GROZNY, Russia -- Ramzan Kadyrov, a widely feared militia commander and son of the assassinated president of Chechnya, emerged yesterday as the likely successor, leading many Chechens to predict a new escalation of violence in a region already ruined by a decade of war. As Akhmad Kadyrov's sheepskin-draped body was laid to rest in his home village, Ramzan, 27, was named the top Chechen official in the regional government. This places him just below a Russian who was named acting president of Chechnya on Sunday.
Many Russian analysts and Chechens saw the move as a precursor to naming him president. His father, a close ally of Russia, was killed by a bomb that exploded under his reviewing stand during a military holiday celebration here in the Chechen capital Sunday. Ramzan has become known in the past two years as one of the most brutal figures in a place filled with them. His militia of 1,500 to 3,000 fighters, many of them former rebels who switched sides to back the government, is allied with Russian occupation forces. Many Chechens and human rights groups accuse Ramzan's unit of kidnapping, torturing, and killing civilians. He has denied the allegations.
His father served as Chechnya's chief mufti, or religious leader, and was an early rebel commander who later reversed course to become the Kremlin's designated leader. Without his father's political weight, the young Kadyrov might draw challenges from other factions and clans eager to reassert their influence.
Residents were bracing yesterday for retribution for the bomb attack. Streets in the shelled and shattered capital were virtually empty of civilians, while police and soldiers increased their presence throughout the city.
"Things are going to get a lot worse in the near future," said Roman, 50, an unemployed factory worker who did not want to give his last name for fear of retaliation. He predicted a cycle of reprisals.
Another man standing nearby interjected that the Russians needed to deal with renegades more firmly. "As long as Moscow doesn't use a truncheon, there won't be order here," he said. That view did not appear popular with the people surrounding him, who began arguing.
Akhmad Kadyrov's death inspired this kind of reaction but little outward grief in the capital he ran since Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed him administrator in June 2000. A drive around the city and interviews in public places yielded no outpourings of emotion, only a sense of uncertainty and dread.
Kadyrov, 52, was at Grozny's recently renovated Dynamo stadium overseeing the annual celebration of the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany when a bomb cobbled together from two artillery shells exploded underneath the wooden reviewing stand.
After a day of varying casualty reports, officials yesterday put the death toll at six and said 57 people were injured, including five children.
Kadyrov was buried yesterday in his home village of Tsentoroi as thousands gathered. "He was a real patriot of his homeland, and he was a worthy son of his people," Magomedali Magomedov, chairman of the legislature in neighboring Dagestan, said at the televised funeral service.