AFP - Chechen Islamists have called for the death of the leader of Chechnya's self-proclaimed government-in-exile, rebel websites reported Tuesday, cementing a split between the two separatist factions.
The "Caucasus Emirate," a militant group aiming to establish an Islamic state across Russia's North Caucasus, condemned London-based rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev in a statement posted on Kavkazcenter.com and Islamdin.com.
Zakayev, who represents the more secular faction of the Chechen independence movement and has previously sparred with the Islamists, recently entered negotiations with the Moscow-backed official government of Chechnya.
The Caucasus Emirate said its high sharia court had "reached the conclusion that Akhmed Zakayev is a zindiq who has abandoned the religion of Islam," using the term "zindiq," which means atheist or heretic.
"On this basis, the court ruled that the killing of this zindiq is the obligation of Muslims, unless he publicly repents," the group said.
Led by the notorious warlord Doku Umarov, the Caucasus Emirate emerged in 2007 and has challenged the authority of Zakayev, the self-declared prime minister of the unrecognised Chechen government-in-exile in London.
In the 1990s Umarov and Zakayev were both part of the separatist government of Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region of southern Russia that sought to break free of Moscow after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
After Russian forces crushed the separatists in the second Chechen war of 1999-2000, Zakayev fled abroad while the rebel movement became gradually more dominated by Islamists.
In recent months Zakayev has entered landmark talks with representatives of the official pro-Moscow government of Chechnya, led by the Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.