MOSCOW - The son of a late Chechen rebel warlord has been killed in Syria by government forces battling a rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, Russian media and websites sympathetic to Islamist insurgents in Russia's Caucasus region reported.
Rustam Gelayev was killed in the shelling of a mosque in
Aleppo by forces loyal to Assad earlier this month, according to
the website chechenews.com.
The report, which cited unidentified sources in Chechnya,
said Gelayev, 24, had joined a unit of ethnic Chechen volunteers
fighting alongside Syrian insurgents in a 17-month-old uprising
against Assad, who has close ties with Moscow.
Another website sympathetic to the insurgents,
kavkazcenter.com, said he had been killed when his unit “entered
into a battle with superior forces of the Alawite regime …
presumably between Aug. 11 and Aug. 13.”
Syria’s conflict pits largely Sunni Muslim insurgents
against Assad’s minority Alawite community that has long
dominated the power structure. Chechens are Sunni Muslims.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant, however, cited a relative
of Gelayev as saying he had been studying in Syria, had decided
to leave because of the violence and was making his way to
Turkey when he was killed.
There is a large ethnic Chechen diaspora in Turkey, whose
prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, was once an Assad ally but is
now among his most vocal critics.
Russia, which has shielded Assad from concerted
international pressure to end the bloodshed by vetoing three
Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions, says some of
those fighting the government are foreign “terrorists”.
A Russian diplomat said in March that there were at last
15,000 foreign fighters battling Assad’s government, though
officials in Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed government have said
nobody from the region is fighting in Syria.
The body of Gelayev was brought to Chechnya and he was
buried there in his ancestral village, the reports said.
His father, Ruslan Gelayev, was a prominent warlord who
fought Russian federal forces in the two post-Soviet separatist
wars in the 1990s and early 2000s in Chechnya, one of the mostly
Muslim provinces of Russia’s North Caucasus.
Ruslan Gelayev was fatally wounded in a gunbattle with
Russian border guards on the frontier with Georgia in 2004.
Relatives of Gelayev and Chechen government officials could
not immediately be reached for comment.
Russian media say Gelayev’s mother is an ethnic Russian
living outside Chechnya and that he spent little time there.
Kommersant said he had moved to Belgium with his wife and child,
then to Egypt several years ago to study Islam.