Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 05:13 GMT
International horror at beheadings
The anti-kidnap squad may have triggered the killings
The killing of four western hostages in Chechnya has brought a horrified response from the international community.
While kidnapping is commonplace in the lawless republic, these were the first foreign hostages killed.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "shocked". Russian President Boris Yeltsin was "deeply disturbed" by the beheadings, a Kremlin spokesman said.
The UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, described the murders as "repugnant" and pledged to discover exactly what led to the men's deaths.
British diplomats are due to meet Russian officials to gather information.
Bungled rescue operation
It is thought the hostages may have been murdered in response to a failed rescue attempt.
He said this may have panicked the hostage-takers - who had seized the engineers from their home in a gun battle in Grozny, in October.
The BBC's Tom de Waal, said: "I have spoken to ITAR-Tass journalists in Grozny who say there was some kind of failed operation which allowed the kidnappers to escape.
"The grotesque manner of their death would indicate a show of defiance to the authorities from the kidnappers."
There are conflicting reports about arrests of suspects. The Chechen national security chief told a Moscow radio station that a man had been detained. But this was denied by the deputy prime minister.
Negotiations with hostage-takers
It emerged that Granger Telecom, the Surrey-based company which the men worked for, had entered into negotiations with the kidnappers in an effort to secure the men's release.
A Foreign Office spokesman said Granger Telecom had been warned to withdraw from Chechnya, but had ignored the advice.
The Chechen president said he would send an official letter of condolence for the murders to the UK Foreign Office.
He said the four men were abducted by "bandits who are financed by foreign special services".
BBC Correspondent Paul Anderson in Moscow says this was probably a veiled reference to Russian nationalist forces seeking to destabilise the breakaway territory.
The men were in Chechnya to install a communications infrastructure for Chechen Telecom and the Chechnya Government.
There are hundreds of kidnappings in Chechnya every year.
At the time the four men began their work in the region, two British aid workers, Jon James and Camilla Carr, had been in captivity in Chechnya for several months. They have since been released.
A 1996 cease-fire left Moscow with no effective authority over Chechnya, though it has not acknowledged the territory's independence.
The de facto government has so far proved unable to maintain law and order in the region.