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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Russia 'behind Chechen murder'
Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev
Yanderbiyev had spent the last three years in exile in Qatar
A Qatari court has accused Russia of being behind the murder of a former Chechen leader there in February.

The judge made the charge as he handed down life sentences to two Russian agents convicted of killing Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev in the capital Doha.

He said the men had been acting on orders from the Russian leadership.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied the men were involved in the killing, and said their lawyers would appeal against the decision.

Defence lawyer Dimitri Afanasiev told Reuters news agency that the men would also seek a transfer to Russia.

Qatari prosecutors had called for the death penalty during the closed-door trial, which began in April.

A life sentence in Qatar usually means 25 years.

Diplomatic row

The men were arrested shortly after Mr Yanderbiyev was killed when a device placed under his car exploded as he left a Doha mosque after prayers. His son was injured in the attack.

Russia insists the two men were in Qatar in order to gather anti-terrorism intelligence.

Correspondents in Moscow warned the trial threatened to cause a diplomatic breach between Qatar and Russia, particularly after allegations that the two agents were tortured to make their confessions.

Qatar expelled the first secretary of the Russian embassy in March over alleged involvement in the killing.

Rebel leader

Mr Yanderbiyev was vice-president of Chechnya for most of the first war with Russian forces from 1994 to 1996.

Rescue worker at the scene of the car blast
Yanderbiyev had just returned to his car after Friday prayers

He took over the presidency when the leader of the Chechen independence movement, Dzhokhar Dudayev, was killed by a Russian missile in April 1996.

Russia had accused the former writer and poet of complicity in the incursions by Chechen rebels into the neighbouring republic of Dagestan in August 1999.

These incursions were later used partly to justify the return of Russian forces to Chechnya later that year.

It is believed that Mr Yanderbiyev and his family went to Qatar in January 2000.

On three occasions, Russia tried to have Mr Yanderbiyev extradited to stand trial on charges related to the events in Dagestan in 1999.

But no extradition treaty exists between Russia and Qatar, and the Qatari authorities said they believed Yanderbiyev would not face a fair trial.


SEE ALSO:
Qataris 'seek death' for Russians
08 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Russians on trial over Qatar bomb
11 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Russians charged with Qatar bomb
26 Feb 04  |  Europe
Obituary: Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev
13 Feb 04  |  Europe


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