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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 22:11 GMT
Chechen warlord claims theatre attack
Shamil Basayev
Basayev lost a leg when he stepped on a Russian mine
Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev has taken responsibility for the mass hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre 10 days ago and promised new attacks.

He also tendered his resignation from the rebel leadership and asked rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov for his forgiveness for not informing him of the operation.


People without any demands, who will not be taking anyone hostage, will come next time

Shamil Basayev
Russia accuses Mr Maskhadov of orchestrating the attack himself and is demanding the extradition of one of his envoys, Akhmed Zakayev, from Denmark where he was arrested at Moscow's request after a conference on Chechnya on Wednesday.

But Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen announced on Friday that he had yet to receive enough evidence to warrant Mr Zakayev's extradition.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow had provided Danish authorities with documents proving Mr Zakayev is a terrorist, which were sufficient to justify Mr Zakayev's extradition.

Moscow issued the extradition request after a Chechen suicide squad seized a packed Moscow theatre and took about 800 people hostage, threatening to kill them if Russia did not withdraw its forces from Chechnya immediately.

About 115 hostages and 50 Chechen rebels died when Russian special forces stormed the building on the third day of the siege.

Distancing

In a statement carried by the main Chechen rebel website Kavkaz-Tsentr, Mr Basayev defended the hostage-taking for giving "all Russians a first-hand insight into all the charms of the war unleashed by Russia and take it back to where it originated from".

Aslan Maskhadov
Maskhadov was elected Chechen president in 1997
The veteran warlord, who made his mark by personally leading a hostage-taking raid on the Russian town of Budyonnovsk in 1995 in which over 100 civilians died, said that in future Chechen rebels would "not make any demands and not take hostages".

Their "main goal will be destroying the enemy and exacting maximum damage", he said in his statement, which was couched in Islamic terms.

He asked Mr Maskhadov, the Chechen separatist leader ousted by Russian troops in 1999, to relieve him of all his posts except for command of the "Riyadus-Salikhin reconnaissance and sabotage battalion of shahids [martyrs]".

The Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, dismissed the statement, saying that Mr Basayev was "trying to shield Maskhadov from blame, to save him for further political games".

Mr Maskhadov has denied any involvement in the Moscow hostage raid and denounced attacks on civilians.

The BBC's Russian affairs analyst, Stephen Dalziel, says the Russian authorities clearly need to hold someone responsible for what happened at the theatre and have so far gone for Mr Maskhadov and his envoy in Denmark.

And, he says, Moscow may also have incriminating evidence against Mr Maskhadov which, for security reasons, it has not divulged.

Our analyst says that Mr Basayev and Mr Maskhadov have not always had good relations and the warlord would not necessarily be expected to cover up for the official rebel leader.

New media law

The lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, has approved a law which will severely restrict the media's reporting of anti-terrorist operations.

Russian forces in Moscow
Russian special forces ended the hostage crisis using a knockout gas
The law was under discussion before last week's hostage crisis, but its passage was accelerated by the siege.

The Duma passed the new law by 231 for votes to 106 against.

Deputies agreed that the hostage-takers in the theatre were well prepared for media coverage.

They allowed hostages to use their mobile phones - thus gaining extra publicity - and invited two television crews into the building.

If and when the bill becomes law, there will be a ban on the publication or broadcast of any statement that hinders an operation to break such a siege, or attempts to justify the aims of the hostage-takers.

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The BBC's Richard Forrest
"Some analysts believe Russia is looking for someone to blame"

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30 Sep 99 | Europe
24 Oct 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Europe
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30 Oct 02 | Europe
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