Salman Raduyev was born in 1967 into the Gordaloy teip (clan) in Novogroznensky near Gudermes in eastern Chechnya. During the early 1980s Raduyev was active in the Komsomol (Young Communist League) of which he eventually became a leader for the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. After attending high school in Gudermes, Raduyev served 1985-1987 in the Red Army as a construction engineer in the Strategic Rocket Forces unit stationed in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, where he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. After demobilization, he studied economy and worked in Soviet construction industry.
After Chechnya declared independence, he was appointed the prefect of Gudermes in June 1992 by his father-in-law, Dzhokhar Dudayev, who was the President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. He also married the daughter of Dudayev’s cousin.
During the First Chechen War Raduyev became a field commander for the Chechen armed forces, then nicknamed “Lone Wolf”.He fought in the battle of Grozny and was wounded in March 1995 during an attempt to capture him by the Russian special forces. In October 1995, he became one of the most important of the Chechen field commanders, commanding the 6th Brigade based in the strategically important Gudermessky District and responsible for the Gudermessky, part of the capital Grozny and the town of Argun. On December 14, 1995, Raduyev, along with Sultan Geliskhanov, led the raid on the city of Gudermes.
On January 9, 1996, Raduyev (allegedly copying Shamil Basayev’s 1995 Budyonnovsk attack) led a large-scale Kizlyar hostage taking raid into neighbouring Russian region of Dagestan, where his men took at least 2,000 civilian hostages. The raid, which made Raduyev world-famous, escalated into the all-out battle and ended with the complete destruction of the border village of Pervomayskoye, and other Chechen leaders criticised Raduyev. In March 1996, he was shot in the head and incorrectly reported dead. (Russian special forces claimed to have killed him in revenge for the Kizlyar attack, while the other sources said he was shot in a Chechen feud.) In fact, Raduyev just disappeared as he went for medical treatment abroad.
In the summer of 1996, Raduyev returned to the republic and refused the orders of the Chechnya’s Acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev to stop carrying out terrorist operations (he claimed ordering bombings of trolleybuses in Moscow and train stations Armavir and Pyatigorsk), despite the ceasefire and talks that would lead up to the Khasav-Yurt Accord. He even accused Yandarbiyev of treason for agreeing to ceasfire and threatened to attack him. Raduyev, his face deformed by injury and now hidden behind bushy red beard and black sunglasses, was the only field commander to announce openly that the “war without rules” with Russia would continue even despite the signing of a peace agreement.
In 1997, the newly elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov reduced Raduyev from the rank of brigadier general to private. However, further action was blocked by a public opposition from a Raduyev-led war veterans, including a prelonged rally in Grozny, which ended in a shootout resulting in the deaths of the commander of Raduyev’s forces Vakha Dzhafarov and the Chechen security forces director Lechi Khultygov. Meanwhile, Raduyev kept claiming responsibility for every explosion in Russia, including gas leaks. He claimed that Dudayev, who died in 1996, was still alive, and now issuing orders to him from “a secret NATO base in Turkey” with the goal of the “liberation” of entire North Caucasus. Raduyev’s eccentric behaviour was not widely popular in Chechnya. Many openly doubted his sanity; in the newspaper interview in 1997, Maskhadov described Raduyev as “mentally ill” (even Basayev, Raduyev’s ally in the opposition against Maskhadov, reportedly called him “crazy”). In October 1997, Raduyev was again heavily wounded by a car bomb which killed three other people. Previously, he survived at least two other assassination attempts, in April and in July of 1997.
In May 1998, the Chechnya’s Islamic court sentenced Raduyev in absence to four years in prison for allegedly attempting to overthrow Maskhadov, but made no attempt to arrest him. In September 1998, Raduyev announced a “temporary moratorium” on acts of terrorism. As a sign of his good gesture towards Russia, Raduyev claimed that it was he who freed the nine kidnapped Russian servicemen from their captors. He also became conflicted with the Islamist circles and called to ban “Wahhabism” in Chechnya. In January of 1999, he backed the republic’s parliament in its conflict with the Sharia Court. His private militia, some 1,000-strong and called General Dudayev’s Army.
In early 1999, Raduyev vanished from public again while undergoing a major plastic surgery in Germany, in effect acquiring a new face. The alleged implants of titanium earned him the nickname of “Titanic” in Russia, while in Chechnya he became popularly known as “Michael Jackson”. Still seriously ill and recovering from surgery, Raduyev had vowed “reprisals” against Russia for the March 1999 sentencing of two Chechen women. In September 1999, at the start of the Second Chechen War, Raduyev organized a rally in Grozny attended by 12,000 people where he urged residents to stay home and prepare to defend the city.
Raduyev was captured in March 2000 by Russian special operations unit Vympel in his home in Novogroznensky; soon after his arrest he was shown on television clean shaven, after Russian guards had forcefully shaven his beard. The Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Raduyev had confessed to trying to assassinate Eduard Shevardnadze, the President of Georgia.
Raduyev was tried on 18 different charges (including terrorism, banditry, hostage-taking, organization of murders and organization of illegal armed formations). He pleaded not guilty, maintained he was only following orders, claimed to suffer from no mental disorders whatsoever and said he hopes to be released from prison in some 10-12 years. Dozens of witnesses were called to testify, but many of the alleged victims of his actions had refused to participate. In December 2001, he was sentenced to life in prison. His appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in April 2002.
In December 2002, Raduyev died in the “White Swan” penal colony in Solikamsk from internal bleeding. The Russian authorities said he was not beaten to death, but died due to a “serious and protracted diseases”. Raduyev’s body was not returned to his family because of a newly-introduced Russian law barring the release of bodies of people convicted (or accused) of terrorism.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Raduyev are not clear and according to his family and the Chechen fighters he was murdered in prison after he refused to talk about the accusations against Akhmad Zakayev, then arrested in Denmark. Kommersant daily said that “the real reason for Raduev’s death will probably never be known,” while Vremya Novostei suggested that, after being forced to give all the information requested from him, he was therefore “no longer needed” by the Russian authorities and killed. Amnesty International has called for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death but the request was ignored and his body not exhumed.
Salman Raduyev ’s wife and his two sons – Dzhokhar and Salman- live abroad.