Moscow: Russia`s most wanted Islamist rebel Doku Umarov, who the authorities hoped to have killed in an air strike last month, is alive and well and preparing reprisals, according to an audio tape.
A man purporting to be Umarov telephoned the North Caucasus service of Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL), saying that he was "absolutely healthy" in a message in the Chechen language, the radio said on its website late Thursday.
It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the message although the radio said that its correspondents said the voice was "recognisably" that of Umarov.
Russia has said some 17 Islamist rebels were killed in the air strike on March 29 in the Ingushetia region of Russia`s North Caucasus and security sources expressed hope at the time that Umarov was among the dead.
But Umarov`s death was never confirmed officially, with the authorities saying weeks of DNA analysis will be needed.
"There was an operation in which several mujahedin died," the voice added. "My death was announced too. They won`t receive any respite from me. I`m preparing my answer to them. They should expect news from me soon."
The tape was also the subject of an article on the Kavkaz Centre website which is known for frequently posting messages from militants.
Umarov, whose Caucasus Emirate group aims to impose Islamic rule throughout the Northern Caucasus, has claimed responsibility for the Moscow airport attack in January that killed 37 and the 2010 metro attacks that killed 40.
He and his band of guerrillas have avoided Russian troops in the North Caucasus mountains for much of the past decade, and officials have wrongly pronounced him dead several times.