Mysterious death o Chechen leader: accident or planned operation?

Rebels close to Basayev said the explosion that caused his death Monday was an accident, but reports also circulated of a targeted missile strike and of a secret services operation that had an agent detonating the truck's explosives.


Russia's defense minister hailed the death of "our bin Laden" as a "landmark event." Still, Sergei Ivanov warned that the 12-year struggle with Chechen separatist rebels - which has spread across the impoverished and mainly Muslim North Caucasus in Russia's south - was not over.


Russian newspapers reported Tuesday that Basayev's death resulted from a carefully planned secret services operation that used a shipment of weapons and explosives to ensnare the warlord just outside the main Ingush city of Nazran.


Unidentified security officials quoted by the Vremya Novostei daily said the preparations took six months. Intelligence agents planted in Basayev's entourage led him to a trap in which Russian special services detonated the explosives at the moment when he got near the truck, the officials said.


The Komosmolskaya Pravda daily reported the undercover agent who was traveling in Basayev's convoy received a payment of up to $500,000.
But there was also a report of a missile strike.


Other media sourses  reported Tuesday that Basayev was killed by a rocket that homed in on his phone - the method used to kill Chechen separatist President Dzhokhar Dudayev in 1996.


Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev denied that Basayev's killing occurred during a special operation and insisted Monday's explosion was an accident. He said local policemen began to suspect Basayev might be among the dead when they found fragments of an artificial leg, according to the AP.


Basayev lost a leg while fleeing Russian forces through a minefield on the outskirts of Grozny in 1999.