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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 05:21 GMT
I will not be silenced, says Russia critic
By Steven Shukor
BBC London

Akhmed Zakayev
Mr Zakayev was with Mr Litvinenko on the day he was poisoned
Akhmed Zakayev listened intently as his friend Alexander Litvinenko read out the names in an alleged Russian hit-list of political dissidents.

Mr Zakayev, a Chechen separatist, had just picked up Mr Litvinenko in central London and was driving him home to Muswell Hill, north London, where they were neighbours.

Hours earlier, on 1 November, Mr Litvinenko had been handed documents by Italian investigator Mario Scaramella at the now infamous Itsu sushi restaurant in Piccadilly.

The documents, it has been alleged, revealed information about the assassination of journalist and Putin detractor Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow in October.

They contained a list of enemies of the Kremlin, allegedly targeted for elimination by Russian secret services. The list included the names of Mr Scaramella and Mr Litvinenko.

As the pair headed towards north London, Mr Litvinenko, a former member of the Russian secret services, FSB, told Mr Zakayev he too was on the list.

"I was not surprised," said Mr Zakayev, the foreign minister of the Chechen government in exile and a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin. "I know they are coming for me."

The most important thing for them is to shut me up but I won't be silenced
Akhmed Zakayev

After being dropped off, Mr Litvinenko fell ill later that night and was hospitalised two days later. He died on 23 November, apparently from polonium-210 poisoning.

Kremlin officials have consistently denied any government or secret service involvement in the murder.

I met Mr Zakayev at the Piccadilly offices of a public relations agency which is co-ordinating the media interest.

Our first handshake was a little tentative. I had not yet asked him if he had been tested for polonium, but it was one of my first questions.

"Yes," was the delayed answer relayed to me by my Russian interpreter.

"Negative?" I asked, trying to convince myself I already knew the answer? "Yes."

I relaxed, but still could not bring myself to drink from the glass of water offered to me by office staff.

Mr Zakayev's car was also found to have no traces of the substance. However the documents handled by Mr Litvinenko were contaminated.

Terrorist acts

Mr Zakayev, 47, a field commander in the first Chechen war, was granted political asylum in the UK in November 2003 after fighting off an extradition request from Russia.

Authorities there accuse him of helping to prepare the theatre seizure in Moscow in 2002 and of taking part in other terrorist acts between 1996 and 1999. He denies the charges.

Akhmed Zakayev pictured on flag
Moscow has accused Mr Zakayev of extremist activities

"I am grateful to Great Britain for having offered me safe refuge," said Mr Zakayev, who is a key witness in the Metropolitan Police's investigation into Mr Litvinenko's death.

"If you can't live in your home, there is no better place than Great Britain. Sasha [Alexander Litvinenko] and I both believed that.

"Whenever we discussed our security, Sasha always said [the Russian authorities] would never dare touch us here on British soil."

While in Moscow the two operated on opposite sides of the Chechen conflict.

Mr Zakayev said Mr Litvinenko became disillusioned with his paymasters over what he felt was an unjust war.

They linked up in London under the patronage of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Their circle expanded to include an older generation of Russian exiles, such as Oleg Gordievsky and Vladimir Bukovsky.

'No fear'

Mr Zakayev is anticipating a fresh attempt by Moscow to have him extradited in exchange for Russian help in the investigation into Mr Litvinenko's death.

He said he was prepared to be questioned in London by Russian investigators who have opened their own inquiry.

Mr Zakayev claims the Kremlin wants to silence him and others like him who speak out against the regime.

"I don't have anything to be afraid of because I know they will try anything to eliminate me.

"A person becomes a dissident when he or she doesn't fear any more.

"The most important thing for them is to shut me up. If I do that they will have achieved their objective with Sasha's killing. But I won't be silenced."

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