were planning to stage a terror attack in Argun at the time of the summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations hosted by Russia in St. Petersburg in mid-July, the Interfax news agency reported.

Saidulayev had succeeded Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed by Russian forces in March 2005. Saidulayev's killing, if confirmed, would be further evidence that the rebels' position is weakening in Chechnya even as Islamic-inspired insurgents have spread their influence across the volatile North Caucasus region.

Saidulayev, a fundamentalist field commander, was relatively unknown outside rebel circles. He had served as a judge of the Chechen rebels' Shariat committee -- an extension of the Islamic court established under Maskhadov when he was Chechnya's elected president in the 1990s

Chechnya's separatist movement initially was rooted in nationalist sentiment, but in recent years has taken on a growing Islamic cast. Saidulayev had promoted efforts to spread the rebel movement beyond Chechnya's borders in the so-called "Caucasus Front" and attack Russian forces across the poverty-stricken and corruption-gripped south.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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