Chechen leader in extradition case 'ordered kidnap of monk'

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The Independent Online

A Chechen leader, who is opposing extradition from Britain to Russia on charges of murder and torture, was accused in court yesterday of ordering the kidnap of a monk.

Akhmed Zakayev, 44, who is Chechnya's best-known actor and served as deputy prime minister of the short-lived Chechen government in the late 1990s, claims his life will be at risk if he is returned to Russia. His case is supported by the actress and civil rights campaigner Vanessa Redgrave.

Father Sergei Zhigulin, who changed his name to Father Philip, told Bow Street magistrates' court in London that when he was abducted in January 1996 one of his captors informed him that Mr Zakayev had ordered his kidnap. Another witness, Ivan Soloviev, claimed the Chechen leader tortured and shot him during an interrogation by rebels.

Father Philip said he was held for 200 days, during which he was interrogated and tortured, including having his arm broken. He told the court that he recognised one of his captors as a man he had seen in Mr Zakayev's house when he visited the Chechen leader earlier that month to negotiate the release of a Russian hostage held by guerrillas.

Under cross-examination, Father Philip conceded that he might not have mentioned his suspicion that Mr Zakayev was behind the abduction when he was interviewed after his release in July 1996. But he denied making up his statement because of pressure from Russia.

Mr Zakayev, who acted as a Chechen peace envoy to Moscow, denies all charges against him. He was detained at Heathrow in December 2002 after arriving from Denmark, where his extradition was also sought.

The court has been told that his arrest was ordered for political reasons after the Moscow theatre siege in October 2002 in which 129 people died. John Russell, a Russian expert from the University of Bradford, said it was "inconceivable" that Mr Zakayev would receive a fair trial if he was returned to Russia. The case continues.