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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK
Rebel leader's notorious family
Picture thought to be of Movsar Barayev
The gang's leader may be related to a famous rebel

The man claiming to be the leader of the gang of Chechen rebels that has taken hundreds of hostages at a Moscow theatre is a nephew of the most odious figure of the Chechen war, Arbi Barayev.

Barayev, who was killed by Russian forces in June last year, was the most ruthless hostage-taker of Russians and Westerners in the breakaway republic, and may have had links with Osama Bin Laden.

The four telecommunication workers
Barayev was blamed for the deaths of four foreign workers in 1998
When four captive telecommunication workers - three Britons and one New Zealander - were beheaded in 1998, the responsibility lay at his door.

A fellow captive later told the BBC that he had been bidding for a $10m ransom from the men's employers, British Telecom and Surrey-based Granger Telecom, but he stood to get $20m more from "Arab friends" if he killed them.

According to Russian sources, these friends were none other than al-Qaeda.

The Barayev empire

When Arbi Barayev was killed after a six-day shootout with Russian soldiers in his home town of Alkhan-Kala last year, one of his nephews took over the remains of the Barayev empire.

Open in new window : In pictures
Images of life amid Chechnya's war

At its height, this included a lucrative trade in Chechen oil, control of a main road through Chechnya and also hostage-taking.

Russian forces launched an operation to wipe out the nephew, named at the time as Movsan Suleimanov, in August 2001, and claimed to have killed him in Chechnya's second city of Argun.

It is not clear whether the man claiming to lead the operation in Moscow, whose name is Movsar Barayev, is the same nephew or a different one.

It would not be the first time that Russian forces have claimed falsely, or mistakenly, to have eliminated a rebel, who has later "risen from the dead".

Russian officials convinced sceptics of Arbi Barayev's death by parading his body on television.

Desperate

In past hostage-taking exploits, Chechen rebels have claimed their readiness to die for their cause, but have often then gone to great lengths to negotiate safe passage - with some of their hostages - back to Chechnya.

This time the rebels say they are suicide attackers, and it may just be true.

The Barayev clan are a desperate bunch.

Arbi is reported to have boasted that he had personally killed 170 people.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow
"There maybe up to 1000 people in the theatre"
Russian Actress on the stage at the time
"They started shooting into the air"
Russian woman in the theatre
"They allowed Georgians to leave the room"

Siege reports

Key stories

Chechen conflict

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See also:

19 Aug 02 | Europe
09 Sep 02 | Europe
27 Sep 02 | Europe
25 Jun 01 | Europe
18 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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