It was officially confirmed by different Chechen sources late in April that mujahideen commander Omar ibn Khattab has been martyred. The best information now available suggests that he died of poisoning on March 19, although conflicting reports and contradictory information make this difficult to ascertain.
News of Ibn-Khattab’s martyrdom first broke on April 25, when Russian television showed a video tape, apparently captured from Chechen sources, showing his body being laid out for burial. The Russians claimed to have killed him in a special operation, although the contents of the video did not appear to bear this out. Different versions quickly emerged, some reporting that he had died of old injuries and illness, others that he had been poisoned, some that he had been killed in fighting.
The date of his death was also disputed, with the Russians initially claiming to have killed him only shortly before releasing the video, and other sources saying that he was martyred much earlier, with the news being kept secret so that his body could be transported back to Arabia for burial by his family.
The fullest available account of Ibn-Khattab’s martyrdom, supported by information provided by the Command Headquarters of the Chechen Mujahideen and the office of Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, was published by the Kavkaz Centre on April 29.
According to this, he was indeed poisoned, by a letter delivered by an unknown messenger who, according to unconfirmed reports, was working for the Russians. The date of his death is given as March 19, with the fact not initially having been announced so that his burial place could be kept secret from the Russians in case they sought to disturb it. The video shown on Russian television was apparently made by Ibn-Khattab’s close comrades, and captured by the Russians when his right-hand man, Amir Elsi, was martyred in battle on April 23.
Although Ibn-Khattab is often described as a Jordanian, Chechen sources say that his family is from Saudi Arabia. He is reported to have travelled to Afghanistan to take part in the jihad against the Russians there when he was only 15. He returned to Arabia after the defeat of the Soviets, before coming back to take part in relief work. He reportedly went to Chechnya to join the mujahideen there in 1995 and had been there ever since, becoming one of the Chechen’s key commanders. He was married to a Dagestani woman, and leaves two small children. Inna lillahi wa inna illahi raji’un.