The Chechenskoe Obshestvo newspaper originally said Basayev had been killed Thursday, citing a source in the Federal Security Service, successor to the feared Soviet KGB secret police. But Friday the paper said the report was the product of "wishful thinking" on the part of officials.
Nonetheless, it remains at least possible that Basayev was in Nalchik when as many as 300 Islamic rebels attacked the offices of federal security agencies in the town, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria autonomous region.
The Kommersant newspaper reported that Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen separatist representative in London, said that Basayev had been traveling to Kabardino-Balkaria three days prior to the attacks.
And the newspaper Pravda reported Friday that eyewitnesses spotted "Russia's Osama bin Laden, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev (in Nalchick) ... during the military operation."
Pravda added that 72 terrorists and as many as two dozen civilians had been killed in the fighting, which finally ended Friday morning after security forces -- for whom no casualty figures were given -- stormed two buildings in which Islamic fighters had holed up.
But the news agency Itar-Tass Friday quoted Russia's Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov dismissing the reports that Basayev took part in the fighting as "rumours."
"We don't have any information that he might have been in the city during the attack," Kolesnikov told the agency.