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The BBC's Caroline Wyatt, in Moscow
"Russia says the Chechen rebel leaders will be put on trial"
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The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"The four men were killed when a rescue attempt went wrong"
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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 01:41 GMT
Russia parades Chechen 'kidnappers'
Chechen kidnap suspect Ruslan Akhmadov
The TV showed Ruslan Akhmadov - the prime suspect
Russia says it has captured two leading Chechen rebels - one of whom is suspected of executing four Western hostages.

The suspects were arrested in Azerbaijan and extradited to Russia. They were paraded on Russian television on Sunday.

This is without question a major coup on the part of the Russian law-enforcement agencies

Kremlin aide Sergey Yastrzhembskiy
A Kremlin spokesman said Ruslan Akhmadov was a member of a gang that kidnapped and killed four telecoms engineers - three Britons and a New Zealander - in 1998.

The victims' severed heads were later found by a road in war-torn Chechnya.

Mr Akhmadov and the other detainee - Badrudi Murtazayev - were arrested in the Azerbaijani capital Baku on Wednesday. News of their arrest and handover to Russia emerged only on Sunday.

They are now being held in Makhachkala, capital of the Russian republic of Dagestan, which borders on Chechnya.

'More than 30 kidnappings'

The Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya, Sergey Yastrzhembskiy, also said Mr Akhmadov was believed to be involved in the abduction of two Polish women biologists in 1999.

Russian Public TV said Mr Akhmadov was accused of having a hand in "more than 30 kidnappings - and most likely this is just the tip of the iceberg".

The arrests led the main evening news bulletin on the television channel. It showed the two men being escorted into a Russian detention centre and being questioned.

'Profit motive'

The report portrayed Mr Akhmadov as the ringleader of a gang that was more interested in kidnapping than in fighting Russian troops.

"Fighting federal forces is too dangerous, whereas kidnapping and trading people is a far more profitable and care-free business," the TV reporter said.

Arrested Chechen suspect Badrudi Murtazayev
Badrudi Murtazayev: Alleged accomplice

The report also showed Mr Murtazayev talking to an interrogator and apparently acknowledging his involvement in the killing of a Russian soldier.

It also saw the fact that the men had been arrested not in Chechnya, but in the neighbouring republic of Azerbaijan, as significant.

"The fact that Ruslan Akhmadov was detained outside Russia is indicative in itself. According to senior Interior Ministry officials, gang leaders realise that they have lost."

'Big fish'

Mr Yastrzhembskiy was in no doubt about the importance of the arrests.

"There has been a lot of criticism from the mass media that rebel leaders are escaping. This time we can say that we have caught a really big fish," he told the Interfax news agency.

Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev: Russia's "cooperative" neighbour
"This is without question a major coup on the part of the Russian law-enforcement agencies," he added.

The Kremlin aide paid tribute to the part played by the Azerbaijani authorities, while making a veiled reference to Russia's differences with Georgia - which, like Azerbaijan, shares a border with Chechnya.

"Russia thanks Azerbaijan for its co-operation," he said.

"If other neighbours of Russia followed Baku's example, the tension in Chechnya could be relieved faster."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

28 Feb 01 | Europe
Chechnya colonel on trial
23 Feb 01 | Europe
Russia targets UK Chechens
01 Oct 00 | Europe
Analysis: Chechnya one year on
08 Dec 98 | Europe
Chechnya kidnap victims dead
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